Choi steals the show at AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

Feb 8, 2019   //   by growthegame   //   golf industry, Latest News  //  No Comments

As they waited to tee off from the third tee box Thursday afternoon, Jerry Kelly and Aaron Rodgers took a look inside the golf bag of playing partner Ho Sung Choi. The two had taken an interest in his unique head covers, which are imprinted with the logos of his famous swing.


Seizing the moment, Choi quickly grabbed a head cover off of a club and placed it on his hand. Then he patted the two on their backs with the makeshift mitten, drawing huge laughs from the gallery behind them.


Despite playing with high-profile American celebrities against a beautiful backdrop, it was Choi who managed to steal the show in the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. The Japan Golf Tour star, in the field this week on a sponsor’s exemption after his fisherman’s swing went viral, shot a 1-over 72 in his PGA TOUR debut.


“I tried not to be, but I was nervous over the first few holes,” Choi said. “But I think I was lacking a little bit on my approach putts. Other than that it was a great experience.”


Choi drew both awes and laughs during his opening round. He began the day by placing rabbit ears over his playing partners’ heads as they posed for photographs, then followed it up with a near hole-out from the trees that helped him save par.


“I felt like I was really lucky on the first hole, but I was disappointed with some of the bogeys I made on the front,” he said. “So I tried to stay focused on the back.”


Playing his first round at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club, Choi found himself 4 over through his first 10 holes. He settled down with birdies on three of the next six holes, but missed out on chances for more as he struggled to adjust to the speed of the greens. His par putt on the par-4 seventh hole lipped out, and a near birdie on No. 8 barely slipped by.

“I’ve had a lot of experiences on courses on the Korean TOUR and the Japan TOUR but I felt like the biggest difference was on the greens,” Choi said. “I just couldn’t get used to it and it was very fast, so that was something that was the most difficult part for me.”


His first birdie of the day came on the par-3 11th, which drew a huge fist pump and a roar from the crowd.


“I definitely felt the love from my fans,” he said. “I felt like that pushed me more to focus on the back nine.”


With the fans on his side, Choi sent his next tee shot on No. 12 soaring down the middle of the fairway. The powerful blast drew audible gasps from the gallery, and he responded by encouraging them to cheer louder as he waved his hands up and down.


“The crowds were fantastic. They were yelling, ‘We love you, Ho Sung!” Kelly recalled. “They were sending out a lot to him. He was great. He would always turn around and give them a wave. The guy can play. It’s a great thing to give him a spot, but it’s not a charity thing, he can play.”


Choi coaxed one last birdie in from the fringe on No. 16, where his playing partners patted him on the back as he managed to find his rhythm. He will enter Friday’s second round at Spyglass Hill in a tie for 111th.


“I had so much fun today,” he said. “I think my pairing was just as good as the weather today and I learned a lot from Jerry Kelly.”


The admiration was mutual, as Kelly left impressed with Choi’s game. He said his wife plans on bringing translator earbuds tomorrow so the two can speak without having to worry about the language barrier.


“I really love the action,” Kelly said. “It made me want to get my leg into it just a little bit and see if I can get a little extra. His fundamentals at impact are pretty darn good and he can shift it and roll it. There’s no reason that he can’t compete.”


Brian Gay and Scott Langley lead the tournament at 7 under, with six players—including Si Woo Kim—tied for second at 6 under.


But expect Choi to continue grabbing most of the attention.


“You could see the joy he has when he plays,” said Rodgers, who introduced himself at the start of the day with a few Korean greetings. “He’s a good player. He made a lot of great swings out there.”