Hoylake, July 15: Korean star K.J. Choi has reunited with former caddie Andy Prodger for the Open Championship as he plots for a long-awaited Major triumph at Royal Liverpool this week.
The 44-year-old Choi, an eight-time PGA Tour winner and Asian Tour honorary member, coaxed the experienced Englishman out of retirement and hopes the decision will pay off in the year’s third Major.
“This week, Andy has come back to be on my bag. He lives in Scotland, so it made sense to have him with me here. Two years ago, he said he was tired and wanted to retire as my caddie but after staying home for a while, he’s now better physically! We were together for nine years, so it’s good to have him back … he’s like family,” said Choi.
Prodger, one of the most respected caddies in the game, is well known for helping golf legend Nick Faldo win the first two of his Major titles in the 1987 Open Championship and 1989 Masters Tournament. He has also worked with the likes of eight-time European number one Colin Montgomerie and won 12 titles around the world with Choi.
With one career top-10 at The Open, Choi hopes Prodger’s experience and guile will lead him to a successful campaign at Royal Liverpool.
“The course is difficult. It’s long, windy and narrow,” assessed the Korean star, the first Asian Tour graduate to find fame in the world of golf.
“On this course, the par fives will be important. Whoever makes birdies and scores on these holes, they will do well. It doesn’t matter if the course is hard or firm. You need to hit it good. It can be difficult with the wind and there are also many out of bounds area.”
After slipping out of the world’s top-50 for the first time in four years, the powerfully built Korean, who is nicknamed “The Tank”, has showed glimpses on his old self with two tied second finishes on the PGA Tour this season.
He has moved up to 71st place in the world after starting 2014 in 134th position, his lowest ranking in over 10 years.
But as approaches his mid-40s, Choi conceded he must keep pace with the young and power hitters.
“The body is not the same as it was five years ago. We’re now into our 40s and you need to catch up with jet lag, body condition, muscle function, stretching and flexibility. It is a little bit slow now,” he said.
“My distance is a bit shorter than five years ago and the young players are so much longer than me and golf courses are designed for them now. Some players are hitting driver and seven or eight irons into the greens and I’m hitting driver and five wood. That’s a four club gap.
“I have the experience and if you have power and experience, it’s very good. If you have power but no experience, it won’t help. I feel my swing and confidence is much better now but in the Majors, it’s a different tournament.”
Choi is also determined to play his into the International Team for the Presidents Cup, which will be played in Korea next year, although he has already been named as vice-captain recently.
“I would love to play in my home town. There will be so many happy fans and spectators. If I can get back into the world’s top-50, then I will play. If not, I won’t be able to help my team. I’m close to the top-50 and need a couple of top-10s, top threes to get there again,” he said.
With a strong Asian contingent at Royal Liverpool which includes the likes of Thai duo Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Thongchai Jaidee, India’s Anirban Lahiri and countrymen Y.E. Yang and Kim Hyung-sung, Choi said it was all due to the rise of playing standards in Asia.
“There are now good players on the Asian Tour. With the World Golf Championships and the Tours cooperating, the competition is higher and players have the opportunity to play together. The PGA Tour is now in Malaysia and China and it’s a good chance for the Asian Tour players. If they win these, they can come over with a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour,” said Choi.
Source: Asian Tour