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Choi Kyoung-ju and Yang Yong-eun pair up in KPGA event

Sept 22,2017
For the first time in 14 years, two of the greatest Korean golfers, Choi Kyoung-ju and Yang Yong-eun, were paired together in a KPGA Tour event to play the first two rounds of the Genesis Championship at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon.

Since both Yang and Choi play mainly on the PGA Tour or the European Tour, it was rare for fans to see them play in the same KPGA tournament, as the 2009 Shinhan Donghae Open was the last KPGA Tour event they both played in.

“They’ve done a great job with the pairing,” Choi said.

The last time the two players were paired together in a KPGA Tour event before 2009 was at the 2003 SK Telecom Open. At the time, Choi won, shooting four rounds for 15 under par, while Yang finished tied for fourth at 11 under par.

In 2012, Yang and Choi were paired together in the first two rounds of the U.S. Open along with Kim Kyung-tae, and Choi finished tied for 15th by shooting one under par while Yang missed the cut. Looking at their results in the two tournaments in which they were paired together, Choi has played much better than Yang.

“I think I can play the tournament comfortably because we play practice rounds together often,” Yang said during a press conference on Wednesday. “Choi will play better than me in this tournament because, objectively, he’s better than me. So I’ll have to try my best.”

Though only round one has been completed, this time, the two got off to a similar start, shooting one over par, tied for 61st. Despite the tense competition, they enjoy a strong friendship that began a long time ago. When Choi left to the United States and slowly made a name for himself on the PGA Tour, he helped Yang settle there, as Choi believed Yang would be the next Korean golfer to be successful on the PGA Tour.

Yang made his PGA Tour debut in 2008 and bought a house five minutes from Choi’s in Dallas, Texas.

When Yang won the PGA Championship in 2009 with a come-from-behind victory against Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer in the world at the time, he donated part of his winning purse of 100 million won ($88,205) to Choi Kyoung-ju’s foundation.

Though there was a time when their relationship became awkward, after Yang’s success on the PGA Tour, which made him the first male Korean golfer to win the PGA Tour’s major tournament, this only motivated Choi to work harder.

They once again became close when they were selected to the international team for the 2011 Presidents Cup. This season, there’s a possibility Choi will lose his PGA Tour card, as he is ranked 177th on the FedEx Cup standing.

“At times, the PGA Tour gives out the Tour card based on career earnings,” Choi said. “So I’ll have my card for the next two years. And after, I’ll be eligible to play on the senior tour. Though it’ll be difficult for me to play in the major tournaments, I’m not worried about playing in regular PGA Tour events.”

Since Choi’s PGA Tour debut in 2000, he has earned about 35.2 billion won, the 25th highest in career earnings among the PGA Tour players. Yang, meanwhile, has lost his PGA Tour card and now plays mainly on the European Tour.

“The European Tour has a tough schedule because we need to travel to so many places,” Yang said. “I’ll be playing in the qualifying school for Japanese Tour in October and my schedule for the 2018 season will be determined based on the result from the qualifying school.”

The tournament has the highest winning purse in the KPGA Tour events this season, at 300 million won, and the champion is given an exemption for two PGA Tour events - CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges in October and the 2018 Genesis Open. Not only that, the champion will be awarded a Hyundai Genesis G70 as a prize.

“The field of the tournament is the most competitive throughout the KPGA Tour history,” said Choi Jin-ho, player of the year and the money leader in the 2016 season.

After the first round, Kim Seung-hyuk now leads by three shots at eight under par. Chan Kim, the money leader on the Japanese Tour, shot two under par in the first round to be tied for 18th.

BY SUNG HO-JUN [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]