By Adam Stanley – If you were to map out how a young golf professional career should begin, then you would be wise to follow that of Albin Choi.
The 23-year-old from Toronto is in the midst of his third professional season after spending 2013 on Mackenzie Tour – PGA Tour Canada, 2014 on the Web.com Tour – after finishing T15 at its Qualifying School that year – and is now back on the Mackenzie Tour, where he currently sits fourth on the Order of Merit. Choi captured the second event of the season in Victoria, after a successful winter on a mini-tour in the U.S., where he won twice more.
Choi, a member of Golf Canada’s Young Pro Program and also the 2012 Ontario Men’s Amateur champion, plays golf in such a way that at the 2013 RBC Canadian Open, former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel called Choi, “hands down the best amateur I’ve played with by far.”
So how can a youngster with such lofty classifications manage to harness all that into a complete golfing package? And, how does he do it with such a fun-loving demeanor that you think it must be put on?
He does it because Choi, whose early success has kept him smiling, has also had to go through something no one should: in 2011, he lost his mother, who suffered from depression, to suicide.
“I still miss her very much,” Choi says. “It was pretty tough for the first couple of years, but time heals most things. I’ve been trying to work harder and be better just for her, and for myself.”
Choi’s long-time coach from Golf Canada, Derek Ingram, has seen the North Carolina State graduate evolve from both a mental and physical perspective.
“He’s susceptible to getting darker when things don’t go well as a result of what happened in his personal life,” Ingram explains. “But Albin has turned a corner in terms of his outlook. I’ve never questioned Albin Choi’s game.
“I’ve never doubted his ability to be a superstar in this game.”
And, as far as that off-the-course personality?
“If anything, he might be a little too nice,” says Ingram with a laugh. “He’s smart, really happy, and great to be around.”
Choi admits that after university, where he won eight times, there was a bit of an adjustment period. He decided on N.C. State for a simple reason (“It was warm”), and because fellow Canadian star Matt Hill went there and had nothing but good things to say.
“I was looking for some sunshine and I just loved the facility,” Choi explains. “I felt good about going into the transition (from amateur to professional golf). I thought if I kept doing what I’d been doing, I’d do well. It’s been more of a roller-coaster ride than I thought, but it’s all part of the process.”
Choi missed nine cuts on the Web.com Tour in 2014, but has returned in 2015 with a bang. He acknowledges he might have tried a little too hard last season.
“We all want things to happen quick, and we all want to find that success early. It was a hard year for me. If I just went out there and did what I normally did, I think I would have done a little better,” Choi explains.
Ingram echoes that.
“He’d won so many college events and had been a winner at every level. He had the ability to dominate quickly and have success quickly because he was so good. He added pressure to himself, and forgot how to have a lot of fun,” he says.
If the success Choi has enjoyed in 2015 has been any indication, he’s remembered, in spades, how to enjoy golf again. As of press time, Choi sits fourth on the Mackenzie Tour’s Order of Merit, inside ‘The Five.’ He should have some status on the Web.com Tour for 2016 or at least a big step forward for Web.com Tour Qualifying.
A small part of that success, Choi admits, is because of the time he gets away from the golf course. He took an extended break between missing the cut at the National Capital Open to Support Our Troops and The Great Waterway Classic.
Asked what he worked on in that time, he said, “nothing,” with a smile.
“I took some time off. I needed to get away from golf a little bit and just really enjoyed my time at home.”
Choi’s friends – on and off the golf course, especially his Team Canada teammates – make up a strong group for Choi.
“Every friend you make on the course, you make a friend for life,” he says.
“You need to find a good balance in your life,” Choi continues. “This game can beat you down sometimes, so it’s good to have people around you to make it comforting.”
It’s impossible to predict where Albin Choi will end up as a professional, but so far, he’s got the right map to get there.