November 12, 2007 – Expect Daniel Chopra to tread carefully if he hits his ball into the rough during this week’s UBS Hong Kong Open.
For the PGA Tour star fully remembers a startling encounter with a huge snake during the 2006 tournament.
“It was scary at the time and really funny afterwards,” recalls the Indian-raised Swede.
“I was playing with Michael Campbell and I hit my ball in the trees on the left-hand side of No.10. I went looking for my ball and saw it about 15 feet away.
“When you do that, you just focus on it, so I was immediately trying to see if I had a shot, but then as I started to walk towards it I felt something hit against the bottom of my foot. I looked down and it was a snake slithering away.
“It was at least six feet long, maybe eight. It was a big snake, that’s for sure, and I jumped out of my skin!”
Opponents will soon have as much reason to fear Chopra if he continues his steady rise up golf’s world rankings.
Certainly he will be one of the leading contenders when the UBS Hong Kong Open gets underway at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling on Thursday.
The US$2.25 million showpiece is headlined by no less than seven players who have won on the PGA Tour, including two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen, 2003 Masters winner Mike Weir and world No.11 KJ Choi.
Chopra is among that elite company, having claimed his maiden PGA Tour victory in the Ginn sur Mer Classic at Tesoro, Florida, last month.
It was his third top-10 finish of the year and helped him end the US season in 48th place on the Money List, confirming his status as a rising star.
“It was obviously fantastic, my first PGA Tour win,” said Chopra, who was born in Sweden but grew up in India from the age of seven.
“To get that win and then think about where I started from, learning the game at Delhi Golf Club and having to fly overseas just to get equipment, I knew I’d come a long way.”
Chopra, 33, agreed he would have his work cut out to add the UBS Hong Kong Open title to his CV, especially in a field awash with PGA Tour regulars, top European Tour players and nine of the top 10 golfers on the Asian Tour’s UBS Order of Merit.
But he said Fanling’s par-70 Championship Course would be a significant barrier in its own right.
“The course itself represents a huge challenge,” he stressed. “It’s one of those timeless courses where all the modern improvements in equipment don’t really help you.
“You still have to manoeuvre the golf ball, you still have to move it in the air, you still have to control your distance and you have to hit it straight. It is still a shot-maker’s course.
“It’s very important to hit the fairway. And if you do miss the fairway, then it’s important to play conservatively, hit the middle of the green and take your par. If you miss the green then you can end up in some very bad spots.”
Chopra, a keen student of the game, is fully aware of the Hong Kong Open’s status in Asian golf.
The tournament was first staged in 1959 – making it the territory’s oldest professional sporting event – and has been held every year at the Hong Kong Golf Club.
The list of previous winners is highlighted by nine Major champions, including Peter Thomson, Greg Norman, Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson.
“It’s among the most prestigious of the national Opens in Asia, it has incredible history,” said Chopra.
“I’m a member at Bay Hill in Orlando and I know Arnold Palmer. We talked about Fanling and he remembers playing here.
“To hear him talk about the course shows you the respect the best players in the game have for Fanling and the history that surrounds it. That’s part of the reason why I’m here.”