LINKS LETTER, DECEMBER 2003

BACK AND FORTH

K.J. Choi is no slouch. Not only is he the first Korean-born professional to play full-time on the PGA Tour, in 2002 he became the first to win on Tour as well, with victories at the Compaq Classic and the Tampa Bay Classic. He also sports five international wins, including this year’s Linde German Masters on the European Tour. These accomplishments earned him his first berth on the Presidents Cup International Team.

We exchanged e-mails with K.J. to find out how he regards his world class golf, his cross-cultural life, and his commitment to Jesus Christ.

What influences encouraged you to make an effort to play on the PGA Tour as opposed to staying in Asia?
It was back in 1997 during the World Cup in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, that I decided I wanted to play on the PGA Tour. I noticed how the players were treated well and how the Tour worked to create an atmosphere comfortable enough for the players to concentrate on golf.

You were the first Korean to earn his PGA Tour card, yet many Korean women have played in the U.S. for a long time. Why would you say there is a difference between the men and the women?
The difference mainly stems from the fact that the men have a sense of responsibility of their family which makes it hard for them to simply pack their bags and decide to play in a foreign country with different language, lifestyle, and culture. Traditionally in Korea, the men play a major role in the household as the leader of the family, and it is a burden for them and the family when they have to travel so much, not to mention the stress of having to adapt to a different culture.

On top of that, you have to get used to all the courses on the Tour, which takes time. And more importantly, the field is more competitive on the men’s Tour compared to the women’s Tour. Considering all this, in comparison with the women golfers, it is more difficult for men to set foot on the PGA Tour.

You started playing the game mostly on your own. What kind of help did you seek to improve your game and reach the professional level?
I didn’t receive much help and I made golf my own through constant practice. However, once I got on the PGA Tour, I realized the importance of having a coach around who could help me with my swing regularly. In order to become a top player on the PGA Tour, I realized I couldn’t do it on my own, which is why I work with Phil Ritson, my swing coach, now.

What strengths in your game would you say have made you most capable of competing and winning on the PGA and European Tours?
It is more through mental strength and comfort that I have been able to play consistently well on the PGA Tour as opposed to technical reasons. Also, the fact that I was chosen as a member of the Presidents Cup International Team, it gave me mental confidence and was a motivating factor. On the technical side, improvements in my swing, accuracy in iron shots, and a decrease in putting strokes has helped me play better and to win.

Whom do you regard as good friends among Tour players?
I have a good relationship with most of the PGA players like Tiger, Fred Funk, Vijay, and Tom Pernice.

How important is the support of your family as you travel and play? In what way are you helping your children grow up with an understanding of both the Korean and American cultures?
The support from my family is very important. Having them cheer me on whether I play good or bad, praying for my well-being means a lot to me. I think every member in a family have their roles and responsibilities. In order for me to be passionate about what I want to achieve, I believe that a strong family relationship is critical to play well on a weekly basis.

With regard to my children’s education, as they spend or will spend most of their time outside in school or with friends, they are exposed more to the American lifestyle. I try to speak to them in Korean as does my wife, so that they don’t forget their roots.

Away from the Tour, what do you enjoy most about American life?
What I enjoy most about the American life is the nature. America and its environment is so vast and wide–the sky, the land, and the heart of the people.

What do you enjoy most about returning to Korea?
I don’t get to go back to Korea often, maybe once or twice a year, but I only get to spend a week per visit, so there isn’t much I can do. But what I enjoy the most about going back to Korea is seeing my friends and relatives and catching up on the times we missed out, and of course, all the great food that I missed!

Your financial generosity has been noted elsewhere. What inspires this generosity? What are some your favorite projects to be involved in?
I first got started in charity work through my religious life. By chance, I happened to hear stories of kids who were less fortunate than me through church friends. Although I would like to help out more, realistically, it is not easy. But when I see those kids grow up healthy and in the right direction, it motivates me to help them more so they can realize their dreams. By doing this, ultimately it is our community and society that benefits.

Someday in the future, I would like to help out the less fortunate kids who want to learn golf through Jesus Christ and possibly build a church.

How were you introduced to the Christian faith? And how have you grown in your commitment to Christ?
I was first introduced to Christ in December of 1992 when I started dating my wife. She told me about the Lord and the Church and why it was good to have faith in God. And naturally I took her advice and after awhile, I felt it helped me and made me feel comfortable and gain patience. It also helped me concentrate more when it came to golf.

My belief and faith in God is very strong now. Only when you have faith can there be belief in God.

Are there things you find difficult about maintaining your walk with Christ while competing on the golf course?
Yes, when I try every possible way and I still can’t seem to get my game straight, there are times when I wonder if Christ is walking with me. But the important thing is, I don’t blame God for the situation I’m faced with. I take it as it is. I believe that God put me in that situation for a reason. I know that He is confirming my faith in Him through adversity.

COPYRIGHT 2003 LINKS PLAYERS INTERNATIONAL

  • K.J. Choi

    8 PGA Tour Wins: 2002 Compaq Classic of New Orleans, 2002 Tampa Bay Classic, 2005 Chrysler Classic of Greensboro, 2006 Chrysler Championship, 2007 Memorial Tournament, 2007 AT&T National, 2008 Sony Open, 2011 Players Championship

    International Wins: 1996 Korean Open, 1999 Ube Kosan Open (Japan), 1999 Kirin Open (Japan), 1999 Kolon Korean Open, 2003 Linde German Masters, 2003 SK Telecom Open, 2005 SK Telecom Open (South Korea), 2009 Iskandar Johor Open (Malaysia)