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16-year-old golfer heads out as UF's No. 1

In many ways, Hannah Yun is your typical teenager. She laughs a lot during a conversation, particularly if she's the subject. She likes to read, draw and use the computer. She divides much of her time between sports and schoolwork.

But what sets her apart from most girls her age is her golf game — and the school she attends.

Yun, who turned 16 on April 12, completed her first semester at the University of Florida last week. Today, the youngster, who still gets chauffeured around Gainesville by her parents, will be the No. 1 player in the lineup when the Gators' fourth-ranked (Golfweek/Sagarin) women's golf team begins NCAA region play in Athens, Ga.

Despite the pressure of juggling school and college golf, Yun is trying to live as normal as possible.

"Uh, yeah," she said when asked if she considers herself a typical teen. "I mean, I don't really know a lot of 16-year-olds. Most of my friends are at least a couple of years older than I am, so I couldn't say for sure. But I think I'm pretty normal."

Normal? Yes, her coaches and teammates say. Average? Not in the least.

Today is Yun's first tournament since she finished as the SEC runnerup two weeks ago, losing to defending national champion Stacy Lewis of Arkansas by one shot.

"It was by far her best performance," Florida coach Jill Briles-Hinton said. "We've been working hard on her short game, working on putting from the fringe, which she absolutely hates to do. … Hannah is very magical with her distance and trajectory control. And that's pretty special for someone her age. Most people at this level, it's very difficult for them to do. She knows how to hit just about every shot in golf, except for maybe that wedge off the putting green. That's talent."

Yun is ranked No. 24 in the nation by Golfweek and has a 74.35 average in 17 rounds. With a No. 54 ranking in the Golfweek/Titleist junior rankings when she arrived at Florida, she immediately proved she belonged with a team-best score of 71 during a team qualifier, breaking into the starting lineup in the season's first event.

"So far college has been great for me," said Yun, who was born in San Jose, Calif., but moved to Bradenton when she was 12. "It's just completely different. And it's been really good for me to learn and grow."

Yun is learning and growing at an accelerated pace, but it's nothing new. She was 8 and about to move from first grade at an elite academic primary school to second at a new school when administrators tested her and decided she could advance to fourth grade. Her parents compromised, and she went to third.

By the time she arrived in Florida in 2005 to train at the IMG David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton, she was ready for high school.

"They said I had enough classes to take a high school math class in Algebra 1," Yun said. "Then I started taking an extra language class, and then during the summer I would just keep taking classes online (in addition to her normal class load). And then by my junior year, we were just like, what the heck? We should just get it over with. So I graduated when I was 15."

Like most 16-year-olds, Yun lives with her parents, Changsu and Youngsoon, who moved to Gainesville with her in January. Changsu owns a software company he runs from home. She doesn't have a driver's license (although she insists she'll get one before the summer is over), so they drive her everywhere she needs to go. Her teammates are like big sisters and built-in chaperones combined.

"They threw a big birthday party for me, and I was the only one not drinking wine," Yun laughed. "It's okay, really. It's funny, actually. We don't really think about age and how old we are and stuff. But one of my teammates just turned 23, and that's a big difference when you actually think about it. But they are like older sisters. They take care of me. They are very attentive. It's like a big family."

For Briles-Hinton, the acquisition of Yun on the heels of losing her best player, All-American Sandra Gal, to the LPGA Tour was a blessing. Yun orally committed to Georgia, but when coach Todd McCorkle resigned last May, Yun turned to the Gators. Now the Gators have turned to her in their quest for their first region title, and third national championship. The team's No. 1 player seems unfazed by the magnitude of it all.

"I think I would call myself a pretty laid-back person, almost to the point where I'm too lazy," she said. " … I still get nervous, but I just try not to. I just try to take advantage of being lazy."

That youth may turn out to be a good thing.

"I think when you're young, sometimes you don't realize what's going on and you can handle it a little bit better," Briles-Hinton said. "She just needs to continue to handle it the way she has and she'll be fine."

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.

16-year-old golfer heads out as UF's No. 1 05/07/08 [Last modified: Saturday, May 10, 2008 1:16pm]

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