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Last salute for Choi as army service beckons

Choi Jin-hoHONG KONG, Nov 21 - Korean Choi Jin-ho has an extra incentive to perform well for an Asia-Pacific select side that takes on Team China at OneAsia's Dongfeng Nissan Cup next week: it could be his last competitive tournament for nearly two years.

Just days after competing in the Ryder Cup-style team event at the CTS Tycoon Club in Shenzhen from November 30 to December 2, Choi will swap his golf shoes for army boots as he begins 20 months of national service.

While Choi has some say in which branch of the service he enters, he must first undergo five weeks of gruelling basic training -- although that shouldn't prove too difficult for a player regarded as one of the fittest on tour and a regular fixture at the hotel gyms on a busy OneAsia schedule.

"I’m thinking  of joining  the army," he said. "After taking the basic training course, I’ll probably be assigned to the reserve forces because I am married and have a dependent baby."

All able-bodied Korean men must perform national service, and while the near two-year interruption could prove career-ending for many professionals, Choi is determined to use the experience positively.

"I can't play any tournaments during my service period, but I can practice as much as I want," he said.

"I will be free to go to driving range or gym after duty and I am off on most weekends. I think with all the practice I will be doing, I could emerge even better because I will have enough time to get myself prepared for the future."
The 28-year-old from Gyeonggi-do draws inspiration from Kim Dae-sub, who won OneAsia's Kolon Korea Open in October just two months after being discharged from national service.

"Kim Dae-sub is a great example," said Choi, who finished tied for 11th in that tournament, nine shots off the lead. "He was also in the reserves."

Choi is relishing the chance to take part in the Dongfeng Nissan Cup despite not having played team golf since turning professional in 2004.

The competition was held for the first time last year when the Asia-Pacific won 12 1/2 to 11 1/2 on a gripping final day of singles after the teams were level 3 - 3 following the fourball matches and 6 - 6 following the foursomes.

"I am so glad and excited to be playing and I'll do my best to put on a good show," he said.

"I played in team events when I was an amateur, but I have no experience since turning pro," he added, saying the idea of collaboration on the golf course was something that always interested him.

"Singles play totally depends on the individual but foursomes and fourball play is unfamiliar to me so it does make me a bit nervous," he said. "I believe it’s going to be very meaningful experience."

Known for penetrating iron play that has earned him three titles on Korea’s domestic tour including this year’s Meritz Solmoro Open, Choi best season on OneAsia was last year when he finished joint runner-up at the Indonesia Open and shared third place a month later at the Thailand Open.

His first son was born earlier this year, and Choi says marriage and fatherhood had helped his golf.

"My wife takes a good care of baby and sacrifices herself  for me and my game," he said. "I am truly grateful to her.

"But I think I have also become more confident and relaxed since we have had a son, and it has had a positive effect on my game."

While Choi is determined to enthusiastically  embrace his military service, there is one aspect with being called next month up that he does regret -- missing the final two OneAsia tournaments of the season during the "down under" swing of the tour.

"The tournaments I want to play more than any other are Australia Open and Australia PGA Championship,  but I can't because of military service," he said.


Related stories:
19/11/2012 - Choo finds form for Dongfeng Nissan Cup
16/11/2012 - Team player Laycock relishes Dongfeng Nissan Cup challenge
15/11/2012 - Youth and experience for Asia-Pacific at Dongfeng Nissan Cup
08/11/2012 - China picks strong team to tackle Asia-Pacific
31/10/2012 - China's best to take on rest of Asia-Pacific