One hit wonder. A singer with only one mega-hit. Choi Won-jun (45) is one of them.
Rated as “Jeollabuk-do No. 1,” he defended the pride of Iksan Billiards by reaching the top in just the third tournament since the PBA’s inception, but has since suffered nine round of 128 eliminations.
So it was a perfect turnaround drama. Choi Won-jun came from behind to defeat Birole Wimaz (Turkiye-Wellcome Savings Bank) with a set score of 4-2 (15-5, 14-15, 10-15, 15-3, 15-9, 15-2) in the final (best-of-seven) match of the ‘NH Card PBA Championship’ of the 6th Tour of the Professional Billiards PBA at the ‘Goyang Kintex PBA Stadium’ in Goyang City, Gyeonggi-do on the 15th.
It took a whopping four years, two months, and 1,538 days to get back to the top after her first title, and so much happened in between.
I went into the next tournaments with the expectation of being a winner, but it didn’t feel like the first win I thought was so easy. The periods of inactivity grew longer, and he repeatedly fell in the early rounds. The label of “one-hit wonder” haunted him.
Aside from a fourth-place finish in the 2021-2022 season and an eighth-place finish last season, he hasn’t lived up to his ‘winner’s reputation’. The ‘flash in the pan’ label seemed to have become an undeniable reality.
This time around, Choi Won-jun looked different. He breezed through the Round of 128 and Round of 64 with back-to-back shutout victories. In the round of 32, he swept through the season’s opening event winner and ‘Turkiye signature’ Semi Seigner (Huon’s) 3-0. After defeating Kim Young-seop and Kim Hyun-woo in straight sets, he faced defending champion and Korean 3Cushion standout Choi Sung-won (Hewons) in the quarterfinals.
He won two straight sets to advance to the final, but his opponent proved to be too strong. After losing the third set in two games, the tide turned. The set score was 2-3.
He struggled in the fourth set. Choi Sung-won steadily scored points and reached match point at 9-14 in the 14th game. Choi’s concentration shone through. He took the match to a seventh set with six points in his last chance and won the seventh set 11-8 to reach his second individual final.
His opponent was defending champion Wimaz, a strong player from Turkiye. In the first set, Choi took control of the proceedings with aplomb, opening the first three games with a series of 5-6-4 points to take the first 15 points.
However, Wimaz was not to be denied. She dropped the second and third sets in straight sets. In the second set, she had two set-point opportunities but failed to hit the ball and allowed Wimaz to take the lead. In the third game, WIMAZ took the lead with an eight-point run in the second inning and finished with five points in the sixth.
Choi Won-jun was desperate. He took the lead in Game 4, scoring eight runs in the first inning to tie the game after three innings. After taking the fifth set in just six games, Choi sealed the title with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 victory that left Wimaz no chance.
A jubilant Choi could hardly contain his excitement after hitting the championship shot, and we caught up with him after the ceremony to get his thoughts. “I’ve heard the word ‘sparkle’ so many times,” Choi said with tears in his eyes. His wife, Lee Ji-sook, who was watching from behind, couldn’t stop her tears. He thanked his family, his heavenly father, and his friends who came to support him, and then turned to his daughters, who didn’t know exactly what he did for a living, and said, “Seo Young-ah, Min-ah, Dad is a professional billiards player. Before that, you probably didn’t know because you played with his trophy, putting sweets and toys in it, but as you saw for yourself this time, Dad will continue to be a great billiards player.” He squared his shoulders as a proud father.
After four years and two months, Choi had plenty to say in his winner’s interview. It’s been a long road from top Jeonbuk player to national star to deep slump to winner.
“In the beginning of the PBA, I was confident and played a lot of billiards, but after I won the title, the words that it was difficult to keep it became very real, and I went through a lot of slumps because of that,” Choi said at the winner’s press conference, according to the PBA. “From the cue, everything went wrong, and I blamed the sponsor, the sponsor, and myself.”
