Three-time US PGA Tour winner KJ Choi is heading for the UBS Hong Kong Open and says he would love to win “one of the premier events in Asia”.
The trailblazer for Asian golf has been confirmed for next week’s Fanling showpiece and will lead Asia’s bid to end European players’ recent domination of the tournament.
“The UBS Hong Kong Open has always been one of the premier events in Asia and that’s how it’s perceived by the players,” said Choi. “It’s a tournament I would love to win someday. Personally, for me, it’s always been a friendly event to play in and I feel good to be coming back to play in Hong Kong.
“The UBS Hong Kong Open has a deep history and tradition. Many players have gone on to have great careers through the tournament – it has acted as a stepping stone for many Asian players to give a boost to their careers.”
Choi, who won the Chrysler Classic of Greensboro two months ago for his third career US PGA Tour victory, will start as one of the favourites in a talent-packed field for the UBS Hong Kong Open, to be played at the Hong Kong Golf Club from December 1-4.
His rivals will include defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, European Tour Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie from Scotland and 2003 champion Padraig Harrington of Ireland, a two-time winner on the US PGA Tour this year.
Choi, 35, will be bidding to become the first Asian since compatriot Kang Wook Soon in 1998 to win the UBS Hong Kong Open crown. Europeans have monopolised the trophy in recent years with six straight victories.
And he warned his game was in good shape as he prepared for Fanling. “I think my game is at a very comfortable level now,” he said. “Although there is always some room for improvement and as golf is a game of constant effort, I still feel there is a lot to do. However, overall I am comfortable with my game currently.”
Choi, who began his golfing education as a teenager by watching videos of Jack Nicklaus, has set several landmarks in recent years.
His victory at Greensboro gave him his third US success, matching the mark of Japan’s Shigeki Maruyama, who was runner-up that day. The duo are the only two Asians to have won more than one PGA Tour event.
His maiden US victory in 2002, at the Compaq Classic of New Orleans, made him the first Korean golfer to win on the PGA Tour. He followed up that same season with a runaway triumph in the Tampa Bay Classic, his seven-shot victory being the largest winning margin on the Tour that year.
In 2003, on his first visit to continental Europe, he captured the Linde German Masters, becoming the first Korean golfer to win a European Tour event. It also made him only the second Asian, after Japanese legend Isao Aoki, to win events in both the US and Europe.
Choi, currently the highest-ranked Asian player in the world, also welcomed UBS on board as the tournament’s title sponsor in a four-year agreement that has brought an immediate 50 per cent increase in prize money to US$1.2 million.
“It couldn’t be a better timing for UBS to be the new title sponsor of the Hong Kong Open,” he said. “With a global financial company as the new sponsor, I believe UBS will be able to upgrade the prestige of the Hong Kong Open even more. The players playing will be able to benefit a lot and gain valuable experience to take their careers to the next level.”
UBS was delighted to confirm Choi’s participation. “Given the UBS Hong Kong Open’s status as one of the crown jewels of Asian golf, it really is fitting that Asia’s number one ranked player will be coming to Hong Kong next month,” said Kathryn Shih, chief executive, UBS Hong Kong Branch.
“Choi has had a great season in 2005, with another victory on the US PGA Tour confirming his status as one of the game’s stars and we are delighted that he will be in the field.
“KJ is a true product of regional golf, having won several times on the Asian and Japan Tours before taking his game abroad. With his multiple victories in the United States and Europe, his graduation to the world stage serves as a real inspiration to the next generation of Asian golfers.
“He is clearly a player to watch at the Hong Kong Golf Club at the beginning of December.”
Choi last played in the Hong Kong Open two years ago. Asked for his thoughts on the Hong Kong Golf Club’s Composite Course, he said: “It’s not a course which is easy to score low on. From my understanding, the Composite Course is composed of the best holes at the Hong Kong Golf Club and that’s what I like the most about it.
“I give a lot of credit to the Hong Kong Golf Club for allowing the event to be played on their best holes. This shows the commitment of the club and the tournament, and such co-operation brings development not only to the tournament but also to the local golfing community.”
Despite finishing down the field two years ago, Choi has fond memories of his visit. “I remember doing a clinic for the children back then and how they seemed to love the experience. It was evidence of how the tournament organisers were putting their efforts into promoting the game of golf to the general public.”