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Golf: Choi returns to ‘second home’ for World Cup; Bhullar pressured by parents

KJ Choi, 43, is happy to be back in his ‘second home’ of Australia for this week’s World Cup at Royal Melbourne, where he will compete along with 27-year-old compatriot Bae Sang-moon, who won his first PGA Tour title earlier this year. Photos: Asian Tour.

KJ Choi, 43, is happy to be back in his ‘second home’ of Australia for this week’s World Cup at Royal Melbourne, where he will compete along with 27-year-old compatriot Bae Sang-moon, who won his first PGA Tour title earlier this year. Photos: Asian Tour.

November 19, 2013: Korean star KJ Choi, Asia’s most successful golfer, hopes a return to his ‘second home’ in Australia will spark a title run at the ISPS Handa World Cup of Golf, which starts on Thursday.

 

Along with 27-year-old compatriot Bae Sang-moon, the 43-year-old Choi will tee up in the elite 60-man field at Royal Melbourne Golf Club having competed at the same venue in the Presidents Cup two years ago and spent time Down Under during the winter months as a fledgling professional golfer.

 

“My coach is Australian, my trainer is Australian and in the past I have spent three years here in the winter months, so I feel at home here, like a second home. That’s why it feels good to be here,” said Choi, who lives in Texas, USA.

 

Since cutting his professional teeth in Asia, Choi has accumulated eight PGA Tour titles since 2002, including The Players Championship in 2011.

 

Choi’s best finish in the World Cup was third with Hur Suk-ho in 2002 when the event was focused on the team format. This year’s edition, modelled after the 2016 Olympics qualification, will offer US$7 million for the individual category and US$1 million for nations with two golfers in the tournament.

 

Choi has an historic connection to the event, having successfully negotiated qualifying for the 1997 World Cup at Kiawah Island, which he said provided the big push for him to play his way onto the PGA Tour.

 

“The World Cup is the one that made my life change. At that time, I decided to set my goal to become a professional golfer in the United States,” said the father-of-three.

 

“In the 1990s, professional golfers in Korea were not allowed to hit divots from the fairways. When we got to South Carolina, we were the only golfers in the practice round and we decided that we would just hit ‘top’ shots all day long and not take divots as the course conditions were so good and we did not want to hurt the grass.

 

“The next day, more teams showed up and they were hitting divots and only then we realised we could hit shots with divots!”

 

Bae, who won the Korean and Japan Tour money lists and three Asian Tour titles before joining the PGA Tour last year, hopes to make a strong impression at his second World Cup.

 

“KJ is a really good player so I’m very excited. I had a practice round, but this course is a bit tough, a little different than American courses,” said Bae, who won his first PGA Tour title at this year’s Byron Nelson Championship.

 

“This World Cup is very important and meaningful. I’m proud to be a part of the World Cup at Royal Melbourne, which is one of the best golf courses in the world.”

 

Meanwhile, India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar does not want to let down his biggest fans – his parents – when he attempts to build on a liking for Royal Melbourne, where he enjoyed a top-10 finish at last week’s Australian Masters.

 

“I’ve got family who came down from Brisbane and my parents are here as well from India. They do travel once in a while to watch me play and it’ll be good to play well in front of them at such an important event. Everyone is so excited to see me play in the World Cup,” said Bhullar, a four-time Asian Tour champion.

 

Gaganjeet Bhullar, 25, will be followed by family and friends as he makes his World Cup debut in Melbourne with close friend Anirban Lahiri, 26, in a new-look ‘Team India’.

Gaganjeet Bhullar, 25, will be followed by family and friends as he makes his World Cup debut in Melbourne with close friend Anirban Lahiri, 26, in a new-look ‘Team India’.

“I played really good here last week. I was high on confidence and I’m sure that confidence will help me. I just want to focus on the next four days. The sky is the limit. I’m going to try to keep my confidence level high.”

 

The 25-year-old Bhullar will represent his nation for the first time, together with close friend Anirban Lahiri.

 

“This is my first World Cup and I’m really excited,” Bhullar said. “We went for qualifying a few years ago and just missed it. It’s a great sense of achievement for team India. Anirban and I have grown up together in the amateur ranks and represented India in quite a few international events, so it’s good to be here together.”

 

The 26-year-old Lahiri, a three-time Asian Tour winner, didn’t enjoy such a good outing last week, missing the cut after failing to come to grips with the lighting-quick greens at one of Australia’s most famous sandbelt courses.

 

“They’re probably the quickest greens I’ve ever played on. The biggest challenge would be around the greens, getting into the right spots. You could be five or 10 feet away and have no chance of making a two-putt unless it goes in,” Lahiri said.

 

“It’s fantastic, though. I think Royal Melbourne is a very unique golf course, not one of the long courses in the world but a mix between a parkland course and a links course, especially the bunkering. It’s very windy and challenging.”

 

Lahiri has not let last week’s result affect his confidence as the young India team look to make an impact in a tournament traditionally associated with the team format.

 

“My game has been good. I didn’t putt very well last week, but I’ve made some adjustments to my putter, which is a good move. Hopefully I can get a good start this week. Gaganjeet had a great week last week, so he’s obviously got a hang of the golf course and we’re looking forward to combining our scores well.”

 

The elite field includes in-form Adam Scott of Australia, who has won his last two events at home, compatriot Jason Day, Graeme McDowell of Ireland, American Matt Kuchar, Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn, Italian Matteo Manassero and Asian Tour leader Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand.

 

Lahiri believes the 12-strong Asian contingent will rise to the challenge of competing against many of the world’s best.

 

“I think we’re getting to a point where we have to stop saying we’ve come to the world stage as we’re already at the world stage,” Lahiri said.

 

“I think there’s a whole bunch of us who consistently play against the top players in the world and on top-quality courses. The more events that we play like this and of this stature, the sooner we get to a point where we’re singling out events like this and saying we’re here.

 

“We’re a part of the bigger movement in golf, especially with golf improving the way it is in Asia. There’s evidence of that with guys like Kiradech breaking through globally. Obviously, we want to put the Asian Tour on another step forward on the world map, which we’ve been doing steadily.”

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