Special to the Recorder
While all the golfers everybody has heard of were ejected by Pete Dye’s most well-known design at TPC Sawgrass, Si Woo Kim, a youngster originally from South Korea, showed them all how it should be done and became the youngest PLAYERS champion ever Sunday.
Until this week, Kim was the 71st-ranked player in the world. Now, he’s the champion of the most important event run by the PGA Tour: THE PLAYERS.
The victory changes Kim’s life. It gives him exemptions for five years on the PGA Tour, although he already had an exemption for two years from winning the Wyndham last summer. This victory gives him even more time to develop his career as a professional, although from the looks of things this week, his game doesn’t need much work. It will also lock up his place on the Presidents Cup team.
“I’m very honored to be the champion for this amazing fifth major,” Kim said through his translator. “Usually I’m very nervous, but last year I won one of the tournaments, and I could get the two years of exemption. Because of that, I can play aggressively and I wasn’t that nervous this year.”
Former PLAYERS champ K.J. Choi has been a mentor to Kim and gave him advice on how to play TPC Sawgrass.
“K.J. has become a really good (role) model,” Kim explained, “so because he had won before, I am kind of confident that a Korean can win one of these tournaments, and that actually helps me when I am playing.”
The newest PLAYERS champ won by hitting fairways off the tee and by scrambling when he missed greens. His driving distance average was 295 yards for the week, and his driving accuracy was 69 percent of fairways for four windy days. In the final round, his greens in regulation number was only 44 percent, so it was his short game and his ability to hit recovery shots that separated him from the field.
Kim got up and in 10 times on Sunday, which was the key to his success. Three of those recovery shots were from greenside bunkers at the 3rd, 10th and 11th, which could have costs him shots. However, his bunker technique was so good that the longest putt he had after getting out was five feet. It was amazing, really.
Kim learned to play from his father, and then refined his skills with Sean Foley, who has worked with Justin Rose and for a time worked with Tiger Woods.
Although he went through the PGA Tour Q-School in 2012 when he was only 17, Kim was not able to play on the PGA Tour until he reached the age of 18. The reason he tried Q-School then was because 2012 was the last year that golfers could get to the PGA Tour via Q-School. Now they have to go to Web.com Q-school and get to the top 25 on Web.com or finish in the top 25 in the Web.com finals.
In Kim’s case, while he was successful in the 2012 qualifying, he did not play well enough after turning 18 in 2013, which was the end of June, to retain his card. That meant he had to go back to the Web.com in 2014 and again in 2015. In 2015, he finished 10th on that money list, which got him a PGA Tour card for 2016. He won the Wyndham Championship in 2016, becoming the season’s youngest winner at age 21. He credited his time on the Web.com Tour as being instrumental in his PLAYERS victory.
Just as surprising as Kim’s victory was the fact that other, more seasoned professionals didn’t hold him off in the final round. Louis Oosthuizen shot a 38 on the front and a 35 on the back for a 73. Sergio Garcia had a 41 on the front and 37 on the back for an uncharacteristic 78. Ian Poulter, who was without a PGA Tour card a month ago, tried to push Kim, but was unable to match the youngster’s skill.
To see the rest of the leader board players falling back was not as much of a surprise as it was to see Oosthuizen, Garcia and Poulter come up short of the mark. Basically, seven of the top eight going into the final round made too many mistakes, and when Kim made a mistake he was able to recover in better fashion.
The youngster was the only man standing. He played like a true champion.
“You have to take your hat off,” Poulter said about Kim’s play. “You have to respect some good golf, and that’s exactly what he’s done.”
Poulter said he was very happy with the way he played, “barring the nightmare second shot into the last,” which he admitted was a shank.
In other course news, Rafa Cabrera-Bello had the first-ever double eagle, or albatross, on the 16th hole.
“I took the risk hitting driver off the tee on 16, hit an enormous drive, and just left myself an 8-iron,” he said.
He saw the shot kick of the bank of the bunker and thought it was going into the water.
“Then I saw it bump with the flag, and I didn’t know what happened,” he admitted.
When the crowd went nuts, he knew. He threw his club into the water by mistake. “Luckily, I was able to fish it out after,” he added.
Balls at 17
Scoring favored those who teed off in the morning by about a stroke and a third. The total scoring average of 72.819 was the highest since 2004, when it was 74.478.
There were 35 rounds under par in the morning wave versus 15 in the afternoon. Fifty rounds were below par and 17 were below 70.
Friday scoring favored those who played in morning once again, but this time by about a half a stroke. The total scoring average for the day was 73.182, the fourth highest since 2003.
There were 21 rounds below par in the afternoon, compared to 20 in the morning. There were 42 rounds below par and 17 rounds were under 70.
The scoring average on Saturday was significantly higher than the first two rounds at 74.037. And that’s with the best players this week playing. Again, the front was harder than the back, but just by about a stroke and a third.
There were just 18 rounds under par and seven under 70.
The scoring average on Sunday was higher than Friday and lower than Saturday at 73.606. There were 23 rounds under par and seven under 70.
Results @ drivable par 4 12th
Twenty-six players tried to go for the green with 3-wood or driver. Only three hit the putting surface: Tony Finau and Derek Fathauer in the morning and Freddie Jacobsen in the afternoon.
Thirty-nine players tried for the green on their tee shot with either 3-wood or driver. Nine hit the green and Luke List made the first eagle on the new 12th hole. He landed 14 feet 9 inches away.
Forty-six golfers tried to drive the green with 3-wood or driver on Saturday compared to 26 in round one and 39 in round two. Eleven players hit the green with Cody Gribble being the only one to make eagle. His tee shot landed 7 feet 5 inches from the hole.
Tyrrell Hatton was first to go for green and reach it on Sunday. Later in the day, Sergio Garcia also reached the green and stayed on it. In all, 41 players – more than half the field – went for the green with 3-wood or driver, compared to 26 in round one, 39 in round two and 46 in round three.