He waited last February to see if James Hahn could close out a win on the 18th hole at Riviera Country Club. When that didn't happen, he waited through one hole of a playoff. Then two. Then three.
Understand, this was like Jack Nicklaus hanging around in his prime to see some little-known tour pro grind to get his first victory.
"The Godfather" is how Choi is known among South Korean golfers. Now 45, he has eight PGA Tour wins and the undying respect of those who have come from Asia to follow in his footsteps.
For Choi to be there to support Hahn, who had been better known for one silly dance than anything he'd accomplished in golf, was an extraordinary gesture. For Hahn to pull through, to make nervy putts and beat two of the best-regarded players in the world in Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey, was something no one saw coming.
"There were a lot of amazing things that happened that day," Hahn recalled in an interview last week at Pebble Beach, where he missed the cut. "But my favorite is getting the trophy and having K.J. Choi there with me. It meant everything to me. They took a photograph of us together with the trophy. I still need to get him to sign that picture."
Hahn returns to Pacific Palisades this week for the NTO, and his remarkable first tour victory at age 34 will be mostly an afterthought in the buildup to the second meeting of the year between world No. 1 Jordan Spieth and No. 2 Rory McIlroy.
Hahn gets that. He's as much a golf fan as he is a competitor, but it doesn't take anything away from his underdog win on one of America's most storied golf courses.
"Absolutely, it matters who I beat that day," Hahn said. "You look at who finished in the top 10 that week — Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey; Jordan was up there; Sergio Garcia, Hideki Matsuyama. I'm proud of coming out on top of those guys."
Spieth and Garcia missed the playoff by one shot. Playing in the final group, Johnson and Hahn each shot 69, and Casey forced his way into extra holes with a 68. After the trio parred the 18th, the first playoff hole, Hahn and Johnson hit stellar flop shots at the par-four 10th to make birdie and eliminate Casey.
On the third extra hole, the par-three 14th, it was advantage Johnson, who striped his tee shot to 12 feet, while Hahn had 23 feet. But for the second time on the day, Hahn drained a long putt on a par three. He'd made a 57-foot bomb at the fourth, and now he calmly stroked in this birdie.
"Hit a perfect putt, had perfect speed," Hahn recalled.
Hahn bowed his head for Johnson's putt, not raising it until he heard the "ahhhhs" as the ball slid inches left of the hole.
What Hahn said he recalled in those next moments were all the people who supported him when others had long ago written him off.
"It meant a lot to me to have everyone be thankful and grateful that someone that they know personally, that they've been with through the low times and high times, that we could all celebrate together," he said. "That was huge."
Tom Hahn, James' older brother, was working in China at the time of the victory, and their parents were home in the Bay Area watching on television. They gave him the play-by-play over the phone.
Even James' wife, Stephanie, was unable to be there because she was home in Scottsdale, Ariz., in the late stages of pregnancy with their daughter, Kailee, born seven days after the win.
"Although we weren't there to share the moment, I knew he was thinking about us," Tom Hahn said last week. "I've also heard him say that he plays with the family in mind, marking his ball with a car wash coin mom and dad still operate to this day.
"As he's said before, when he plays, he plays for the family, and when he wins, we win too."
The victory was widely celebrated in the South Korean community in Los Angeles, James Hahn said, and in his native land they are still showing full-length highlights of the final round.
Before Riviera, Hahn — born in Seoul, raised in the Bay Area community of Alameda, Calif. — was best known for the "Gangnam Style" dance in 2013 on the stadium 16th hole in the Waste Management Phoenix Open. That display reflected his fun-loving, good-natured personality, but the goofiness belied a desire to prove himself after years of languishing in pro golf.
Hahn sold women's shoes at Nordstrom to make ends meet and was 29 when he reached the Web.com tour in 2010. He won on that circuit in 2012, which got him full time on the PGA Tour in '13. His $2 million in earnings last season matched what he'd made in the previous five years.
"He never gives up," Tom Hahn said. "Sometimes it's hard to see him grinding, but that's what makes him good. He works hard at what he does. Some days are good, some days not so good, but he's consistently persistent."
Charlie Danielson, a senior from the University of Illinois, shot a bogey-free three-under-par 68 at Riviera Country Club on Monday to win the second Northern Trust Open Collegiate Showcase and earn a spot in this week's field. Danielson was the only player in the elite field of 14 to break par.
The competition featured one PGA Tour player paired with a college player from the university he attended. The University of Texas team of Jordan Spieth and Beau Hossler won with a best-ball card of 10-under 61.