Chella Choi has spent most of her time on the LPGA Tour flying under the radar.
The 22-year old has made steady progress since joining the tour in 2009. After recording four top-20 finishes in 2011 Choi enjoyed a breakout season last year, placing in the top 10 seven times, including three times in the top five. She finished the 2012 season ranked 20th on the money list
Last June at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in Waterloo, Ontario, Choi contended for what would have been her first LPGA victory and was part of a four-way sudden-death playoff that was eventually won by Brittany Lang. In August she tied for third at the CN Canadian Women’s Open, five shots behind the winner, 15-year old Lydia Ko.
“Is Canada a match for me?,” Choi says, with a laugh. “It was good experience.
“Actually I missed the cut two years at the Canadian Open, in 2010 and 2011, so I didn’t expect to play in Canada. But I had two good experiences last year, so I got a lot of confidence from there.”
Choi compiled an impressive junior record. She won the South Korean national junior title in 2005 and played for her homeland’s national team the following year.
In 2008 she earned medalist honors in the sectional phase of Q-School before prevailing in a four-for-two playoff to earn Category 11 status for the following year—the highest status available at Q-School. She said later the Q-School armosphere was the most pressure she’s ever experienced in competition.
“I think I had a lot of luck in my 2008 Q-school,” Choi realls. “My putts were not good those five days but I made unbelievable two birdies when I was playing the four holes in the playoff with three players for two spots. That memory gives good energy to my tour life.”
Choi didn’t attract a lot of attention as an LPGA rookie, in no small measure because her ‘rookie class’ included the likes of Jiyai Shin and Michelle Wie. Stacy Lewis was also a part of that class.
But Choi recalls that 2009 season as being immensely satisfying.
“I enjoyed the LPGA Tour even though I didn’t have a good or ranked rookie year,” she says. “The tour was just happiness for an 18-year old girl golfer.”
Choi has climbed through the ranks despite not being one of the longer hitters on tour. “My woods and long hybrids shots are good I think,” she says. “Woods and long hybrids shots both cover my distance.”
The highlight of Choi’s 2013 season to date has been a tie for eighth at the HSBC Women’s Champions 2013. She arrived at the Kraft Nabisco Championship ranked 28th on the money list with over $72,000 in official earnings.
She’s still looking to get into the winner’s circle for the first time but believes that moment is at hand. “I think I wasn’t ready for winning the last few years,” she says. “But now I’m ready and waiting for that time.”
As her own career evolves Choi is mindful of those who came before her. Like many Korean players she reveres Se Ri Pak who took the LPGA Tour by storm when she joined it in 1998 and paved the way for the multitude of Korean players who came after her.
Even now, Choi says her countrywoman’s impact has yet to reach its peak.
“Se Ri Pak’s influence is just now beginning for Korean players,” she says. “She has played over 15 years on LPGA with a brilliant career. And she still plays with good performances. I will follow her forever.”