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.'
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - 136th Open Championship
  • Full Coverage - 136th Open Championship
  • Getty Images

    Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

    Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

    Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

    “I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

    The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

    “I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

    Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

    This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

    The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

    Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

    The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

    Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

    A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

    And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

    The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

    Masters victory

    Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

    Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

    Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

    Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

    Green jacket tour

    Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

    Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

    Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

    Man of the people

    Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

    Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

    Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

    Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

    Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

    Growing family

    Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

    Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

    Departure from TaylorMade

    Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

    Squashed beef with Paddy

    Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

    Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

    Victory at Valderrama

    Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

    Getty Images

    Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm
    Getty Images

    Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

    By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

    Well, this is a one new one.

    According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

    “No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

    Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

    “If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

    The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

    “I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

    The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

    Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

    Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.