A rookie on the Korean Professional Golf Association (KPGA) Tour this year, Choi’s nickname is Changu from the popular anime “Changu Can’t Be Stopped.” His dark eyebrows and pronounced facial features resemble Changu, and his aggressive play is unstoppable. “I want to make my own color with long shots rather than being ordinary,” he says.
From amateur to tour pro in five months
Until June of last year, Choi was still an amateur. The 2022-born golfer made a name for himself during his time as a member of the South Korean National Guard from 2020 to 2022 by sweeping the big amateur tournaments. In 2020, he won the Mae Kyung Solo Amateur Championship and the Jeollabuk-do Golf Association Jangbae Student Championship, and in 2021, he topped the Songam-bae Amateur.
Then, in June last year, after 10 tournaments on the Thrixon Tour, the second-tier tour of the Korea Professional Golf Association (KPGA), he took the top spot on the KPGA’s professional (associate) list, which is awarded to the top 10 amateur points earners. He went on to win the next 12 tournaments, earning full KPGA Tour Professional status less than a month after becoming an associate member. He then finished the 2022 season in ninth place in the Order of Merit, earning a spot on the 2023 KPGA Regular Tour for the top 10 players. In just five months, he went from amateur to full-time tour player.
If you look at the results, it seems like he walked on a red carpet and landed on the regular tour. However, the process was not so monotonous. “As an amateur, I missed out on the national team by one point, so I wanted to turn pro as soon as possible,” says Choi. “Even at school, there were high expectations for me to make the national team, but I didn’t make it. I was tired of being an amateur, and I wanted to grow a little more, so I challenged myself to play on the regular tour.”
While the five months were ostensibly “solid” for Choi, it was a time of reflection and perseverance, he says. “As an amateur, I was eliminated in three consecutive tournaments of the Srixon Tour 3-5. I thought I wouldn’t be able to play my best if I stayed on the secondary tour for a long time, so I put all my energy into trying to make my regular tour debut. Then I became an associate member and was exempted from qualifying, which made me feel better. I was lucky enough to win and become a regular tour player sooner than I thought. Looking back, I was just taking it one day at a time.”
“I was so focused on the road ahead, but when I looked back, there were flowers. That’s because some of his best and most memorable rounds came on the Srixon Tour. “The final round of the 12th edition of the Thrixon Tour was the best round of my life,” Choi said. “I shot 9-under par without a bogey that day, and it was especially meaningful to win with three consecutive birdies on the last 16 (par-4), 17 (par-3), and 18 (par-5) holes.”
Choi still gets a thrill thinking about it. “My most memorable round was also that day. My tee shot on the 18th hole, which is set at 539 yards, has stayed with me for a long time. The hole used to have trees blocking the view, but they cut them down before the tournament, so I hit it aggressively without looking back. My second shot was 100 meters to the pin, and that one aggressive tee shot gave me a birdie.”
“To be honest, I’d probably use it for tournament expenses.”
Choi said when asked what the first thing he would do with his winnings if he won his first title. His answer, which might have been a happy thought, was a reality check: winning on the ‘dream stage’ he had been hoping for so long. “Since I debuted on the KPGA Tour this season and competed in many tournaments, the expenses were higher than I thought, so even if I won, I would probably use it to pay for the expenses I’ve had or will have in the future,” he explained.
This season has been a tough adjustment for Choi. He has played in 17 events this year, with a tie for 10th at the Gunsan CC Open being his only top-10 finish. He is outside the top 80 in both the Genesis Order of Merit points and money list. “Obviously, the Korean Tour is a lot different than the Srixon Tour. I thought I needed to adjust for the first half of the year before the season started, but it took me longer than I thought it would. It was also difficult because most of the courses on the First Division Tour are new to me, but Gunsan CC is a course I used to play as a student, so I felt familiar with it. I think that’s why I did so well.”
He continued. “In fact, because of the change in environment, I tried some breaking strategies that I don’t usually play and played differently from my usual style. But I think I did better because I played in my own style. I think if I continue to utilize my style better, it will lead to good results.”
