Typically, viewers are the ones who learn on YouTube. Whether it’s how to remodel kitchen tiles or how to bake vegan banana bread, the platform is great for learning new things. But for US Women’s Open major winner Na Yeon Choi, who has her own YouTube channel, “Na Yeon is back,” she is the one doing the learning.
“To be honest, if not for COVID-19, I might not have been able to focus as much as I have on YouTube,” the 32-year-old nine-time LPGA Tour winner said. “In some ways, (the pandemic) was great for my channel.”
Na Yeon has over 70,300 subscribers thanks to her ability to take time off from competitive golf. During a recent live stream, she and close friend LPGA Tour player Jeongeun Lee5 attracted over 1,000 viewers at 7 a.m. in Korean, most of whom were from overseas.
“That was my first live event,” Choi said. “I went to the golf course with my coach and the idea suddenly popped into my coach’s head. She suggested to go live via Instagram, but I said, ‘If we want to do this, we should do it right,’ and suggested going live on YouTube. Then I turned it on and noticed that a lot of people who initially joined were from California, Washington, and Toronto.
“From that point, I couldn’t turn the Live off because there were so many fans tuning in. Jeongeun Lee5 and I had so much fun. We kept betting each other to push ourselves in a mini competition. It was fun answering a lot of questions and I think the fans found it amusing since I could respond in real-time.”
Her following hasn’t always been so impressive, in part, she learned, because fans hadn’t always felt like they could get close to her. Maybe it was the language barrier or the stoic demeanor she puts on while in competition. Maybe it was her absence due to medical leave, but one of the main reasons Choi created “Na Yeon is back” was to show her fans her approachable side.
“As I started watching videos (during my time off due to injury), I got the idea of having my own channel because it seemed like it could be a lot of fun,” Choi said. “I think I was intrigued by the idea of being close with people even though I was by myself. So many YouTubers produce their videos in a fun and comical way. So, the idea sort of floated.
“Thanks to YouTube, I’ve realized that I am somewhat funny. People around me always joked that I was a bit like a grandma. They would kid that I was so formal in my demeanor and speech, but after YouTube, people began to see me for who I am. From there, I gained more confidence and was encouraged to produce more videos and be more fun.”
Fans feel closer to her now that they’ve gotten to see a day in the life of Na Yeon. They are seeing what those around her have always known: Choi is engaging, warm-hearted, and genuine. She only needed was a camera and selfie stick to get the word out.
“My fans are from all over the world and I feel like I’ve been able to grow closer with them (because of my YouTube channel),” Choi said. “I think it was hard to see the real me before when I carried a very professional, slightly reticent outlook at events. Now, I think a lot of (people) appreciate my outgoing personality when they tune in. And for that, I am very grateful.”
This foray into YouTube has reminded Choi of an important life lesson: always do the things that you love.
Three years prior to her U.S. Women’s Open victory, Choi and her parents faced a hard reckoning. After having terrific success on the Korean LPGA Tour, Na Yeon felt overwhelming pressure to perform on the LPGA Tour. That pressure held her back. Whether or not the source came her parents, Na Yeon felt as though she could handle tour life better with a little distance and a lot more independence. Tears and serious conversations followed. Then, her parents went back to Korea.
“In the beginning, my parents were upset. I continued to play (the LPGA Tour) by myself for three months and then won my first event (the 2009 Samsung World Championship). Immediately after, I received a call from my then-understanding parents who needlessly apologized for having given me a bit of stress. They had called me crying. After that, my father never came back to the U.S. He said he trusted me. My mom continues to visit me (in the States).”
After 2012, a year when Choi won both the U.S. Women’s Open and the CME Group Tour Championship, the road got bumpy. Nagging wrist and back pain, the sort of injuries golfers can’t push through, led to a slump.
“Because I felt like I couldn’t really take time off with competitions still happening, I continued to play with that injury,” she said. “I did not rest and continued practicing until 2018, but quickly realized that my golf was not improving. So finally, I withdrew from the Tour due to medical leave and didn’t touch a golf club for nearly six months. Then, I made my return in 2019 injury-free.”
During her year off she ticked off some punch-list items, including visits to Croatia, Hungary, Germany, and Austria.
“I think it was the best decision I ever made in my life,” she said. “After I returned from that trip, I realized that I should live my life doing things that I enjoy. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently when I find myself in a bit of ambivalent relationship with golf. Over the past five months, I’ve gotten to reconnect with a lot of amazing people and more importantly, play golf leisurely. There have been no competitions, so I can practice and play with the people I want and at the pace that I like. It’s made me realize that I should live my life like this, doing things that make me happy.
“Even with YouTube, when people offer me advice, I stick to what I want to do. No regrets. I want to continue to live by this principle.”