One of the first things Ho Sung Choi did when he arrived at TPC Deere Run this week was to check out some of the massive John Deere farm and construction machinery on display near the ninth green. He even climbed up into one of the beasts.
"It reminded me of something from the movie Transformers," Choi said Tuesday through an interpreter. "I thought it was so cool, and it was really interesting for me so I took a lot of pictures. I was trying to drive it, but there were no keys in it."
All those combines and front-end loaders sitting out there are sort of a sideshow to the PGA Tour event that gets underway today at Deere Run.
Sort of like Choi himself.
It’s not that the 45-year-old native of South Korea isn’t an accomplished golfer. He is. But let’s face it, he received a sponsor exemption into this week’s John Deere Classic largely because he has the weirdest, wildest swing this side of Javy Baez.
Choi’s swing is unabashedly unorthodox. And he really doesn’t care what anyone thinks of it.
"I personally love my swing," he said. "It’s a swing that I’ve come up with on my own for a long time, and it’s a swing that has worked for me."
Online videos of Choi flailing away with what has been described as a "fisherman’s swing" have gone viral. They easily could be used by teaching pros as an example of what not to do on a golf course.
He begins with what baseball people would refer to as a closed stance. His grip and backswing are fairly conventional but as he follows through, Choi’s back foot comes off the ground. He sometimes ends up spinning around with the right foot crossing over in front of his left so that he has to contort his body in order to watch the ball sail down the fairway.
"My back hurts just watching it," Tiger Woods said after checking out Choi at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-am earlier this year.
The swing Choi showed in Wednesday's JDC Pro-Am wasn't quite as exaggerated as what can be seen on some of the online videos, but it's still far from the PGA Tour norm.
Choi does it all quite gracefully. Some have likened his occasional pirouette follow-through to a ballet dancer. Less complimentary observers have invoked the name of Happy Gilmore.
Fans love it. When Choi played Pebble Beach in February, he attracted large galleries.
"It was my first experience in the U.S. and for fans to just swarm around me and be at every hole, it’s just been so overwhelming," he said. "I’m just so incredibly thankful to all the fans that showed their love for me."
Chances are, spectators gravitate toward Choi because his swing isn’t something straight out of the PGA textbook. It’s something the folks who hack their way around Duck Creek and Saukie can identify with.
Along with the bizarre swing, the 5-foot-8, 150-pound Choi has one of the more unusual back stories in the JDC field. He didn’t even take up golf until the age of 25 when he landed a part-time job at a course in Anyang, South Korea.
This was six years after he had to have his right thumb surgically reattached after he lopped it off in a chainsaw mishap.
He gradually became a very good player and has won two tournaments on the Japan Tour, including a victory in the Casio World Open last November. He also has won twice on the Korean Tour although those victories came in 2008 and 2011.
He is No. 274 in the World Golf Rankings, which doesn’t sound great until you consider that two players in the JDC field aren’t even in the top 2,000. Choi is 28 spots ahead of Padraig Harrington and well above former JDC champs Sean O’Hair, Jonathan Byrd and Steve Stricker on the list.
So, he is a little more than just a novelty act. If JDC officials simply wanted a player with a swing that elicits gasps and guffaws, they didn’t need to go all the way to South Korea to get one.
Choi, who will play in at least one more PGA Tour event at the Barracuda Championship in Reno, Nevada, two weeks from now, has tried to interact as much as possible with the other players while he’s here. He got a chance to meet 20-year-old Matthew Wolff, who won the 3M Open last week with a swing that also is considered to be a bit odd.
"Matthew actually hit behind me on the range (Monday) and I got to meet him …," Choi said. "I was most impressed with his rhythm. I thought his rhythm with the golf swing was just amazing."
Wolff is one of the favorites here this week, but we probably shouldn’t automatically write off Choi as a contender in the most nondescript JDC field in decades. He is listed as a 500-to-1 shot to win.
Choi said his primary goal is to make the cut — something he failed to do at Pebble Beach — but he’s not discounting the possibility that he could do much more than that.
"I feel like the game of golf, just like the seasons, it’s always fluctuating and it’s always different, and I personally feel like I play a lot better in the fall," he said. "But I’ve tried my best, and I’ve practiced a lot since (Pebble Beach) so I’m looking for good results."