The changes he made after his victory were toxic. “When I won my first title, I didn’t know what the big-name players were capable of, so I played too confidently,” he said. “After I won, I realized how good my competitors were, so I stopped using my winning cue and started using a new cue right after, and I fell into a slump.”
After winning the title, he played for Blue One Resort in the PBA Team League the following season, but was released after one season. He didn’t perform well in the team league, let alone the individual league. Unlike other players in the team league who can focus on their playing careers, Choi had to go back to earning a living. He practiced in between jobs as a manager at a billiard hall, but he couldn’t neglect serving customers.
On top of that, he was living in Dongtan and traveling to Iksan on weekends to take care of his two daughters, Seo-young, 10, and Min-ah, 7. It’s no wonder he found it difficult to regain his form.
Bad things happened. His father, who didn’t approve of his son’s billiard career, took the trophy home with him after his first win, which made Choi feel even more proud. His father, who was heartbroken by the subsequent slump, was unable to fulfill his wish to see his son back on top. His father passed away last year after battling biliary tract cancer.
The slump continued, and the stigma of being a “flash in the pan” continued to haunt him, until his mental strength finally failed him and he sought help from a university professor specializing in mental health.
His hard work paid off in this tournament. Despite facing a match point in the sixth set of the quarterfinals against Choi Sung-won, he refused to give up and eventually won the match, and in the final, he stayed focused after losing the second and third sets to take the trophy.
“I really wanted to win one more title while my dad was still alive, but it was hard mentally and physically. I’d like to dedicate the trophy to my father,” Choi said, but it’s definitely a father figure for his children.
“The first one knew what I was doing, but the second one didn’t. I lost a lot, so I brainwashed him beforehand, saying, ‘If you play billiards, you can lose or win,’” he said. “Before I played against Choi Sung-won, I was very nervous, and I told my children that they shouldn’t cry because they might lose, but after I won, my oldest child cried. That never happened before. She said she was touched because she realized that her dad was playing hard,” he explained.
“My oldest daughter said that when she goes to school, she will tell her friends that her dad won,” he adds with a smile.
He is confident that he will never hear the stigma of a ‘flash winner’ again. “My wounds have healed a lot, and I’m mentally strong. “When I won my first title, I thought the PBA was easy, but I went from positive to negative, and I was so scared of people’s stares and comments like ‘she’s a flash in the pan’ and ‘she’s not good’. There were a lot of close games in this tournament. I’m proud of myself and I think I did a solid job,” she said, adding that she was even more pleased with her win.
The team earned 100,000 ranking points in addition to the $100,000 first-place prize, jumping to fifth overall for the season in both categories. Not only did they stay in the League, but they also secured an early berth in the PBA World Championship. He also increased his chances of returning to TeamLeague in the future.
Choi became the first player to win an individual title without a team since the inception of the Team League. However, it also served as a reminder of how difficult it is for a player to maintain good form without a team. 아톰카지노
As he promised his two daughters, it’s much more beneficial to dedicate yourself to the sport in order to become a better player. Joining a team league is essential for this. “If any team calls me, I’m ready to work hard,” Choi said, adding, “I don’t want to lose if I play in the team league now.”
He also has some advice for his teammates who are playing in the same difficult environment as he is. “I think everyone in the first division is a favorite to win. It’s a set game and a tiebreaker,” he said. “They’re all good players. You can’t play with the awareness that your opponent is a named player, a foreign player. I don’t think you should recognize a foreign player before you hit. It’s important to practice more bank shots that Korean players are good at and have the mindset that you can win at any time. I also doubted myself, but consulting with a mental professor helped me a lot, reminding me that ‘you are the best’ and ‘you can do it’. He encouraged me by saying, “If you are a top player, you can win no matter what.
Although he has won 200 million won in prize money from his two victories, the father of two daughters and head of a family still has a long way to go before he can talk about turning his life around. “It’s very difficult because it’s a difficult time. I have a lot of money borrowed from the bank, so I want to pay back the loan and buy delicious meat for those who encouraged me,” he said.