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Emerging Lobo star Choi is eager to get back on golf course

University of New Mexico golfer Sam Choi was having a breakout season as a sophomore before the coronavirus outbreak cut his season short. (Courtesy of UNM)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Sam Choi’s life these days consists mostly of push-ups, movies and drawing at home in Albuquerque because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But the University of New Mexico sophomore, who had his standout golf season cut short, still ventures outside, while practicing safety, to run, or, as he did on Tuesday, to golf. He appeared to be on a golf course on Tuesday during a Zoom interview with the Journal.

“I think it’s a matter of time (before restrictions are lifted),” Choi said. “I’m just waiting for it to be clear.”

Choi, 19, is also looking forward to when he’ll soon be with his family in South Korea, where he was born. He leaves next week. He is just like everyone, wanting to get back to a normal routine, which for him, is packed with golf.

He will most likely be able to golf more in South Korea sooner than here in Albuquerque. South Korea’s situation with COVID-19 stands in sharp contrast from many other nations, including the U.S. The rate of new cases in South Korea peaked late last month and infections are still under 10,000, according to CBS News. Fewer than 160 people have died, according to the report.

Choi moved to the U.S. six years ago, when he was 13, and he played for Discovery, a private high school in Anaheim, California.

Choi said he fell in love with the game at a young age.

“I started playing golf when I was 7 or 8 years old,” he said “It was just natural. Dad plays golf. Mom plays golf. We have a little range next to my house in Korea. I went to the range, like, every day. It was my playground.”

Choi hasn’t been to his playground much recently. He said he isn’t sure what he’ll do about the recent news of the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility for spring sports student athletes. He wants to find out more about it.

Actually, all he wants to do now is just golf.

Choi said he struggled as a freshman, yet he was named Mountain West Conference Co-Freshman of the Year.

He picked up his play this year, as he was having a stellar season as a sophomore, featuring two Mountain West Conference Golfer of the Week honors and his first collegiate win at the Burns Intercollegiate tournament, which took place Feb. 20-22, in Hawaii.

Sam Choi, a 6-foot-1 sophomore on the 2019-20 University of New Mexico men’s golf year, is shown with his trophy after winning medalist honors at the John A. Burns Intercollegiate tournament on Feb. 22, 2020 in Lihue, Hawaii. (University of New Mexico photo)

Last week, he was named to the Arnold Palmer Cup international team. He will represent Korea in the Ryder Cup-style tournament that features the top men’s and women’s college golfers, matching the U.S. players against a team of international golfers.

Choi is hopeful he can play in it if goes on as scheduled July 3-5 at Lahinch Golf Club in western Ireland.

“He’s always been a great player,” UNM coach Glen Millican said. “He was one of the best players in the country coming out of junior golf. The way he was playing this year wasn’t surprising. When we recruited him he had all the indications of a guy who can have All-American seasons in college.”

Millican said Choi is a type of player who never stops working on his game.

“When you work at it the way he does,” Millican said, “your game is always in position to play great.”

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