It has been a series of ups and downs in the golf career of Esther Choe and her recent stellar play is leading her up a steep hill to long-awaited success. Starting out as one of the top junior players in the world, she had an impressive playing resume that led to lofty expectations from many when she turned pro at 17. She had plenty of high-level golf under her belt, having won the 2005 AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions, was a two-time member of the U.S. Junior Solheim Cup Team (2005, 2007) and played on the 2006 U.S. Junior Ryder Cup Team.
She felt she was ready to make the jump and knew collegiate golf was not the road she wanted to take. Asked whether she thought she made the right decision of turning pro, Choe said she still thinks she made the right decision.
“I think so,” said Choe. “I don’t have any regrets with that. I think there’s more to the tour life and more to it than just playing your golf. I feel like a lot of other things were affecting me.”
Going through the stage of late teenage years is tough on anyone, but ask a professional golfer with the expectations of the industry on her shoulders, she says it was all a serious learning process, one that pulled her down and away from the game she loved.
“I was a good junior player and was No. 1 ranked and then turned pro,” said Choe. “People had expectations and I think it was just a mixture of everything and just a downward kind of thing. I feel like most of it was growing up and learning.”
Her play throughout her six-year career has been by no means dismal, but for someone with such a great talent and a high goal, anything but the best was not good enough. She made all five cuts in the five starts she made in 2007, recording four top-10 finishes. Her second year proved to be a sophomore slump and put up a season-best T42 at the El Paso Golf Classic. Choe played her first full season in 2009 and saw her best finish come at the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic where she ended up T20.
With her game not coming together as she anticipated, the young pro said she second guessed her choice all the time. “I probably wanted to quit a million times,” said Choe.
Then things started to click in 2010 as she missed only one cut out of 16 starts and recorded five top-10 finishes including a T2 at the Tate and Lyle Players Championship. She ended the season No. 12 on the money list at $36,894, leaving her short of her Tour card once again.
She looked to build off of a solid 2010 campaign the next year but did not carry over any of what was working to the 2011 season. Choe made only six starts before she decided she couldn’t play out the rest of the season. Missing two cuts and three finishes outside the top-20 was an unbearable start.
“I just couldn’t go on,” said Choe. “I was miserable.”
After some much needed time off the course, she looked to change the scene up a bit and decided to split time between playing in the U.S. and in Europe on the LET in which she qualified for in January. She reached a point in her career where she found solace in relieving the pressure that had mounted her for much of her career. Without any more lofty expectations and anticipation of her playing as a pro, she started finding herself in sync with her game.
“I’m just in a better place and at peace with a lot of things,” said Choe.
If peace is what she needed, she got it. Choe got off to a red-hot start in 2012, recording back-to-back wins in her first two starts on the Symetra Tour at the Sara Bay Classic and the Riviera Nayarit Classic. Having already set her travel schedule in Europe throughout the month of June, she said she did not anticipate such a dominant start in the year.
After her win in Mexico she admitted to being glad she posted another win because she would be out of competition for the next four events. "I'm really glad because I might be missing some," said Choe. "It feels really good. I wasn't really expecting this at all."
With two career victories to her name, a commanding lead in the Volvik Race for the Card and some powerful momentum, she took her season to Europe where she continued her steady play. She made six starts and recorded three top-25 finishes and also got to experience two months’ worth of foreign culture.
“I went over there and I think it was a lot to adjust to,” said Choe. “Everything’s different, from the travel to the arrangements, the courses, the food and the currency. So there were a lot of things I had to adjust to quickly.
“I really enjoyed my experience,” she said. “Everyone’s really friendly. I made lots of friends and we got to hang out a lot going from city to city and just exploring. You have to focus. But I tried on Mondays and Tuesdays to go explore and then Wednesdays start playing golf.”
Choe made her return to the states in July and was surprised to see her name still at the top of the Volvik Race for the Card rankings, right where she left it in April.
“It has shocked me,” said Choe. “I thought for sure I’d be passed by now but it hasn’t happened and it’s going my way. I couldn’t’ ask for a better scenario.”
Her situation got even better after the Northeast Delta Dental International last week in Concord, NH, where she put up a formidable fight to make it three wins in three consecutive starts and missed a chance at becoming only the second player in Tour history to Vicky Hurst to accomplish such a feat.
Sitting three shots off the lead heading into the final round at Beaver Meadow Golf Course, Choe shot a 1-under 71 with four birdies on Sunday to force a playoff with second-round leader Jenny Gleason. Gleason hit her approach shot to six inches on the first playoff hole and Choe lipped out a 30-foot putt to fall out of contention. But she received $9,367 for her runner-up effort and pushed her to $43,117 for the season, nearly $13,000 ahead of the next player in the rankings.
Choe, who is humble and gracious in both victory and defeat, said that her new, easy-going approach to her game has brought her to the perfect position to move onto the LPGA Tour. Without expectations and pressure, she’s found the enjoyment of the game she once lost. With such an eye-opening 2012 season so far, she will for sure be turning a few heads in the future, but will keep the weighted stress off herself for now.
“I haven’t really reassessed because I’ve struggle the past couple years,” said Choe. “This year all I wanted to focus on was just playing good, solid golf and having fun in whatever I’m doing and not taking it too hard. I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself.”