PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – A few dozen spectators and three grazing deer surrounded the first start at the Monterey Peninsula Golf Club on Thursday, craning their necks to better see the players starting the hole. The quartet included Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers quarterback who grew up five hours later in Chico, played collegiate California and was dragged all day by shouts of "Go Bears" – which he has recognized by saying, "Go Bears, but not in Chicago. . "
Rodgers, however, was not the main attraction of his group, and it suited him perfectly. In fact, he has essentially engaged in a supportive role. Last month he used his Twitter account to petition Choi Ho-sung, ranked 194th in the world and making his debut on the PGA Tour, competed in the first three rounds of the Pro-Am AT & T Pebble Beach with a sponsor waiver.
Choi's swing was known in the United States long before he arrived at Pebble Beach. It has become a viral sensation because Choi, originally from South Korea and used to Japan Tour, is a cross between Chi Chi Rodriguez and Fred Astaire.
Choi revolves around his follow up as if his club were his dance partner. His pre-swing routine is also unique, resembling an oblique muscle stretch; he pivots to his left and his eyes are fixed on his left shoulder while he is holding his club high, as if to light a kerosene lamp post. He pauses at the summit long enough to exhale loudly, emitting a shoo sound before landing on his ball.
Jordan Spieth, triple major winner and 2017 champion at Pebble Beach, had watched videos of Choi and was among those eager to see him up close.
"In fact, I'm fascinated by his momentum and his way of moving," said Spieth, adding, "It's really very fun, I think people are really excited to see him this week."
Choi, 45, started the game at about the same age as Spieth, 25, but he developed a touch of showmanship. The bigger the crowd, the more it seems to play. After being presented to warmly applaud on the first tee, Choi greeted the fans on all three sides of the tee before embarking on his routine before shooting.
On a different tee, he covered his driver's head, decorated with starry stars, and pretended to rub the backs of Rodgers and Jerry Kelly, the other professional, by passing them on their sweaters. Later, the other hobbyist, actor Chris O'Donnell, teased Rodgers about his mustache, which recalled Burt Reynolds' facial hair in the 1970s movie Smokey and the Bandit. Rodgers looked at Choi, who stood nearby, and Choi motioned him to lift his thumbs.
"See," said Rodgers, "Ho-sung likes that."
Choi surprised Rodgers with his English skills, after Rodgers surprised Choi by greeting him in Korean. Kelly showed up at Choi on the training green with an outstretched hand and a wide smile. "We're having so much fun!" He says.
After the round, Choi smiled broadly and said Kelly was right.
"I think my couple was as good as the weather," said Choi, through an interpreter, evoking abundant sunshine and negligible breeze, "and I 've learned a lot from Jerry Kelly.
Choi knows that he has a lot of delay in catching up. He was training for a job in the fishing industry, he said, until he lost his right thumb in a chain saw accident, 23 years.
The doctors tipped the tip and Choi reoriented his goal by getting a part-time job at a golf course two years later. It is there that he perfected his self-taught drive.
It's his first trip to the United States, he said, and he arrived with a lot of enthusiasm but not a single endorsement. His black cap and turquoise shirt were both sporting the Pebble Beach Golf Links logo, while his caddy was wearing a new TaylorMade bag that seemed to be tailor-made for Choi, with his follower's silhouette logo, accompanied by love at first sight.
Choi said that he had chosen his first-round outfit with determination. "I wanted to show my gratitude for the tournament to have invited me here," he said, adding, "I am extremely grateful and that is why I wear the logo."
The group was led by Jonah Webster, a 16-year-old golfer from Sonora, California, located about 170 km northeast of Monterey Bay. His grandfather, Steve Lee, who accompanied him on Thursday, said Webster was excited when he learned he would carry the mark of Rodgers, one of his idols, and Choi, whose he watched the swing on YouTube.
Lee joked that he had told his grandson to close his eyes when Choi had taken the club away, because his swing was not exactly something that impressionable youngsters should try. "It's fun to shoot for such a unique guy," Lee said.
Outside the strings, others seemed to share Lee's feeling. They cheered for every good shot and every big escape orchestrated by Choi, who was four out of four after 10 holes, but managed three birdies in the last eight to save an on-one of 72.
"I really felt the love of my fans," said Choi, "and I felt it made me more focused on the last nine."
Despite Choi's difficulties, he at least impressed Rodgers. "It's not a role play," said the quarterback. "He can play, and I think it's really good for golf."