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Choi has his sights on Alberta Junior title

Written by Wes Gilbertson

Winning last year’s Alberta Bantam & Novice Championship with a 59, Ethan Choi, has a goal of winning the Alberta Junior & Juvenile Championship. Below are reflections from the now Team Alberta High Performance Squad member’s memorable day last year…

Ethan Choi wasn’t thinking about his score. Honest.

As any golfer can attest, that’s no small feat when you’re possibly on pace for a career-best round. Few folks can relate, but it must be darn-near impossible when you’re on the verge of firing a 59, the most magical number in golf.

The strategy worked wonders for a 14-year-old Choi, who made history and headlines with his record-setting spin at the Alberta Bantam Championship last August, running away with the provincial crown thanks to a 12-under 59 at River’s Edge Golf Club in Okotoks.

That’s right, 59.

At 14.

“I didn’t think about my score, actually, throughout the round,” said Choi, a resident of Pincher Creek. “I just stayed in the zone, and that’s pretty hard to do. That’s probably the only round I’ve felt that way.

“I don’t know how I did it. I guess when you’re playing well, you don’t really think about your score. It just happens.”

Fifty-nine doesn’t happen very often.

The bantam boys teed it up from the white tees at River’s Edge, with the Par-71 layout spanning 5,879 yards for the 14-and-under showdown.

Choi was rolling right away, dropping a 30-footer on the opening hole for his first of four consecutive birdies.

He notched another bird on the sixth, eagled the eighth and apparently wasn’t intimidated by the island green on No. 9, finishing that test with two tidy strokes and making the turn at 8-under 28. Wow.

Choi scratched another circle on his scorecard on No. 10, then settled for four straight pars before cranking off three more birdies. It was until he drained his putt for a deuce on No. 17 that he started to crunch the numbers.

“The first time I really thought about my score was on the 18th tee-box. That’s when I realized I just needed a par to shoot that number,” Choi said. “But I just went through my normal routine, took a few deep breaths and… ”

He chuckles, perhaps realizing that he’s making this sound way too simple.

“Just made my par,” he continued. “And it was done.”

The finishing assignment at River’s Edge doglegs to the right, and Choi pulled his drive a wee bit but still found the short stuff. The adrenaline must have been pumping on his approach, because he walloped a wedge-shot about 25 feet past the flag. Needing a two-putt for 59, he barely missed a long bomb before tapping in for a personal-best that many pros can’t even claim.

Twitter was abuzz. Instagram, too.

The youngster received all sorts of congratulatory notes, including a message from Jared du Toit, who made headlines of his own by contending for the title at the PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open just a few weeks earlier.

“At first, I thought it was a joke or something,” du Toit said of his reaction to Choi’s remarkable round. “When I found out it wasn’t, I was just amazed. I thought about the scores I was shooting at that age — anywhere between 75 and 85 — and how much better he is at 14 than I was.”

Choi’s mother, Rachel, was at River’s Edge that day. His father, Sheldon, was trying to follow the action online from his job at a pharmacy in Pincher Creek.

“I checked Twitter and it says, ’59.’ I was like, ‘Whoa, what?!’ ” Sheldon said. “It’s a lifetime achievement, I think, for any golfer.”

Indeed, it is.

A golf ball that’s only been struck 59 times isn’t typically ready for retirement, but that Titleist Pro V1 is now stashed among Choi’s keepsakes. Alberta Golf provided the official scorecard, now displayed in the living room of the family home.

Thing is, the talented up-and-comer — a regular at both Pincher Creek Golf Club and Lethbridge Country Club and a member of Team Alberta — won’t waste too much time gazing in his rearview mirror.

“I just want to leave that achievement in the past and move on,” he said. “I don’t want to dwell on that and be satisfied, because that was in the past. I just want to keep grinding away.”

Already better than a scratch handicap, Choi hopes another superb summer would land him a spot on Golf Canada’s national development squad. His list of more long-term goals includes a university golf scholarship and a career on the PGA Tour.

His course record at River’s Edge should be safe. And, who knows, maybe he’ll eventually enjoy another one of those days.

“Since I’ve done it before, I know it’s possible to do it again,” Choi said. “But you don’t go out there thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to shoot 59.’ It just happens as the day goes on.”


59!

This article was originally published in the 2017 edition of The Alberta Golfer Magazine. To view the full magazine, click here.

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