Choi Kyong-ju has become the first Korean golfer to win a PGA Tour Champions tournament, two years after he made a debut in the Senior PGA Tour, a tournament for golfers over 50, last year.
Choi shot 4-under 68 with five birdies and one bogey in the final round of the PGA Tour Champions PURE Insurance Championship, for a total of 13-under 203. Choi won the tournament by two shots over Berhard Langer and Alex Cejka, both from Germany.
This is Choi’s first win in a regular tournament in nine years since he last won the Korean Tour’s CJ Invitational in October 2012. “This is my first win in almost 10 years. It wasn’t easy because there were so many great players in the tournament,” Choi, who took home $330,000 in prize money, said. “It’s even more rewarding since I made it to the top in a great tournament competing with great players. I’ve played countless times at Pebble Beach but today is the happiest and most fantastic day.”
Choi left another mark in the history of Korean golf with the victory. Choi, who started competing in the Korean Tour in 1994, passed the PGA Tour Qualifying School in November 1999 and became the first Korean to qualify for the PGA Tour. Choi did not stop there. In May 2002, he became the first Korean to win on the PGA Tour at the Compaq Classic of New Orleans. In 2001, he became the first Asian golf to win the Players Championship, which is referred to as golf’s unofficial ‘fifth major.’ With eight career wins, Choi is the most successful male Asian golfer in PGA Tour history. Narrowly missing the trophy after a playoff at the Sanford International last week, Choi captured a victory a week later at the PURE Insurance Championship.
Choi has been able to serve as a pioneer of Korean golf for over 20 years because of his willingness to change over and over again, overcoming difficulties and hardships. After claiming his seventh PGA Tour win at the Sony Open in 2008, Choi hit a slump. Some said “Choi is over,” citing frequent injuries and his age of 40. However, Choi managed to lose 10 kilograms through diet and physical training. He stopped eating his favorite dishes, kimchi stew and samgyeopsal (pork belly) because he thought he needed to stay slim in order to prevent injuries and play for a long time. He also changed his swing to a softer and simpler style. After claiming a victory at the Players Championship in 2011, Choi was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and underwent an operation. As a result, he lost 13 kilograms and faced a crisis in his career but got over it with a positive set of mind and strong will. “I ran straight ahead without looking back. I’ll try to be more modest going forward.”
Choi, who has written a new page in the history of Korean golf, will return to Korea on Tuesday. From Thursday, he will be competing at the Hyundai Marine Choi Kyoung-ju Invitational at Ferrum Club.