When K.J. captured the crown at the HP Classic of New Orleans last year, he became the first Korean to ever win on the PGA Tour. He was already admired in his homeland, but instantly he became a national hero.
He would go on to win again ' in Tampa ' and earn more than $2 million in 2002. Ever since he picked up a club, he had dreamed of playing the PGA Tour. Now, he has exceeded most of any mans dreams.
It has not gone to his head. Yes, K.J. has changed, but only in very positive ways. One year ago, Choi was fearful of even trying to carry on a conversation in English. Now, he is happy to speak with any American. There is no hesitation when an English-speaking reporter requests an interview.
My wife first, my translator, my business manager have all helped him with his English, K.J. says. Im very comfortable now.
Thanks to his New Orleans victory one year ago, Choi is especially comfortable on the golf course and the tour. Oh, that win did everything for him, says Chois coach and confidante, Phil Ritson. There are no limitations to how good he can be. I believe hell be one of the top 10 in the world very, very shortly.
Right now Choi ranks 28th in the world. He now knows he belongs on the PGA Tour and his confidence will only help him succeed even more. This season he finished second at his first Mercedes Championships, thanks to a course-record 62 in the third round. With a huge contingent of the local Los Angeles Korean natives tagging along in the gallery, K.J. tied for fifth at the Nissan. Three weeks ago, he played in his first Masters and tied for 15th, earning an invitation to play there again next year. K.J. stands 22nd on the money list with his earnings of just under $840,000. Yes, hes quite comfortable.
Defending the first time this week, he says with that ever-present smile. K.J. says the climate and the setting of New Orleans remind him of his boyhood home in Korea. He says the course and the grasses at the HP Classic remind him of his current home in Houston. Yes, hes comfortable here.