Choi the star at SK Telekom
BY Bruce Young | OneAsia Tour | 2012 SK Telecom Open | Preview | 16 May 2012
JEJU ISLAND, South Korea, May 16 – Asia’s brightest golf prospects will pit themselves against the best player the region has produced when Korean K. J. Choi tees off on Thursday in the SK Telecom Open at Pinx Golf Club on Jeju Island.
The legendary Choi has blazed a trail around the world since turning professional in 1994, winning 19 tournaments — including eight on the U.S. PGA Tour. His greatest triumph was the Players Championship last year when he beat American David Toms in a playoff after both finished at 13 under par.
He has also won the SK Telecom Open title three times, although not since it became part of OneAsia in 2010 with a billion Korean won purse (around U.S. $900,000).
Choi is a massive drawcard for the fourth event on OneAsia’s busy 2012 circuit, but he will be challenged every inch of the way by some of Asia’s best young talents, who are all seeking to follow in his footsteps.
“There are a lot of good young players emerging,” Choi said during the Pro-Am event on Wednesday. “I know they all want to follow me and I think they have a great chance of success.”
Many of those prospects are emerging from South Korea, which is proving to be an assembly line for the next generation of the world’s top golfers in both the women’s and men’s game.
“There has been a great change of attitude which has helped the Korean players emerge,” Choi said.
“Before, we used to be very self critical and negative. We were very hard (on ourselves) when we made mistakes and doubted we could perform well.
“These days the players are more positive and there is a much more positive approach to all the aspects of the game — and this is showing the rewards.”
Kim Bi-o epitomizes that approach, and his emphatic five-shot victory in last week’s GS Caltex Maekyung Open means he will be one to watch again, although the conditions will be very different this time around.
Fellow Korean and OneAsia members Ryu Hyun-woo, Kang Kyung-nam and Park Sang-hyun — who finished second to fourth respectively last week — are also part of that “next generation” and will be keen to prove their excellent showing was no fluke.
After last week’s hilly, tree-lined course with vicious sloping greens, the players face a flatter surface carved out of a volcanic plateau, but where the wind can quickly lay waste to a scorecard.
“It is a different ball game,” said New Zealander Gareth Paddison, who had a topsy-turvy tournament last week that included a 78 and a 66 — the joint best round of the tournament.
“If the wind blows, it’s going to get very interesting. Most of the pros can handle themselves around the wind, but I think as a Kiwi I probably wouldn’t mind if it blows a bit harder than normal.”
Australian Jamie Arnold, the best of the non-Koreans last week who finished 12 shots off the pace in joint 12th place, also hopes for a bit of a breeze.
“Its a lovely track in great condition, but I think its best defense will be the wind and it would be nice to see a few people blown away,” he said.
The effect the weather can have on the Pinx Golf Club was shown last year when Kurt Barnes won the title after the tournament lost the final day because of heavy fog. The weather report is more favourable for this week.
OneAsia Order of Merit leader Nick Cullen makes a return to the circuit keen to make an impact on his Korean debut.
“I can’t wait,” said the young Australian, who won the season-opening Enjoy Jakarta Indonesia Open but missed the cut at the Volvo China Open.
“I think my game is in good shape and I am really looking forward to the challenge.”
Other leading Australasians include Mike Hendry, Gareth Paddison and an improving Stephen Leaney.
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