South Korea’s Ho-sung Choi has become a household name in golfing circles after videos of his unique swing gained traction online.
Here the 45 year old recounts his journey to professional golf which included losing half of his thumb, learning how to play the sport from pictures of Tiger Woods in magazines, and an incident in the rough which changed his game forever.
They call me the Fisherman. It was a photographer from the Japanese version of Golf Digest who came up with my nickname, as when he took photos of me, he thought my swing reminded him of a fisherman trying to hook his catch – so he called me the Fisherman in his captions.
When I was a child I never played sport – but I used to love playing in the water. I used to live right by the ocean – my parents’ house was 30 minutes from the sea – and although I never had lessons, I taught myself how to swim and I used to swim for hours in the waves. I didn’t play any other sports growing up and I didn’t ever think I’d get the chance to become a professional athlete later in my life.
When I was in my last year of high school, I lost half of my thumb in an accident. I was working a part-time job cutting tuna when I caught my finger in a machine. They had to take skin from my stomach to graft a new end to my thumb. It is something that affects my daily life – I really feel it in the winter and it swells a lot in the cold. I never see it as a disadvantage to my golf game though – I always try and think positively about it and use it to my advantage.
After that injury, I did a number of different jobs during my early 20s. I worked in a stone mine company, for Pohang Steel company, and delivering groceries – but nothing ever stuck. I was so lost for years and didn’t know what to do.
When I was 25 I got a part-time job at a golf course – but I had no intention of playing golf. While I was working at Anyang Country Club a new General Manager came in and encouraged everyone to try the sport. Coaches were expensive, so I taught myself how to play golf.
I learnt to play golf through seeing pictures of swings in magazines. When I started to learn the game there was no YouTube or any videos on the internet, so I just used to look at photos of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Annika Sorenstam and try and be like them. Of course, they were all just snapshots, but I was able to apply their technique by looking at them. My swing is very unique now though, and I don’t think I look like any of them when I’m playing!
I turned professional aged 29 in 2001 – but I lived year after year in a struggle. I had a desperate mindset that golf was all I had and I kept at it even through the bad times – I think that is what made me.
My big break came in 2008 where I had my first win in Korea. It took me three more years until I won again on the Korean Tour and then in 2013 I won again on the Japan Tour.
Everything changed in 2013. I remember trying my current swing when I was in deep rough, and after that moment I have been using the swing ever since.
I only use my follow through when I need to hit the ball really far – but I have to do it more often as I am getting older. With my follow through now it gives me an extra 15 to 20 yards on my normal swing. At first I couldn’t control the direction of my swing at all, but now I have mastered it that extra distance has made a big difference to my game.
I find it hilarious every time I see clips of me. I really do not know what happens while I play, as I am concentrating so much on my game. It really doesn’t matter how my swing looks as long as I am getting the right results.
I swing the way I do because it best fits my body. I started golf at an old age compared to a lot of other golfers and as I have gotten older, I have become less flexible, so I felt I needed to adapt my swing as I wasn’t hitting the ball as far as other players.
I never think about my age. I always think to myself ‘I can do it’ and I always try and aim as high as I can.
The best part of my game is definitely my mental strength. I don’t think that I have the best long game or short game, but I believe that it is my mindset which separates me from others.
I don’t know what I would be doing if I didn’t take up professional golf. I think I would have probably gone into business, and I believe that if I had I would be a very successful man now!
All I want to do is make people happy. My goal now is to travel the world playing golf and entertain all of the crowds as best as I can.
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