Na Yeon Choi bolts to lead

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- If Inbee Park is the almost supernaturally calm one, her pal Na Yeon Choi is the super-duper smiley one.

They're both 25, both remarkably talented at golf. They've known each other quite a while and are good friends. When Park won the U.S. Women's Open last month, one of the players who ran out to douse her with champagne was Choi.

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Na Yeon Choi made six birdies altogether and played 2 under on the into-the-wind back nine.

Maybe it will be Choi taking the bubbly shower at this major championship. There is still a long way to go, but after two rounds Choi leads the Women's British Open at 10-under 134.

That's 1 shot ahead of Japan's Miki Saiki, who regularly plays the Japanese tour. In third is American Morgan Pressel at 8 under. Another American, Nicole Castrale, is in a trio tied for fourth at 7 under.

While several players, including Park, struggled with the gusty conditions Friday afternoon, Choi excelled.

She shot a 67, getting six birdies and one bogey, which came on No. 7. That meant she played the into-the-wind back nine in 2 under, a mighty fine accomplishment in those conditions.

"I couldn't tell you my secret daily goal," Choi said afterward. "This kind of weather, I have to focus my game. I really tried to stay in the moment and stay positive."

Um … secret daily goal?

"It's more like technical goal," she said. "That kind of thing."

Later, Choi talked about putting with her eyes closed, and how that has helped her. OK, now hold on a minute here.

"Not on the course," she said, explaining that she sometimes putts blind in practice to build her confidence.

"Just to see the line, it's all imagination," she said, grinning.

Choi smiles a lot. In fact, when she's not smiling, she often looks as if she's on the verge of it. Her nickname is "NYC" -- thanks to the initials of her Korean name Anglicized -- and that fits. Choi has a Times Square kind of luminosity to her, a natural brightness in personality.

That's why her coach, an Irishman (we'll get to that) named Robin Symes, was rather surprised by the NYC he encountered earlier this week. He hadn't seen her since February, and something was definitely missing.

"He said, 'Hey, Na Yeon, where has all the confidence gone?'" Choi said. "I think this year, I had pressure from all the Korean fans and media, also family. But the last two months, I hit it very well. Just my putter didn't go in. I think that was because mentally I wasn't strong."

This is hardly an uncommon scenario in golf, for men or women. Get a breakthrough major victory -- Choi won the 2012 U.S. Women's Open -- then deal with added external and internal expectations.

In fact, Park went through the same thing after she won the 2008 U.S. Women's Open at age 19. She didn't win again for four years.

Choi didn't have anything like that kind of victory drought; she won the CME Group Titleholders event last November. But she hasn't won in 2013, with a best finish of second, in February.

Choi has six top-10 finishes in all this year, and she's ranked No. 4 in the world. So why the confidence lag? She's not sure. Did she ever talk to Park about it, since she went through a similar thing?

"I'm a longtime friend of Inbee, but we never talk about golf," Choi said. "We always just talk about friends, or movies, or music.

"I don't know how tough she had it; I guarantee it was tough. It's hard to even ask her, because I know that kind of feeling. That's kind of too emotional, so I never ask. And all my friends never ask me, also."

So to whom does Choi talk about these things? Symes, when she sees him. How did a South Korean player get an Irish coach? He is a teaching pro in Seoul, with a large academy there. That's where he and Choi met, while she was still in high school.

Choi said it helps to have Symes here at St. Andrews. And she's also using a friend of his to be her caddie for the week. Pia Nilsson, the Swede who worked with Annika Sorenstam, among others, is also here providing guidance to Choi.

"If I have a good result this week," Choi said. "That's because I have a good team this week."

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