Despite the fierce competition on an almost weekly basis, Choi is approaching each tournament with an attitude of learning and not stressing. “I think I’ve grown a lot in the past year. “I think I’ve improved a lot in the past year. I’m playing in very different conditions in terms of tour environment, course setup, and green speed,” he said. “It’s a place where the best golfers in Korea are gathered. I learn a lot and feel a lot every week. I feel like I’m growing every day,” he laughed. After gaining experience in the ‘wilderness’ where only the best players survive, Choi plans to aim for the American stage. Next year, he plans to compete for a seeding on the Confederation Tour, the second tier of the U.S. Professional Golf Association (PGA), as well as overseas tours. 캡틴토토 주소
My own color ‘Jangta’
At 185 centimeters and 83 kilograms, Choi has the right build for a long hit. Of course, he may look a bit dwarfed compared to the KPGA Tour’s leading long hitter, Chung Chan-min, who stands at 6-foot-2 and weighs over 115 pounds. These two players are tied for first and second in average driver distance on the KPGA Tour this season. They’re back and forth at the end of every tournament, both averaging over 310 yards.
In recent tournaments, Choi has been in the same group as long-hitting Zoro Chung in the first and second rounds. “Fans often compare Chan-min to his older brother,” says Choi. “They say, ‘He’s smaller than you think, but he hits it far,'” he says. In fact, for Choi Young-joon, Chung Chan-min is his “all-around brother” who can do anything. “When I was in the regular army, Chan-min’s brother played for the national team, so I knew he had a lot of distance. He’s famous for being a long hitter, but he can do everything. His iron shots and short game are really good, but his long game is so good that it seems to overwhelm his other abilities.”
In April of this year, Choi hit a 400-yard driver off the tee on the ninth hole (par-4) of the third round of the KPGA Tour’s Golf Zone Open in Jeju. He has been driving 270 to 280 meters since his freshman year in high school, so he seems to be a natural long hitter. But he had his own tricks up his sleeve that he’d been practicing since he was an amateur. He trained his lower body using stairs. When climbing stairs, he would step on the first rung with his left foot and then follow it up with his right foot while rotating his pelvis in a swinging motion. As an amateur, he used to do this every day to get to the 14th floor of his house. “I repeated it every day to increase my distance, but now my house is on the second floor…” he laughs. Nowadays, he alternates between weight training and functional exercises for long shots. “It’s important to practice, so I practice speeding up my swing with a speed stick and pay attention to my lower body movements,” he says, adding, “I focus on the sequence of my body rotation because it’s important to hit a long shot.”
Long shots over 360 meters. For amateur golfers, it’s a dream come true, but is there a time when too much distance can be a problem? “It’s often an advantage, but sometimes it can be a disadvantage. The ball curves just as much as the other players, but because it flies farther, the drop point is off more. I have to pay a lot of attention to accuracy,” he said. Over the course of 18 holes, Choi will tee off with a driver on as few as 10 and as many as 14 holes, excluding par-3s. “Unless there’s water or a bunker where the tee shot lands, I usually don’t cut it,” he said. Choi hits a 2-iron for 250 meters, a 7-iron for 170 meters, and a pitching wedge for 140 meters. Unsurprisingly, the club he’s most confident with out of his 14 clubs is his 60-degree wedge. “I’m confident that I can stick a wedge shot inside 5 meters,” he says emphatically.
He wanted to be a golfer
Choi Young-joon was a sports dreamer. He started playing golf as a hobby in the first grade of elementary school and later tried basketball, badminton, soccer, table tennis, swimming, and baseball. Baseball was the sport he fell in love with the most. I started playing baseball in the third grade and by the fifth grade I was throwing up to 110 kilometers per hour. I was one of the fastest pitchers in my age group.
Then, in the winter of my sixth grade year, I had to write about what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I didn’t have a dream. He told his father, who was a golfer and always loved the game, that he wanted to play golf. “He said, ‘Then stop playing baseball and start playing golf,'” Choi said, adding, “That was the turning point in my life.”
He started playing golf and worked really hard. He once played putt-putt with eight friends and came in last place, so he shaved his head. He was nicknamed “Changu.” He also used the moves he learned as a pitcher to play golf. The force of stepping on the mound and winding up is similar to the lower body movement in a golf swing. “When I was pitching, it was a head-to-head battle to throw strikes on a full count,” he says. In golf, if you have a goal and confidence, you don’t turn around, you look at the fairway and make a confident shot,” he said.
He is now an aspiring golfer and a regular KPGA tour professional. Choi says he loves being a golfer because it allows him to do what he wants to do. He also has a pre-retirement goal. “There are so many good players on the KPGA Tour. You can’t add your own color just by hitting well. I want to penetrate the tour deeper and deeper with the image of a long hitter. I want to be a player whose name comes to mind when I hit a long shot.”