By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL -- It's almost as if a career's worth of misfortune bided its time, waiting for Bill Choi to start his senior year.
A three-sport athlete at Randolph-Macon Academy since middle school, Choi glided through years of football, basketball and golf with nary a scratch.
That all ended this past fall, when Choi -- who plays offensive and defensive line for the Yellow Jackets during football season -- suffered a knee injury that cost him the rest of that campaign.
Choi rehabbed and worked to get back in time for basketball in the winter, but his luck as a small forward was hardly better. Early in the season, he felt something tear in the rotator cuff in his right shoulder.
Again, it was a lost season.
So on Monday, Choi was gingerly taking his first swings with a golf club and wondering if his recent string of bad luck might finally be over.
"This was the only year," Choi said of his injuries. "The past three years, I was never hurt. Maybe bruises, a little sprained ankle, nothing big like this year."
"It's still not healed yet, but it's almost healed, so I'm looking forward to playing golf. Today is the first practice and I did a couple swings. I think I feel better. I didn't do anything after my injury, didn't play any sports."
The Yellow Jackets are certainly hoping Choi is healthy enough to play again this season. A golfer at the school since seventh grade, Choi is a two-time All-Delaney Athletic Conference selection and headlines a fairly experienced squad primed to make some noise in the DAC standings this year.
With that in mind, R-MA coach Bill Curl made sure Choi did indeed take it easy on Monday during the team's first range practice. No drivers for Choi -- nothing but a wedge. Choi won't get to swing anything else until he's medically cleared, meaning Curl isn't even yet completely certain he'll have his top player back this season.
"Not 100 percent, but I'm sure he could play with a wedge and a putter as well as a lot of people can with a driver," Curl said. "He was the MVP last year and the year before that we had a senior who was the MVP, but Bill was still all-conference."
Then again, this forced focus on his short game might just be a blessing in disguise for Choi. Curl said the senior from Seoul, South Korea has always been rock-steady with his drives and approach shots.
"He'll pull the driver and hit it straight down the middle, I feel confident in that," Curl said. "His background, being Korean, he spent a lot of years on the range and he never went to the golf course. The first time he ever played golf was here at Shenandoah Valley when he was in the seventh grade. The cost of a round in Korea is astronomical, so his parents would pay for his lessons and also on the range. But he wasn't on the golf course, because over there it's a couple hundred dollars a round."
Since he'd never played an actual game before arriving in Front Royal, Choi had some catching up to do with his course management skills. His game has rapidly improved, as he averages in the high 30s to low 40s for a nine-hole round. Choi said his best performance so far came during his sophomore year, when he fired a three-over-par 38 to finish as the runner-up at the DAC championship tournament at Fauquier Springs Golf Course in Warrenton.
He's been a solid player throughout his career at R-MA, which Choi said was just the sort of school he was looking to attend ever since visiting the United States as first-grader.
"My aunt lives near here and she started looking for schools," Choi said. "She said I would fit well here because it's a military school and it's well-organized, so I came here in the sixth grade and I've liked it since then."
The military school aspect is important for Choi, who knows he'll have compulsory military service ahead back home in South Korea. First, he's planning to attend college in the U.S. for a year or so, before heading home to fulfill his military obligation.
"So I'll be ahead of everybody, hopefully," Choi said of his military school experience. "I'm planning on going after one year after college, then come back to study here."
Curl is confident the unflappable Choi is the right player to lead the Yellow Jackets on the course this year. To illustrate, Curl pointed to R-MA's season-opening match against Fredericksburg Christian last year. Conditions that day were not exactly ideal -- 26-degree weather with a 25-mph wind blowing.
"I saw him hit two out of bounds on the ninth hole, but he got up and hit the third shot and it was right down the middle," Curl said. "So he finished up and did fairly well. He'll play through just about anything."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>