Born in 1974, The Players Championship – the main event of the PGA Tour – recorded many Asian golfers competing, but only two Korean representatives were crowned.

KJ Choi was the first Asian golfer to win a trophy in The Players Championship.  Photo: ThePlayers.com

KJ Choi was the first Asian golfer to win a trophy in The Players Championship. Image: ThePlayers.com

At The Players Championship 2011, KJ Choi became the first champion from Asia. That year’s tournament had five representing the world’s most populous continent among 145 players.

“Before the tournament, private caddy Andy Prodger told me I couldn’t go back to my hometown on weekends. I don’t understand, but I have a feeling there is a surprise,” Choi, recently told the PGA Tour members’ private blog. At that time, Choi competed nine times but could not finish top 10.

Finished the first round of 70 sticks on the par72 field, Choi only set the goal through cutting. The next 68 strokes, the 1970-born golfer began to hope for reaching the top 10 after 36 holes.

Before entering the next round, he thought about the top 10 in the final round. In the penultimate stage, Choi reached the top 5 when he finished halfway but had to stop because of the bad weather. Therefore, he had to hit 27 holes the next day. On the closing day, Choi finished the backlog with 67 strokes, resulting in only one stroke behind the top of the table.

In the last round of the day, David Toms kept this position until hole 15. However, into hole 16, the American player kicked the ball into the lake and lost the advantage. Choi reached the top of the table thanks to the birdie hole 17, the famous oasis-shaped par3 hard. When Choi kept the last par, Toms returned the blow with a birdie. In the extra pit fight at hole 17, Toms slipped par close close and Choi pushed it in and went up to the coronation podium. “I was always proud to have scored negative all four rounds that year,” he shared on the PGA Tour blog.

Choi moved to the US in 1999, initially helping at the training ground and washing the car for a living while dreaming of professional golf. He later won eight PGA Tour championships and is considered the most successful Asian golfer in the arena.

Choi’s breakthrough victory inspired Korean golf. Seven years later, thanks to Kim Si Woo, golf Korean as well as Asia re-entered the list of event champions considered by professionals as the “fifth major”.

But Kim made a stronger impression than Choi. Kim won The Players 2017 at the age of 21, still the youngest champion in tournament history. In the year of the coronation, Kim, though two strokes behind the top of the table after 54 holes, ended up on top with a score of -10, leading three strokes in the end. The whole closing round, he scored three birdies and not bogey. At that time seven Asian golfers were recorded in competition.

In fact, Kim almost missed the chance to go to history. He was about to give up. “After the penultimate round, I lost my back. Before the last match 30 minutes, the health professional still had to help relieve back muscle pain. The pitch was not healed, but I lost the pain due to the pressure of the game,” said Kim tell.

Kim Si Woo is the youngest champion in The Players Championship history.  Photo: AP

Kim Si Woo is the youngest champion in The Players Championship history. Image: AP

After Choi and Kim, many Korean and Asian players continued to find victory in The Players. “When KJ Choi held The Players, I was young and couldn’t watch it live. Then I watched the replay and wanted to follow his example,” said Im Sung-jae. Im for the first time in 2019. At that time, Im just got on the PGA Tour, constantly “plowing” and in a short time, nicknamed “Iron Man”.

After 36 holes The Players, Im was eliminated. But he made his mark in the second round with a hole-in-one in hole 13, par3. After the defeat of TPC Sawgrass, Im diligently competed and won the title of “Excellent Rookie” at the end of the PGA Tour season that year. In February 2020, he won his first championship – Honda Classic.

In March 2020, The Players came to reschedule. This time, Japanese player Hideki Matsuyama kept the top of the group’s match thanks to 63 strokes – across the field record, including eight birdies, an eagle and a bogey. But the opening round of March 12 was also the only round as the PGA Tour canceled the tournament on the same night due to Covid-19. The next day, they closed the arena and did not play again in June. As a result, Matsuyama’s performance has not been officially recognized.

“Last year I was at a high level, but a pandemic struck. It was a challenge for the world, not just golf. Now I have a chance to perform,” Matsuyama told The Players this year. The tournament kicked off on March 11. Eight Asian golfers finished the first match. In this group, Kim and Im took the top spot – T41 with even par and Matsuyama at T111 (+4).

Chuah Choo Chiang – Quoc Huy


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