Aug 23, 2012 / 4:03 pm
Na Yeon Choi felt right at home in the first round of the CN Canadian Women's Open, with help from a Vancouverite who was thousands of miles away.
The 24-year-old South Korean fired a 5-under 67 at the Vancouver Golf Club to take an early two-shot lead over Americans Moira Dunn and Mindy Kim with golfers still on the course Thursday. Choi praised her English tutor Greg Morrison, a Vancouver native who is now based in South Korea, for giving her considerable insight on his hometown.
"This is my first trip in Vancouver, but I feel very comfortable, because I heard a lot of things (about the city) from my English tutor," said Choi.
Morrison travelled with Choi last season on the LPGA Tour but chose to remain in his adopted home this year in order to spend more time with his four-year-old daughter. Choi, a Seoul native, said she decided to take English lessons to be able to connect better with fans.
The move has also had a positive effect on her golf game.
"Two years ago, I couldn't talk much with the media, with the fans, but right now, I can talk with them," she said. "So I feel I'm really comfortable."
Choi also felt "good vibes" from members of Vancouver's Korean community who came out to cheer her on. She enjoyed a traditional Korean meal the night before a round that included seven birdies and two bogeys.
"I go to a Korean restaurant (for) every meal if I can, and (Wednesday) night, I found a great restaurant," she said. "(The food) was just like my mom cooked."
Lorie Kane of Charlottetown was the top Canadian after shooting an even-par 72. Fourteen-year-old Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., the youngest golfer to ever play in the tournament, opened with a 77.
No Canadian has won the tournament since Jocelyne Bourassa prevailed in a playoff in 1973.
Choi is looking for her second victory of the season after posting a four-shot win at the U.S. Women's Open. The five-year LPGA veteran got off to a strong start with a birdie on the par-4 second hole and also recorded three straight birdies on Nos. 5 through 7.
She extended her lead quickly after making the turn, making birdies on 11 and 13. That was followed by back-to-back bogeys on the next two holes but she recovered with birdie at No. 17.
"I was losing my focus at that moment," said Choi. "That's why I got two bogeys. But after two bogeys, I realized I had to focus my game and I (had) to go back and get back on track. When I had (the) birdie on 17, that gave me a great feeling. I feel like I have a lot of confidence about my game."
The early groups started under overcast, calm conditions but soon had to bring out their rain gear as Vancouver experienced its first prolonged rainfall after weeks of mainly hot and dry weather.
Currently fifth on the LPGA money list with US$1,024,988 in earnings, Choi has also recorded two second-place finishes this season. With a victory here, she can improve her chances of topping the money list for the second time in three years.
"This is a good event and a special event," she said. "So if I have good results this week, it might (create) special memories for me."
Meanwhile, Kane earned top Canadian honours a day after saying she was not ready to relinquish her role as the nation's torchbearer for women's golf. She retained her status by rolling in a birdie putt from about eight feet on the final hole.
As a result, Jessica Shipley of Oakville, Ont., was the second-best Canadian with a 1-over 73. Shipley was one shot better than American star Michelle Wie.
After three-putting on the final hole, Wie cursed and threw her putter. She found herself in a tie for 100th after finishing second in this tournament last year in Mirabel, Que., and winning it in 2010 in Winnipeg.
Notes: Choi also excelled with help from world No. 1 Yani Tseng's former caddy. Jason Hamilton carried Tseng's bag when she won three of the first five tournaments this year, but he was fired in July after she struggled. Choi said Hamilton will work for her full time. ... Dunn's strong round came after she missed the cut in four of her previous six tournaments.
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