Age: 41 | Height: 5-feet-8 Driver: TaylorMade R11, 9 deg. Ball: Titleist Pro V1 Scoring average (rank): 69.99 (19th) Driving accuracy (rank): 62% fairways hit (91st)
BUILT TO THRILL
Watching K.J. Choi step to his ball is like watching a tank settle into position. The turf seems to give beneath his broad, squat legs as if they were cast from a material denser than flesh. After a small but decisive waggle, the turret of his chest then swivels coldly to lock on its target. The inevitability of what fires next—a compact, powerful move with lock-and-stock two-part cadence—can be demoralizing if you're matched against it. This past May, Choi kept the pressure on David Toms to beat him in a playoff at the Players Championship. It was his eighth PGA Tour victory and the closest so far to a major for the boy named Kyoung Ju Choi by his South Korean farmer parents.
Intense and intimidating as the gaze of the former powerlifter might be, a mien that cast Choi as the world No. 1 in the movie "Seven Days in Utopia," he is in fact a family man with a round laugh who moved to Texas for the weather, the airports and in part for the barbecue. And as relentlessly repeatable as his swing appears, it wasn't always so simple looking.
When Choi hooked up with coach Steve Bann in 2006 he had already won three times on U.S. soil. That he had achieved such success was a result of his work ethic more than the soundness of his technique, Bann says. "K.J. had a very rounded posture and slumped back so that he was sitting on his heels at address. From there, he really had no choice but to snatch the club away with his hands." To get the large muscles of Choi's shoulders to dictate the takeaway, Bann encouraged him to stand taller and bend forward more from his hips so his arms would hang naturally. This allowed for more of a one-piece takeaway.
"For his height [5-feet-8], K.J. actually has quite long arms," Bann says. "This is one reason why he creates such tremendous speed with what looks like a very rhythmical swing."
Choi's command of the English language has improved greatly in the past few years, but not to the same level as his world-class swing. There is beautiful simplicity, however, in the few words he finds to explain his move. "Long time ago I had elevator swing, where I swing too much up-down," Choi says. "Now it's more around. More coil. More simple. I only think good rhythm. One-two, one-two. Just turn-turn."
Perhaps the fact that his swing thoughts are in a second language enables him to rid the mental clutter and play better.