SI Vault
Julius Richardson
May 13, 2002
With a breakout win, K.J. Choi displayed the balance of a champion and taught a few life lessons we can all relate to
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May 13, 2002

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With a breakout win, K.J. Choi displayed the balance of a champion and taught a few life lessons we can all relate to

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I saw the look of a winner the moment K.J. Choi addressed the shot that sealed his victory during the final round of the Compaq Classic, a 107-yard pitching wedge at the 16th hole that stopped at the edge of the cup for a tap-in birdie (above). It wasn't Choi's stone-cold visage that so impressed me but rather his perfect balance. You can tell a good Tour player from a great one by comparing their balance, and Choi's is as good as I've seen throughout the setup, swing and finish. I wasn't surprised to hear that a solid base is Choi's chief concern before every shot. "I want to make sure both feet are in balance as I set up to the ball," Choi said following the victory, "and once I take my stance, I move my hips from side to side a few times to get into the groove, so to speak, and then I swing."

Don't be shocked that Choi, 31, didn't take up golf until he was 16. Contrary to popular opinion, it's never too late to learn the game. Just look at me. I didn't hit my first shot until age 35, but within three years I had taught myself well enough to break 90. Three years after that, with the help of instructor Richard Grout, I was scratch.

After turning pro in 1994, Choi toiled in relative obscurity for seven years before achieving his goal of winning on Tour. I, too, know about perseverance. After my 20-year military career—during which I landed at Omaha Beach and later fought in the Battle of the Bulge—I tried to get work at golf courses across Pennsylvania and Ohio, but nobody would hire me because of the racial discrimination of the day. So beginning in 1960 I supported my family working as a missile inspector at an Air Force base and selling insurance, while moonlighting as a golf instructor. I finally got my first teaching position in 1987 at Great Lakes Naval Base, outside Chicago, at the tender age of 66.

Discipline, which I learned in the U.S. Army, is the key to good golf. At West Point, I learned to take apart and reassemble a machine gun blindfolded, so I had no problem attending to my weapon during combat. Similarly, a golfer needs to practice so that he can execute under the gun without thinking, as Choi did on Sunday with amazing grace.