PEELER: Freshman Choi Makes Early Splash
Oct. 28, 2010
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, N.C. - NC State freshman golfer Albin Choi is a native of Vancouver, Canada, and the son of Korean immigrants who proudly goes by the Swedish first name that his newly settled parents picked out of a baby book just before he was born.
He might be the most international player to ever tee up a golf ball at NC State, which already has a strong foreign tradition thanks to South African-born Tim Clark, Swedish-born Carl Pettersson and Canadian-born Matt Hill.
Before his collegiate career is over, Choi could join those three as one of the most successful players in the program's history.
In less than two months on campus, Choi already has won two individual tournament titles and helped the Wolfpack earn two team titles and two runner-up finishes in its four fall tournaments. His individual titles at the Wolfpack Intercollegiate and the Rod Myers Invitational at Duke are twice as many as former NCAA national title winner Hill won in the fall prior to his remarkable 2009 campaign, in which he captured eight of his final nine tournaments.
Add those fall championships to the Canadian Amateur title Choi won a week before he enrolled at NC State, and the kid is on a roll similar to Hill's success during the spring of his sophomore season.
"I knew I was playing good golf when I arrived here," said the soft-spoken Choi. "I knew if I went out and didn't do anything dumb or stupid, I could pull off some more wins. I did do a few stupid things, but I managed to pull off two one-shot wins.
"It's not like I ran away from everyone out there."
This weekend, 18-year-old Choi has traveled to another international locale, this time in the Southern hemisphere, to represent Canada in the World Amateur Team Championship near Buenos Aires, Argentina. The biennial competition features 70 three-player men's teams and 50 three-player women's teams from around the world, playing Thursday through Sunday at the Buenos Aires Golf Club and the Olivos Golf Club.
"It's big time to be representing your country at 18 years old," Wolfpack head coach Richard Sykes said. "This is not like the Olympics where the gymnasts are all 12-13-14 years old. Golf is a maturity sport. To attain something like that is special."
Choi may be young, but he's been an accomplished golfer since his grandfather first put a golf club in his hands. Choi's family emigrated from Seoul, South Korea, shortly before he was born. His parents settled first in Vancouver, and his grandparents followed. The family now lives near Toronto.
Golf was a family bond, though Choi is the only member who still plays. And, no, despite the same common Korean surname, he's not related to PGA Tour star and Korean golfer K.J. Choi. That would be like asking NC State basketball player Tracy Smith if he's related to Ozzie or Anna Nicole.
But he is one of many players of Korean descent who has made a name for himself in the sport. Two of the last three winners of the USGA's United States Amateur Championship are native South Koreans, An Byeong-hun and Danny Lee.
Choi came from Canada to NC State in order to pursue his golf dreams, to play for an American college team and prepare for a future in professional golf. Since Ontarians Brad Revell, Hill, Mitch Sutton and a handful of other Canadians had beaten a path to play for the Wolfpack, Choi followed them to Raleigh.
"Matt's success here definitely had something to do with me deciding to come to NC State," Choi said. "But the main reason I came here was to learn under Coach Sykes and assistant coach Chip Watson. They are two great people and I really believe they can help my golf game."
Sykes has been impressed with Choi since he first saw him more than two years ago.
"He is a solid player," Sykes said. "He doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He is a precise player. He always hits the right shot. Time will tell how good he can be, but he's been pretty good so far."
Even Choi has been surprised at how well he's made the adjustment to American college life. He's done well in classes, except for the many times he's been buried under make-up work because of his excused absences for fall competitions. He loves playing at the Lonnie Poole Golf Course on Centennial Campus.
And he can't wait for winter to get here, only because he knows he can continue to work on his game outdoors, something he could not do from November to March in Vancouver.
"I wanted to be able to play golf all year round and not let my game rust through the wintertime," Choi said. "I wanted to keep playing on grass and not indoors. I didn't want to have an off-season."
He's kind of glad, however, that he won't have any more tournaments for a while after he returns from Argentina. He's eager to get back into the weight room and add some muscle to his wiry frame.
"I want to do some off-course stuff and start managing my fitness, with a lot of cardio, more stretching and some golf exercises," Choi said. "I couldn't really do that while I was playing in tournaments. Playing 72 holes of golf in four days can be really tiring.
"It's a competitive edge over your opponents if you can walk 72 holes of golf in four days without getting tired."
He's also ready for something else truly Canadian: hockey season.
"I'm not really a big fan," Choi said. "But I am kind of obligated to follow it, being from Canada. I don't watch much during the regular-season, but I like watching the playoffs."
Of course, if he plays as well in the spring as he did the fall, Choi may be too busy winning tournaments to pay attention then, either.
You may contact Tim Peeler at email@example.com.