K J Choi confirmed for NZ Open
Korea’s K J Choi, arguably the most successful golfer to come out of Asia, will compete at the New Zealand Open near Queenstown in March.
Choi, one of the top 25 players on the all-time money list, joins defending champion Michael Hendry and fellow Kiwis Ryan Fox, Tim Wilkinson and Steven Alker, among the first to confirm for New Zealand’s premier golf tournament, sponsored by ISPS Handa.
The open, which is co-sanctioned with the PGA Tour of Australasia and the Asian Tour, and in partnership with the Japan Golf Tour, will be held at Millbrook Resort and The Hills from March 1-4.
Choi is probably the highest profile foreign golfer to compete in the open since Tiger Woods, but it will not be his first time in this country.
“I visited New Zealand as part of a winter training group in 1995 and I remember the beautiful trees on the golf course,’’ Choi said.
``I can’t believe it’s already been 21 years. I’m very excited and can’t wait to play in front of the New Zealand golf fans.’’
The Korean-born 47-year-old has enjoyed 20 professional wins worldwide, with eight wins on the PGA Tour including the 2011 Players Championship and has amassed more $NZ50 million in prizemoney.
“I’m motivated to continue playing because of the fans. This is my 19th season on the PGA Tour and 25th year playing professional golf,’’ Choi said.
``I certainly would not have achieved what I have been able to do without the fan support. Knowing this I’ve always tried to repay the fans by playing my best out on the golf course.
“I’m still hungry to achieve. It’s not easy but I really want to send a message to young players that it begins with diligence and preparation. I’m no longer the young-gun but I play every tournament believing in myself that I can do great things.
“I would love to be able to win a few more times on the PGA Tour which is one of my biggest goals, and I am also looking forward to three years’ time when I can join the Champions Tour.’’
New Zealand Open tournament chairman John Hart said Choi’s entry is further demonstration of the burgeoning international status of the event, which will be broadcast to 151 countries.
“It will be a thrill to have KJ with us and an opportunity for golf fans to watch one of the world’s most accomplished players and one of its most recognisable and likeable figures,” Hart said.
Choi was a former power-lifter but was told to try golf when the sport was first introduced into Korea. That proved a life-changer.
Following his early years learning the game in New Zealand, he began his professional career on the Asian Tour and the Japan Tour before finally earning his PGA Tour card in 2001.
He set a number of firsts for Korean golfers – the first to gain a PGA Tour card, and the first to win a PGA Tour event in 2002 when he won twice. He followed this with a further win on the PGA Tour and the German Open the following year. By 2007 he had moved into the top-10 in the world, peaking the following year with a world ranking of No 5.
His Players Championship victory came in 2011 at TPC Sawgrass when he beat David Toms in a playoff.
He has also played in the World Cup for Korea three times and in the Presidents’ Cup on three occasions.
Now based in Texas, he has retained his PGA Tour status because of his place among the top 25 on the all-time tour money-list.
Tickets for the open are on sale. Anyone who buys a ticket before February 6 will go into a draw for the ``ultimate fan inside-the-ropes experience’’.
On the final day the winner and a friend will walk with the leading Kiwi pro inside the ropes. They will also win a tournament shirt and cap, plus two tickets to the VIP champions’ lounge on the first three days.