Choi Inspires Asian Tour Players to Shoot for the Stars

Choi Kyung JuKuala Lumpur, April 13: Choi Kyung-ju’s stunning performance at the recent Masters has convinced the Asian Tour that it can produce its very own Major winner in the near future.

The Asian stalwart produced a memorable back nine charge in a glorious final round at the year’s first Major en route to a three-under-par 69 which gave him a total of six-under-par 282.

Korea’s Choi finished third in the year’s first Major at Augusta National Golf Club after challenging eventual winner Phil Mickelson and runner-up Ernie Els in an absorbing duel in the final round.

Asian Tour Chairman Kyi Hla Han, Asia’s number one player in 1999, said: “Choi was simply outstanding at the Masters. He showed that Asian players have risen onto the world stage and played some glorious golf.

‘It wasn’t that long ago that Choi was cutting his professional teeth in Asia during the 1990s and his performance will surely give the impetus to Asian Tour players to step up to the challenge and perform on the international stage on a regular basis.

“Choi had a chance to win the Masters and I am confident that it will not be long before an Asian goes on to win a Major. We already have the likes of Arjun Atwal playing on the US PGA Tour and Thongchai Jaidee earning his European Tour card and they will get better and challenge for the big titles soon.”

Han added that the playing opportunities on the Asian T our will continue to sharpen the skills and talents of the region’s best players. Choi’s fine performance was Asia’s best since Lu Liang-huan of Taiwan finished second in the 1971 British Open.

Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee, currently leading the Asian Tour money ranking, said Choi is a role model for all upcoming talents in Asia. “I think Choi has proven that an Asian player can win a Major in the near future. He has achieved a lot of success in America and his third-place finish in the Masters was inspiring for other Asian players.

“Hopefully some day, I will earn an invitation to play at the Masters and challenge for the title. Choi nearly won it on Sunday and I do not see why Asians cannot go on to achieve success in the Majors,” said Thongchai.

A rice farmer??s son, Choi is an inspiration for budding Asian Tour players. He grew up on the island of Wando south of Korea and did not touch a golf club until the age of 16.

But once he got hooked on the game, his dedication and natural talent earned him victories around the region and he eventually broke through and earned a US PGA Tour card at the end of 1999. In 2002, Choi won twice on the US PGA Tour, becoming only the fourth Asian to taste victory in America.

At the Masters, Choi played his way into the history books by shooting an outward 30 in the second round to join Johnny Miller and Greg Norman as the only other players to achieve the feat. On Sunday, he holed a glorious eagle two, nailing a five iron from 220 yards that found the bottom of the cup on the 11th hole en route to his 69. It was only the third eagle on that hole in Masters history.

The Korean has not forgotten his roots in Asia, and played with Masters debutant and Asian Tour star Zhang Liang-wei, the first Chinese player to tee up at Augusta National, in a practice round last week.

The self-taught Zhang agonisingly missed the Masters cut by one shot but Han is confident that more Asian Tour members would soon make their way into the Majors and contend.

“Zhang was unfortunate to miss the cut in his first Masters but I’m sure his appearance will be a boost for golf in China and also in Asia with so many young kids taking up the game,” said Han.

In July, the Asian Tour will have a strong representation at the British Open, the year’s third Major. Last month, India’s Jyoti Randhawa, Yoshinobu Tsukada of Japan and Australian duo Kim Felton and Scott Barr qualified for the British Open and the quartet will be joined by last year’s Asian number one Atwal at Royal Troon, Scotland.

The player-led Asian Tour will resume with the staging of several events starting from the end of April. This year, the Asian Tour has enjoyed a great start in its opening half of the season with several momentous achievements recorded.

In January, Thai legend Boonchu Ruangkit claimed victory in his home Open, the Thailand Open, to become the oldest winner in Asia at the age of 47 years old. Later, Thongchai secured back to back wins in the Myanmar Open and Carlsberg Malaysian Open, the latter which saw him become the first Thai winner on the European Tour.

Mardan Mamat became the first Singaporean to win on the Asian Tour when he won the Royal Challenge Indian Open recently, which made him the eighth player to surpass the US$100,000 mark in winnings this year.