Jordan Spieth couldn’t start the fire, but now South Korea’s Cho Rak-hyun is burning ahead of Clearwater Bay Open
The 24-year-old comes to Hong Kong on the back of the best season of his career and is enjoying the game more than ever
Not even Jordan Spieth could start the fire that now burns inside South Korean Cho Rak-hyun as the 24-year-old enjoys the best season of his young career.
With the only two wins of his career coming on the China Tour in 2017, Cho is a far cry from the young golfer that at times couldn’t be bothered practising.
“My freshman year in high school I played a lot with Jordan [Spieth], Justin Thomas, our class was really strong,” Cho said.
“I didn’t really practise, so after we were done Jordan would be like ‘Rak, let’s go hit some balls, let’s go practise short game’ and he would take me.
“I think I was ranked sixth or seventh on [American Junior Golf Association] when I was freshman then I got kind of cocky. I was like ‘oh, I’m freshman and I’m up there, I don’t need to practise’.”
Cho, who studied at the University of Oregon, puts his lack of motivation during his latter teenage years down to an overexposure to the game.
“When I was young I was forced to play golf; in Asia when you start playing you have to hit a certain amount of balls per day, so I got burnt out at a young age,” he said.
“I just played golf, I didn’t really have friends. I didn’t really like golf at that time and I didn’t want to force myself to play. I think the experience I had when I was young affected me later, but now I enjoy playing.”
Cho enters this week’s Clearwater Bay Open full of confidence not only because of his two wins this year, but the general progression he has seen in his game.
After featuring heavily on the PGA Tour China during its three years before this year’s intermission, Cho has remained in China and has learned to love it.
“I had doubts in myself that I couldn’t win and wasn’t good enough, but after I managed to get that first win, it just boosted my confidence and every time I play I try to win out here now,” he said.
“When I turned pro four years ago, I have played better every year. That is my goal, just to play better than the year before and get my world ranking up as much as I can.
“The first year [in China] I wasn’t used to the food but now I know everyone on this tour. Now I like the food, I know where to go and I can speak a little now.
“I don’t want to be too comfortable, I don’t want to stay here too long but I don’t mind being here.”
And it’s just as well the victories have come in 2017, with Cho still harbouring some doubts about his place in the game.
“If I didn’t play better than I did last year, I was seriously going to think about quitting golf,” he said.
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“Now I enjoy playing golf, no one is telling me what to do, my parents don’t really give me any pressure.”
Currently holding a handy lead in the China Tour Order of Merit, Cho knows that retaining his position through to the end of the year will open the door to a host of tournaments in Europe.
But in the meantime, he is focused on playing for “pride and money” during his first trip to Clearwater Bay.
“I just came here to have fun, it’s just one event and it doesn’t really count for anything, just money and pride,” he said.
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“I think it’s one of the narrowest golf courses I’ve played … if I just keep the tee shots on the fairway I should be able to go low.
“I think the field is stronger than the field on the [China Tour], not a lot of guys are here but there are not a lot of bad guys here, they are all good.”