He moved his feet quicker than Ronaldo, he seemed to swing his club like your average middle-aged golfer but he threatened to win his national title and left his mark on those watching.
In years to come when I come to look back on the Korea Open of 2018, I probably won’t remember that much about the winner Minchel Choi. He has a lovely, conventional swing and deserved a first pro title that also takes him to his first major championship at Carnoustie in a months’ time.
No, my memories will be of another Choi, Hosung Choi. This 44 year old golfer whose unconventional style and entertaining manner won the hearts of not just those in the crowd and in the commentary box but those who were captivated around the world too. When Justin Thomas is posting about you, when players on the web.com tour are making a tribute video about you, you must be doing something right. If you haven’t seen footage of the man in action, go look it up or click on the story below. It needs to be seen to believed. But I will try to explain not just his style but his story too.
The first time I saw Hosung Choi in action was on Friday evening as he chipped in for a birdie and celebrated with a mid-range punch and one knee in the air on his way to becoming the halfway leader at the Korean Open Golf Championship. On Saturday, he was at his flamboyant best. The media in Japan have described his action as the “fisherman’s swing”. This reflects the backswing which does somewhat resemble the way a fisherman would take his rod back. He could tee it up by the right hand tee marker and by the time the ball was on its way, he would be shuffling his feet like an energetic cricketer, working his way sideways to the other side of the tee, watching his ball half mid air with his back turned. Even a wedge shot would see the most remarkable amount of movement often finishing with one leg in the air and his knee up to his waist. But the results. The results. This was no figure of fun. This was a golfer. At times he found himself in the long grass. No laying up for Hosung sauce. I should have said it in commentary but there were even times where this veteran reminded me of my favourite golfer of all time, Seve Ballesteros. Every putt, holed or missed, was followed by a reaction of sheer joy or pain.
So who is Hosung Choi? And where has he been? On Sunday, his challenge for the title petered out. The Sunday before, he wasn’t even in the field for the Korea Open. He had to go through the Monday qualifier and got in right on the mark. The reason he was at the qualifier at all is just one of a number of unique stories regarding this man. Choi had only returned to the Korean Tour the week before after an absence of just over a year. Allegedly, he was banned after getting into a very heated argument with another player’s mother. According to some of the players I spoke to, he isn’t one of the most popular players amongst his peers. He keeps himself to himself and is the kind of guy who will speak his mind, whatever the consequence. He doesn’t hang around with many of the other players and has had his father in law as his caddy for much of his career.
And it is a career the started late. Hosug Choi is definitely the kind of golfer I would love to interview on my “The Round Golf podcast” if only speaking English wasn’t the barrier (https://audioboom.com/channel/the-round. )
He didn’t play golf until the age of twenty-five. And it was his work that got him started with the game, getting a job at a local golf course. There had been other jobs before. He worked for a supermarket and even worked at a tuna factory where his thumb got sliced off by a saw. He had it re-constructed using flesh from his stomach! Five years after taking up the game, with his self-taught swing, Hosung made it to the Korean Tour.
His first victory came four years later. A year before his second tour title in 2011, he almost won this very event, finishing second to the newly crowned PGA champion YE Yang. A victory in Indonesia five years ago in an event co-sanctioned with the Japan Golf Tour got him his card in that country and the Japanese have been enjoying that “fisherman’s swing” ever since.
And now we have all seen him in action. How I was hoping he would make it to this year’s Open Championship. How he entertained me and you. A golfer who brought a smile to the face. I am not sure when or if he will pop up on my commentary box screen again. But I really hope so.