Jay Choi is No. 41 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Colege Rankings. He would be much higher had it not been for one tournament where his stubbornness and determination told him he could play through pain and help his team.
For the New Mexico senior, the pain in his back prevailed from start to finish at last month’s Southern Highlands Intercollegiate in Las Vegas. The end result was a 78th-place finish after rounds of 81-81-87.
“I was having spasms in my lower back and they just got worse each day,” Choi said. “Looking back at it now, I guess I should have withdrawn. But at the time, I really felt I could play through it and things would get better.”
His other seven starts this season have produced top-20 finishes, including four top 10s and a victory March 28 at the National Invitational Tournament in Tucson, Ariz. Even with those three disastrous rounds in Vegas, he has a 72.83 scoring average.
Choi, 22, has posted 14 rounds at par or below and has been the Lobos’ No. 1 finisher in six of the team’s eight events. His overall won-loss record is 540-139-20, which would have been an even more impressive 539-62-20 had he sat out at Southern Highlands.
“It was probably poor judgment on my part, but I can’t dwell on it,” said Choi, who last summer won the Southwestern Amateur and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the U.S. Amateur.
“What I have to do now is move forward and keep playing the best I can.”
It didn’t take Choi long to rebound. He followed the Vegas tournament with a tie for 17th at the Hall of Fame Invitational in Houston and the victory at the NIT, his first of the season and third in his New Mexico career.
“I just want to play the best I can from here on out and help our team as much as I can,” said Choi, who indicated he would “more than likely” turn professional following the college season.
He definitely has been the Lobos’ go-to guy thus far this season, taking over that role from Spencer Levin, who left the New Mexico program after his junior year last season to turn pro.
“Jay has stepped up and been our leader this year, on and off the course,” said New Mexico coach Glen Millican. “He’s a very intense competitor and very talented. Throw out what happened in Las Vegas and he’s had a great year.”
Will it be good enough to earn Choi All-American honors? It should be if he continues playing like he has the bulk of the season.
As for Vegas? Choi already has forgotten it. After all, what happens there, stays there.