K J Choi’s victory in the Players Championship elevated him to 15th position in the Official World Golf Rankings and makes him a strong challenger for both the US Open and The Open Championship at Royal St George’s over the next two months. The Players Championship is billed as the fifth major and the South Korean’s play-off win at Sawgrass in Florida was against a strong international field over one of the toughest golf courses on the US circuit.
The first Korean to win a place on the USPGA Tour in 1999 and the first from his country to claim a tournament victory, at New Orleans in 2002, his best finish in The Open was a tie for eighth place at Carnoustie in 2007. With rounds of 69-69-72-71 he finished four shots behind the play-off between winner Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia.
In 2004 he finished third in the Masters and tied for sixth place in the USPGA Championship. Two years later he again claimed a top-10 place in the PGA when he tied for seventh spot behind Tiger Woods at Medinah. He was fourth in the 2010 Masters and tied for eighth place at Augusta this year.
Before he showed any interest in golf Choi was a highly competitive weight-lifter as a teenager, lifting three-and-a-half times his own bodyweight at the age of 13 and earning the nickname ‘The Tank’. On the recommendation of one of his high school teachers he gave golf a try and taught himself largely from Jack Nicklaus instruction books and videos, spending long hours hitting practice balls on his Wando Island home’s only practice range. He took great delight in revealing the inspiration for his golf career when he won the Nicklaus Memorial Tournament in 2007.
He is currently ranked third in sand saves on the US Tour and it was a spectacular bunker shot at the 17th hole for a birdie that sealed his win in the first AT&T National hosted by Tiger Woods in 2007.
His early victories came on the Asian and Japan Tours and his Players Championship win was his eighth success in America. He has also played on the European Tour, where he won the German Masters in 2003. He has represented his country three times in the World Cup.
He reached the top-10 in the world rankings in 2007, climbing as high as fifth place the following year. He has been without a victory for three years, but his early season form with four top-10 finishes, led up to his impressive victory at Sawgrass.
Happily settled with his family in Texas he lives on a course designed by his childhood hero Jack Nicklaus. A near neighbour is fellow countryman Y-E Yang, who beat him as the first Asian player to win a major when he took the USPGA Championship title at Hazeltine in 2009.