When North Carolina State golfer Albin Choi tells somebody where he’s from he usually waits for the next question.
“Immediately they will say, ‘Do you like hockey?’” Choi said. “And my response is, ‘of course I like hockey.”’
Choi, a junior who has lived in Toronto most of his life, loves sticks and pucks but his passion is golf. He’s one of the top players in the Atlantic Coast Conference and among a group of candidates to capture the individual title at the Old North State Club at the 60th ACC Men’s Golf Championships in April.
Choi grew up playing all sports but admits he never caught the hockey bug, which is his country’s most popular sport.
“It’s funny but I played basketball, soccer and everything else but really for me at a certain point it was all about golf,” said Choi, who headed into the spring leading the ACC in stroke average at 70.60.
Choi says he will turn pro this summer so this will be his last crack at trying to win an ACC individual title. He realizes some of the past champions of the ACC tournament are like a Who’s Who on the PGA Tour.
“I love the course but I really haven’t fared too well there my first two years,” said Choi, who along with Julian Suri of Duke, Denny McCarthy of Virginia, Ollie Schniederians of Georgia Tech and Even Beck of Wake Forest will likely contend for the title.
Also in the field will be defending champion Ben Rusch of Virginia.
Choi, who has won six tournaments and is the most decorated N.C. State golfer since another fellow Canadian, Matt Hill, says turning pro after his junior season is the right move.
“It’s bittersweet because I’ve loved my time here but I also feel like it’s the right time to turn professional after this semester,” Choi said. “I have no regrets and everybody has been great from my coaches and teammates to everybody at the school.”
Choi, who qualified and made the cut in last year’s PGA Tour’s Canadian Open, caught fire last spring and won a regional title. His 71.46 career scoring average at NC State and six tournament titles are second only to Hill, who will be playing on the Web.com Tour this season.
As for the team title, Georgia Tech has owned Old North State Club along the banks of Badin Lake in New London, N.C., winning the last four titles.
“Georgia Tech always tears that course up,” Choi said. “They play beautiful there but I think we have the talent to do some damage.”
The Yellow Jackets have won or shared the title six of the last seven years, and have captured 14 team titles. Georgia Tech trails only Wake Forest, which has 18 ACC titles, but hasn’t won since 1989.
In the 14 years the tournament has been held at Old North State Club Georgia Tech has won or shared the title eight times.
Wolfpack coach Richard Sykes, who is in his 42nd season, says that Choi has all the tools.
“Albin doesn’t lack anything in his game,” Sykes said. “He’s got the whole package and he’s going to be a good one.”
Sykes has seen a lot of great golfers come through his program that went on to play at a high level, such as Tim Clark, Carl Pettersson and Marc Turnesa.
Also expecting to help the Wolfpack will be Mitchell Sutton, and South Carolina transfer Logan Harrell, who is eligible to play this spring. Also William Herring, Hunter Howell and Carter Page along with freshman Chad Cox, who is from Charlotte, could also make an impact this spring.
“Logan is a key addition because he’s won every qualifier we’ve had since he got here,” Sykes said about Harrell, who is from Huntersville and played two seasons for the Gamecocks.”
Andrew Sapp, who is in his second season at North Carolina as a head coach, was an assistant in the mid-1990s when the Tar Heels were annual contenders for the conference tournament.
He would like to get the program back to that level.
“We’ll have a mix of veterans and young players,” Sapp said. “We started eight different players in the fall but we’ve got an interesting mix of players.”
Seniors Michael McGowen and Patrick Barrett are Sapp’s most experienced players and Brandon Dalinka, a sophomore, had a solid fall. Others who expect to fight for spots in the starting lineup include Andy Knox, a junior who is an Apex graduate, senior Clark Palmer, Bailey Patrick and Andy Sajevic. Also, freshman Keagan Cummings, who is from Dublin, Ireland, could break into the lineup.
Sapp says keeping up with the Yellow Jackets won’t be easy.
“Georgia Tech has definitely owned that place,” Sapp said.
Sapp expects that the individual title will be hotly contested because there is so much talent in the ACC.
“It’s always fun to watch the individual tournament and see who is fighting it out to win because you look at the past winners and there are some big names who have gone on to have good pro careers,” Sapp said. “I think that’s one of the recruiting advantages we have in the ACC because when you can tell a kid you have a chance to win the ACC individual title and we can show those recruits the list of names of past winners.”
If there’s a team that could challenge Georgia Tech’s supremacy it just might be Duke, who won twice in the fall and are led by Suri, one of the top amateurs in the country.
Coach Jamie Green’s Blue Devils played in four tournaments in the fall and won two of them, while also finishing tied for fourth and sixth.
Suri and fellow senior Brinson Paolini are Green’s top players, and freshman Mads Soegarrd, who is from Denmark, along with another senior, Adam Sumrall, give Green plenty of depth in his lineup.
Austin Cody, a junior, freshman Motin Yeung, who is from China, and senior Tim Gornik, who is from Slovenia, will also compete for playing time this spring.