From the start, though, the long-term goal was a move to the PGA Tour and the U.S. It took a while, but in 1999 he finally qualified. To help with the transition to a place where he didn't speak the language and knew almost no one, he brought his family with him. His extended support team traveled with him full time until two years ago, when David began school in The Woodlands, Texas, a Houston suburb chosen for its large Korean population and its proximity to both coasts.
As he settled into life in the U.S., Choi also made himself comfortable on Tour. His game was well-suited to the task. A solid ball striker, he hits it incredibly straight and doesn't hold back. His caddie, Andy Prodger, says Choi "goes at the pin on every shot--every shot. I've never seen someone do that before." Choi's steely demeanor and aggressive play suggest icy veins, but he fights his nerves from time to time. Says Prodger, "If a playing partner has hit a nice shot, [K.J. will] make a face and say, 'Nervous now.' Then he'll hit it even better."
That ability to face down his nerves and go at flags helped him win twice in 2002, at the Compaq (now Zurich) Classic of New Orleans and then at the Tampa Bay Classic (now the Chrysler Championship). Last season he didn't have a win, but he made the cut in 19 of his 24 starts, had seven top 10 finishes and earned more than $2 million for the second time in three years.
Now Choi's moving on to the next stage of his plan: becoming an elite player. The first step has been reining in his schedule and changing his off-course regimen. Until last year he played in an average of almost 40 tournaments a year worldwide. His trainer, David Darbyshire, felt Choi was wearing out, so the two worked to increase Choi's flexibility and strength. Choi also lowered his daily intake of high-carb Korean favorites, losing 15 pounds. (He's down to 190.) This year he'll play 32 times. "After all he's no kid anymore," says Yim.
These days, Choi chases them. So last Friday, with Amanda balking at his attempts to feed her, K.J. whisked her outside to enjoy the Georgia sunset. His manager, E.J. Kim, followed with Daniel. (David continued to sleep.) Finally, sated by the Golden Garden fare, Choi said good night and retired with his brood to the family's rental house. There he hunkered down for the night in the company of his first love and dreamed of his second.