Teen hopes to follow in K.J. Choi’s footsteps

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Teen hopes to follow in K.J. Choi’s footsteps


Yang Ji-woong, 14, trains every day. He hopes to emulate Choi Kyung-ju. By Kim Tae-sung

YONGIN, Gyeonggi - When Choi Kyung-ju, better known as K.J. Choi, came from behind to win the SBS Championship in 2004, then 7-year-old Yang Ji-woong’s said he jumped for joy.

The victory netted Choi a cool 50 million won ($46,150) in prize money, but Choi then donated it all to charity.

Now 14, Yang still remembers the day vividly.

The first time he met Choi in person was when he held an autograph session for only 100 fans.

“I want to become a great golfer like you,” Yang told Choi.

Ever since, Choi has been the boy’s hero.

Yang said he hopes to emulate everything about Choi, from his success in golf to his warm heart.

So far, so good. Today, Yang is the top-ranked middle school golfer in the country, having bagged 18 trophies since 2007.

Last year, he finished seventh with a 12-under par at the 8th Hosim Cup Amateur Golf Championship, a tournament for elementary- to college-age players.

When the JoongAng Ilbo met Yang on April 1, he was training with his father at a driving range at Yongin University in Gyeonggi, something he said he does for eight hours every day.

Yang spends most of his free time here practicing after school.

“I sometimes want to go out with my friends, but to become the youngest golfer to be accepted on Korea’s national team, I have no time to even think about that,” said Yang. “To release stress, I dance to a song by the girl group 2NE1 after returning home from practice at 10 p.m.”

Yang got his hands on his first golf club at the age of 6.

His father, Yang Gyeong-mok, 46, advised his son to become an athlete. “When I was an athlete, I trained in a poor environment. I want my son to play a sport that can be played in a better environment,” the ex-boxer said.

What Yang enjoys most about golf is sinking the ball. “Every time I fail to hole a ball, I try harder,” said Yang.

Golf was just a hobby for Yang in the beginning. But since showing signs of natural talent at a young age, he hasn’t stopped practicing. His father even quit his job to become Yang’s full-time coach and manager.

Fortunately, Yang was selected as an alternate for Korea’s national golf team three years ago, so sponsors have lined up to provide everything from uniforms to clubs. They even cover his training costs.

The family still has to come up with tournament fees, however, which sets them back up to 2 million won per tourney. Since Yang competes in so many tournaments - 15 to 20 a year - his father was forced to take out a hefty loan from the bank.

There’s no doubt that golf is an expensive sport to learn - especially in Korea. Normally, lessons cost from 50 million won to 100 million a year, but Yang has never received a formal lesson. His father has been his only teacher.

“I think I’m better because my father is my coach,” said Yang. “My father is able to point out every detail, and my friends who play golf often get shocked by his charisma,” he added.

By Kim Hyo-eun [sharon@joongang.co.kr]
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