Golf: My 'fisherman swing' is for survival, not for showmanship, says South Korean golfer Choi Ho-sung

Choi Ho-sung of Korea teeing off on hole 18 during the first round of the SMBC Singapore Open at the Serapong Course in Sentosa on Jan 17, 2019.
Choi Ho-sung of Korea teeing off on hole 18 during the first round of the SMBC Singapore Open at the Serapong Course in Sentosa on Jan 17, 2019.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - For a sport a little light on personality and verve, Choi Ho-sung is something of a godsend, a pantomime character who just happens to be a pro who can win as well.

When the South Korean first set the Internet abuzz with his "fisherman swing" last June, he was widely dismissed as a gimmicky showman.

He was already 44 years old and had not won in five years. Winning the Casio World Open on the Japan Golf Tour last November went some way to shushing the critics.

"At first when we looked at the replies from fans (on social media), a lot of them thought I was doing (the swing) on purpose to be funny," said the Pohang native, now 45, who is playing at the SMBC Singapore Open this week.

"But people realised, after I got some results, that I am serious and I am doing it to survive on the Tour and cope with the competition."

He had been trying out some variant of his trademark swing since 2013, but he said it was not until last year that he mastered it.

Where the conventional golfer is all stillness and precision for the follow-through, he lifts his right foot off the ground, swinging it round his body to complete a pirouette.

Ignoring his pre- and post-shot theatrics that included hoisting his driver skyward like a flagpole, analysis of his swing showed that his fundamentals are actually pretty sound up to the point where his club makes contact with the ball.

Golf.com's Luke Kerr-Dineen noted in his frame-by-frame breakdown: "His follow-through is more a reaction, some combination of nervousness and flair. That's fine. The ball is long gone by that point."

Choi's "style" came about, he explained, because "I am not as flexible as the young guys, and I can't really turn my hips very well. This way, I get more power and have a lower chance of getting injured".

But the most important thing is that it gives him length, saying: "Golf today is all about distance."

As his average drive distance increased from 269 to 282 yards last year, he saw his world ranking rise from 528 after the Singapore missed cut to 205 as he made the weekend play in his last 11 events.

At Sentosa on Friday (Jan 18), he was on four under through seven holes after a first-round 69, after second-round play was disrupted by further weather delays.

Choi is a rarity in this age of professional sport, being entirely self-taught. After graduating from high school at 20, he had a series of part-time jobs, including at a tuna factory where a freak chainsaw accident saw him lose part of his right thumb.

A job at Anyang Country Club seemed just that, another job.

"Two years into the job in 1997, the management changed. The new management's policy was that if you worked here, you had to understand how to play. So that was how I started," recalled Choi.

He did not have an instructor and did not have a natural affinity for the game. What he did have was a can-do spirit, which led to him going semi-pro in 1998 and fully professional in 2001.

He then eked out a journeyman career on the Korean and Japan tours for more than a decade until, as far as the world was concerned, shooting to prominence last year.

He is riding high now. On Monday, Choi told Korean media that he would be taking his fisherman swing to Pebble Beach next month for his PGA Tour debut after receiving a sponsor's exemption.

Despite the increased scrutiny from fans, media and even the world's top players, Choi feels no pressure to change the way he does things on the course.

"It's not right to have everyone fit into a standard because everyone has a different body type and a different swing that works for them," he said. "No one has the right answer. There can be many."