Choi Spells Champion in Any Language


NEW ORLEANS, La. -- It was an historic win. Thirty-one-year-old Kyoung-Ju Choi ' known as K.J. -- the first Korean to earn a PGA Tour card, is now the first from his nation to win at golfs highest level.
Korea, and Koreans, should be proud it was Choi carrying their flag into the exclusive PGA Tour winners circle. Any group would be happy to have such a flag-bearer. Choi proved this week he is not only a world-class golfer, but also the kind of man who makes the world a better place.
If only he werent so shy about trying to speak the English language, with which he struggles for now. If all could understand him better, get to know him better, all would root for K.J. Choi.
When the Korean played his way to the top of the leaderboard through 36 holes of the Compaq Classic, that sour, jaded press corps (of which I am a part) let out a collective moan. Surely this guy who doesnt speak English cant hang on to win, was the overwhelming wishful sentiment. Somebody we cant talk to wont be a good story.
That belief couldnt have been further from the truth.
Communicating with K.J. was not only easily accomplished, but also quite enjoyable. Choi talked through his interpreter, his shining, intelligent eyes and his wonderfully smiling countenance readily apparent. What came through was a man who appreciates everything that life has given him. He is so grateful he has earned the opportunity to play alongside the greatest golfers in the world, on the finest courses. He is so happy he can share his new life in America with the wife and two small children he so obviously adores, cherishes and loves.
K.J. lights up as he tells the story of his son, David, who has prayed every day that his daddy will bring home a trophy. K.J. laughs with pride as he shares the story of him suggesting to his son that maybe hell just buy one and bring it home. No, no, said Davey. You have to win one.
David turns five Thursday. What a wonderful present that trophy from New Orleans will be.
The Chois will share this win with their community ' communities. Ten percent of the $810,000 winners check will go to charities in both Korea and their new hometown of Houston.
K.J. does not think about what this win will mean for his stature back home in Korea. Is he now a national hero? That is not important. Instead Choi hopes the victory will influence the next generation of Korean golfers to believe they, too, can succeed on the PGA Tour. In that sense, K.J. said, this win is very special.
K.J. laughs easily. He plays beautifully. Every swing looks to be in perfect balance. So does his life. He is now a national hero; and as soon as more of us get to know him, he may become an international star.
How do you say champion in Korean? I asked K.J.
He looked nervously at his interpreter, back to me, smiled and said, Champion.