The most successful golfer to come out of Asia is feeling comfortable amongst the snow-covered peaks of Queenstown ahead of this week’s ISPS HANDA New Zealand Open.
South Korean star KJ Choi, owner of 20 professional titles around the world, including eight on the PGA Tour, has settled well into his surroundings.
“Since being here it’s been absolutely wonderful,” Choi, the 2011 Players Championship winner, said.
“Just looking around, seeing the high mountains so close to the golf course, and I was completely off guard when I saw snow on the mountains, but the cool breeze feels like when you open the refrigerator. It’s very comfortable being here. The scenery is absolutely beautiful.”
Choi first came to New Zealand in the mid-1990s as a rookie professional looking to develop his trade during the winter.
Having grown up on an island off the coast of South Korea, Choi said he felt an affinity for New Zealand.
New Zealand’s US Open winner Michael Campbell had also encouraged him to return to New Zealand, but his busy PGA Tour schedule has previously ruled that out.
“In the last few days I’ve had some practise rounds and it’s just been absolutely wonderful. The people could not have been more friendly here and welcoming to me. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of fans.”
Choi has played both the Millbrook Resort and The Hills courses being used for the New Zealand Open this week and believes they offer a challenge, especially with the length of the opening holes at The Hills.
“There are some holes that are quite long, there are some holes that, if you hit it in the right spot, it allows you to come in easier to the greens,” he said.
“Some of the holes were long, some of the greens not that easy, but when I looked at some of the scores in the past, those scores were quite low. I think that’s indicative of the quality of the players who have played in the New Zealand Open previously. It’s a great stepping stone for playing at the top level on the regular PGA Tour.”
Choi has been paired with New Zealand’s Nick Voke, who is in his rookie professional season on the PGA Tour of Australasia after an impressive college career in the United States.
“I’ve heard a lot about him and I’m looking forward to seeing him,” Choi said.
“Hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to interact with him and be able to give him some advice. Hopefully I get some good vibes from him, he’s a young player, up and coming. Whatever I can provide I’m happy to do that, we’ll have a lot of fun and hopefully we can be relaxed and have a great time out on the course.”
New Zealand Open chairman John Hart said the inclusion of Choi in the field was a major coup, adding significant star appeal and pulling power for the tournament.
“I don’t think we should underestimate how big KJ Choi is for this tournament this week. KJ Choi is (a golfing) god in Asia. Our Asian television audiences will grow immensely because KJ Choi is here.”
The ISPS HANDA New Zealand Open begins on Thursday with a round alternately at Millbrook Resort and The Hills before a cut to the top 60 players plus ties to contest the final two rounds at Millbrook Resort.
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