Whatever the Name Chois a Major Contender

By Associated PressJuly 20, 2007, 4:00 pm
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- Let's start with the name, which is Kyoung-Ju Choi on the birth certificate. But you can call him K.J.
 
Heck, Choi came up with that one himself at his very first British Open in 1998.
 
'At the first tee, they announce, 'Kung Choy,'' he recalled. 'It's a very difficult name. My idea the next day is, 'Kyoung-Ju is very long. Who is that?' And I think of the 'K' initial and the 'J' initial. Everybody understands K.J.-- it's a very simple name -- and Choi. So the next day, it's K.J. Choi from Korea. So easy.'
 
Well, if this keeps up, he might answer to another moniker.
 
Major champion.
 
Choi arrived at Carnoustie on quite a roll, having won a couple of golf tournaments hosted by two pretty big names in this sport: Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. And he's carried it right through to another British Open, where they no longer have any trouble with his name.
 
It's K.J. Choi, and he'll be teeing off in the final group of a major on the weekend.
 
The 36-year-old South Korean broke par for the second round in a row Friday, shooting a 2-under 69 that left him just two strokes behind leader Sergio Garcia. For a guy who grew up on an island that didn't have a golf course, who didn't touch a club until he was 16, who thought he was too small (5-foot-8) to make a go of it, this is quite an accomplishment.
 
At times, Choi still seems a bit overwhelmed by it all.
 
'I didn't think I'd be in this spot going into the weekend,' he acknowledged, shortly after salvaging a bogey at the brutal 18th hole.
 
Then again, Choi sure looks meant for this moment when he's out on the course. He plays with calm assurance, rarely showing any emotion, just working his way around the course in a businesslike fashion. Everything about this guy is steady, steady, steady -- his tee shots, his iron play, his putting.
 
There were a couple of slip-ups in the second round, such as a three-putt bogey from 20 feet at the eighth hole. But even his mistakes seemed to work out OK, such as the tee shot at 18 that rolled to a stop just a foot or two shy of the Barry Burn. He managed to get a foothold at the treacherous edge of the stream, punched out with a 7-iron and gladly settled for a two-putt bogey at the intimidating, 499-yard hole.
 
'You've got to play that hole as a par-5,' Choi said through a translator. 'Even if you get a bogey, just consider it a good par.'
 
This is a return trip to Carnoustie, where Choi survived four daunting rounds at the '99 Open. Back then, the weather and the setup brought the world's best golfers to their knees. Choi made it to the weekend, but struggled through an 81 in the third round and finished in a tie for 49th with a 20-over total.
 
Although he became an afterthought in that tournament, he did have a beneficial pairing with eventual winner Paul Lawrie, a Scot who knows a thing or two about getting around a links course in the homeland of golf. Despite the language barrier, Choi soaked up plenty of lessons that are coming in handy eight years later.
 
'Back in 1999, my shots were very weak in the wind,' Choi said. 'When I played with Paul, I actually learned a lot. I saw how Paul used the ball, used the wind to work for him. It was a good lesson for me. Coming into this week, I knew how to use the wind to my advantage.'
 
Choi should have plenty of strength, having started his athletic career as a weightlifter. To him, it seemed a more logical path than golf, but that outlook changed when he saw Ian Woosnam -- all 5 feet, 4 1/2 inches of him -- win the Masters in 1991.
 
By 1994, Choi was playing professionally on the Korean tour. After traveling to South Carolina to represent his country in the World Cup, his focus shifted to earning a spot on the PGA Tour. He spent a couple of years bouncing around in Europe and Asia, building up his confidence for a shot at the ultimate goal. He earned his card at Q-school in 1999, and he's been part of the tour ever since.
 
Choi entered this year with four career triumphs and more than $11.5 million in earnings, but he lacked that signature victory. He has come out on top in New Orleans and Greensboro and twice in Tampa, but those will never be mistaken for Augusta or St. Andrews.
 
Then came the Memorial, where Choi accepted the top prize from Nicklaus. Over the Fourth of July holiday, the Korean won again at Woods' new invitational tournament near Washington.
 
Those were a step up, but they still weren't majors. That's next on the agenda for Choi, who relishes the idea of becoming the first Asian male to win one of golf's premier events -- especially since his country is known mostly for its success on the women's tour.
 
He's not sure how the weekend will turn out, but he doesn't feel out of place. Not anymore.
 
'Now,' his translator said, 'it's a lot different because I have more shots in my bag. I have a lot of shots that are working for me, so I think that may prove to be the difference this year.'
 
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    What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

    Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

    Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

    Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

    While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

    As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

    Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

    And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

    And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

    McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

    The Ryder Cup topped his list.

    Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

    When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

    “Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



    McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

    Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

    “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

    European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

    And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

    The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

    Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

    And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

    Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

    The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

    The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

    More bulletin board material, too.

    Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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    Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

    Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

    The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

    It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

    The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

    “I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

    Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.