K.J. could qualify for Masters

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K.J. could qualify for Masters

Choi Kyung-ju, better known around the world by his nickname “K.J.,” looked hard-pressed to earn a spot in the 2010 Masters Golf Tournament at the start of the season.

But by qualifying for his eighth consecutive appearance at what many call golf’s main event, Choi has managed to keep his streak alive.

“To be honest, I thought it would be difficult for me to qualify for the Masters this year. But I was able to improve my world ranking to 45th overall within three months to realize my goal,” Choi said in a phone interview with the JoongAng Ilbo.

“Words cannot express the joy I am feeling at the moment.”

Choi now has the distinction of becoming the only Asian golfer to qualify for eight consecutive Masters, but it wasn’t easy. One of the requirements for qualifying for the Masters is being ranked in the top 50 in the world.

“At the start of the season, I was ranked 96th in the world and thought it would be impossible to earn a spot in the Masters if I did not win an event,” said Choi. “My plan was to improve my ranking to 50th overall by the end of March. It seemed like a long shot at the time.”

Choi delivered at the Arnold Palmer Invitational Tournament, which ended early yesterday. There, he finished 17th overall to improve his world ranking to 45th.

That’s after coming in second at both the Maybank Malaysian Open and the PGA Tour’s Transitions Championship, which bumped him up from 96th in the world to 47th.

Leapfrogging 51 places in the world rankings is not an easy feat, and there is a reason for Choi’s quick turnaround.

“My peers on the PGA tour often ask me about the improved distance on my drive shot,” explained the golfer.

Choi’s drive, which used to average 280 yards, has improved noticeably to over 300 yards this season.

That’s not all - his power has also improved to the point where the 39-year-old golfer uses a seven-iron club from 200 yards out.

That’s part of the reason why he is averaging the third best of 69.40 strokes this season.

Ernie Els is in first with 68.88.

“Between November of 2007 and June 2008, excessive weight-loss training led to a back injury. I suffered from the lingering aftereffects for the following 18 months,” said Choi.

“I’m currently at a comfortable weight for me of 90 kilograms [198 pounds] and my stroke has returned to normal.

“I am ready to challenge for my first major victory.”

By Choi Chang-ho [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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