Article courtesy of Duramed FUTURES Tour
The 2009 season on the Duramed FUTURES Tour was a year of redemption for SONG YI CHOI of Seoul, South Korea. The fourth-year professional paid her dues and remained patient. This year, at the most critical time, Choi won her first professional tournament and walked away with the ultimate prize - full membership on the 2010 LPGA Tour. But her path has not been easy.
Choi, 24, posted two top-10 finishes in 15 events during her 2007 rookie season, and in 2008, she recorded eight top-10 finishes in 17 events. She was ranked fifth going into the season-ending 2008 ILOVENY Championship in Albany, N.Y., but was knocked out of the top five for full 2009 LPGA membership when Sarah-Jane (Kenyon) Smith won the Albany tournament, jumping from No. 8 into the third spot on the final money list.
That meant that Choi finished sixth on the Tour's 2008 money list for a lower 2009 LPGA membership status. It allowed her to enter 2009 LPGA tournaments off alternate lists or compete in LPGA Monday qualifying tournaments. This year, she bounced back and forth between the LPGA and Duramed FUTURES Tour.
But Choi's 2009 season on the Duramed FUTURES Tour was solid, from start to finish. The petite player kicked off her career-best year with a runner-up finish at the Tour's first tournament in Winter Haven, Fla., the Florida's Natural Growers Charity Classic, where she lost in a three-hole playoff.
Once again, she found herself in a tight position heading into the final tournament, the 2009 ILOVENY Championship. Choi was ranked 11th on the Tour's 2009 season money list with only one tournament remaining. She had to win to finish in the top five to earn full membership on the 2010 LPGA Tour. Leading by only one shot, she ultimately had to make a five-foot putt for par on the last hole of regulation to avoid a playoff. This time, Choi drained the putt, won the tournament and grabbed the fifth LPGA card for full 2010 membership.
Prior to turning professional in 2006, Choi was a four-time member of the prestigious Korean National Team (2002-2005), a two-time winner of the Korea Junior Golf Championship (2001, 2003), the runner-up at the 2005 Korea Ladies Amateur Golf Championship and a two-time collegiate winner while studying at Yensei University in South Korea.
Choi recently sat down with the Duramed FUTURES Tour senior writer Lisa D. Mickey to discuss her career on the LPGA's developmental tour:
DFT: Looking back at that final round on the 18th green, how important was your final putt?
Choi: I knew I had to make it, but I told myself, "No thinking. Just hit it."
DFT: How have you developed your game on this tour?
Choi: I'm hitting better shots, I have a better short game and a better mind for the game. My first year, I also got lost a lot when driving in the car. It was very hard, but I knew this was the way to the LPGA, so I just kept trying.
DFT: Would you rather chase the leader or lead the tournament?
Choi: I like to chase. There is more thrill in chasing. I like the excitement, but maybe my parents don't like the excitement so much. [Laughter]
DFT: What do you think is the strength of your game?
Choi: My irons are really good. I hit a lot of greens in regulation each round. [Choi hit 70.2 percent of all greens in regulation in 2009.]
DFT: How do you stay so calm all the time? You never look nervous.
Choi: I think about past tournaments when I played well and finished strong. I trust myself. And I try to forget about the money list.
DFT: What are your interests and hobbies other than golf?
Choi: I like all sports. I was a swimmer until age 14 and have one gold medal from competition back home in the individual medley. I guess I have always gotten a lot of exercise. I grew up in a building with five floors, but no elevator. There were lots of stairs. I also like music. I can play the piano and when I am home, I can play the jangu, which is a Korean traditional musical instrument, kind of like a drum. I learned to play it at church.
DFT: When did you start playing golf?
Choi: I followed my uncle when he was playing golf. I was 14. I tried it and I liked it. That was the end of swimming.
DFT: What has been your biggest lesson in your three seasons on the Duramed FUTURES Tour?
Choi: Managing myself, my schedule, my fitness and how much I practice. When you play so much and travel on your own, you learn a lot. My coach is back home in Korea, so I have had to learn to fix my own mistakes and figure things out. Even if you play every week, you still have to keep up your fitness. I try to find hotels with workout facilities.
DFT: How has the Duramed FUTURES Tour helped prepare you for the LPGA?
Choi: It has helped a lot. I started playing as a professional on the Duramed FUTURES Tour and I learned professionalism. It's the whole atmosphere of the tour with so many good players. Before I got here, I played a small secondary tour in Korea that is kind of like the Duramed FUTURES Tour, but we only had four tournaments a year.
DFT: Did you like playing over here from the start?
Choi: Yes, when I saw all of these players, I thought, "I can do it too." But it was a little scary. I took English in high school and I went to an International School. I can also speak a little German. It helps to understand.
DFT: Do you feel ready for the LPGA?
Choi: Yes. I still have work to do. I still want more distance and my fitness level can improve. And last year, I was not as happy as now. This year is unbelievable. I will go to the LPGA next year and there will be a lot of changes in my life. When I was 15, I saw Se Ri Pak winning and being successful on TV. She was my role model. So to be [on the LPGA Tour], it is really a dream come true.