Croquet, anyone? K.J. Choi shakes up putting green

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ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND (AP) - K.J. Choi has been getting more attention than anyone on the putting green.

He starts out like everyone else, lining up alongside the ball for what appears to be a normal swing. Then, he turns to face the hole, jutting out his right leg to the left of the ball, and spreads his hands far apart on a strange-looking club.

What comes next is something resembling a croquet swing. It’s all completely legal. And it just might set off a new craze if it helps Choi contend at the British Open.

“When I started out, I was not 100 percent comfortable with it,” the South Korean said through a translator. “But I believe in the theory and I believe in the principle behind it. I’ve worked hard and I’ve practiced hard. I’m convinced this is the right way to go. I’m not looking back.”

Choi’s radical change _ even more noteworthy since he’s doing it at the British Open with a prototype club that he’s only had for a couple of weeks _ is not unprecedented. Sam Snead tried putting with a croquet style, until the U.S. Golf Association passed a rule that a player couldn’t straddle the ball while swinging on the green.

Choi complies with that standard by standing beside the ball when he’s putting, facing the cup. And there’s no prohibition on swinging the putter between the legs from off the green, a shot that could come in handy at spacious St. Andrews. He plans on using the new club for shots up to 70 feet.

“Obviously, he has a lot of courage to do this coming into a major championship,” said Juan Elizondo, a longtime friend of Choi’s who designed the triangle-shaped putter and got it approved by the USGA. “But he’s relaxed. He thinks it helps his putting. He’s not worried what anyone thinks.”

Choi used the putter for the first time at last week’s John Deere Classic. Even though he missed the cut, he felt the new style could ultimately help his game _ as much as a stroke per round, according to Elizondo.

The 2-pound putter weighs about twice as much as the normal club, which in theory will reduce the chance of taking an uneven swing. Plus, only the lower hand is used to guide the club _ again, supposedly improving the probability of taking a level stroke.

“With a one-arm lever, you only have half as much chance to go wrong,” Elizondo insisted.

Facing the hole simply makes sense, he added, making it easier to stay focused on the line of the putt. So he designed a club to accommodate the new stroke, dubbing it the “JUANPUTT.”

“Does LeBron James stand sideways when he’s shooting free throws?” Elizondo said.

Choi, who missed the cut at Turnberry a year ago and has never finished higher than eighth at the British Open, figures the change will improve his chances of winning his first major title.

“People say I putted well with the old putter,” he said. “For me, there’s always room for improvement.”

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