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Where EAST meets the Northwest


RECORD-BREAKING WIN. The current Professional Golf Association season has had its share of firsts, as ten different golfers have already won their first tournament. The tenth golfer achieved that distinction last month, when Korean-American Michael Kim won the 2018 John Deere Classic. But Kim didnít just win his first tournament ó he set two tournament records along the way. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

From The Asian Reporter, V28, #15 (August 6, 2018), page 7.

Asians in American sports * Asian Americans in world sports

Michael Kim wins his first PGA event in record-breaking style

By Mike Street

Special to The Asian Reporter

The current Professional Golf Association (PGA) season has had its share of firsts, as ten different golfers have already won their first tournament. The tenth golfer achieved that distinction last month, when Korean-American Michael Kim won the 2018 John Deere Classic (JDC). But Kim didnít just win his first tournament ó he set two tournament records along the way.

If youíve never heard of Michael Kim, you can be forgiven, since the just-turned- 25-year-old (he celebrated his birthday during the JDC) has had a quiet PGA career to this point. He qualified for the PGA tour in 2016, after ranking 13th on the money list on the 2015 Web.com tour.

Up until the 2018 JDC, Kimís best finish on the PGA tour had been a tie for third at last seasonís Safeway Open. Heís usually distinguished himself in other tournaments merely by making the cut, which heíd done in 41 of 57 tournaments before this season.

Though heís had a low profile in the PGA, Kim had a fine amateur career before turning pro in 2013. Born in Seoul, South Korea, Kim moved to California with his family when he was seven. A year later, his father introduced Michael and his older brother Richard to golf, and Michael grew up to become a high-school standout at Torrey Pines High.

At Torrey Pines, Kim and his golf team won the Southern California championship for his first three years before winning the state championship his senior year. Kim graduated from Torrey Pines in 2011, the same year that a remarkable group of seniors from across the country also graduated from high school, including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger, Xander Schauffele, and four other PGA tour members.

Spieth, Thomas, Berger, and Schauffele have all collected at least one PGA win and have much better name recognition, but Kim was as good ó or better ó than any of them in college. Michael Kim attended the University of California, Berkeley, earning the Jack Nicklaus Award and Fred Haskins Award, which go to the top college golfer of the year, in 2013. That same year, he played in the U.S. Open at Merrion, finishing in a tie for 17th place as the top amateur golfer.

After a season like that, itís no wonder Kim chose to go pro, forgoing his final two years at Berkeley. But itís a move that seemed foolish until his win at the JDC. Before the JDC, Kim made the cut in just eight of the 22 PGA tournaments heíd played in this season. His best finish had been a tie for 15th at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, one of just three top-25 finishes among those eight tournaments where he made the cut.

At the 2018 JDC, Steve Wheatcroft led after the first round but Michael Kim was just a stroke behind him, having shot a career-low 63. A weather delay prevented the field from finishing on Friday, but once they did early Saturday morning, Kim notched a 64 to vault into a three-shot lead.

When he shot another 64 on Saturday ó his birthday ó Kim held a five-shot lead over Bronson Borgoon. Kim birdied five of his final six holes, totalling 25 birdies through the first three rounds. The day was all the more remarkable because Kim finished his previous round before shooting 18 more holes though two more weather delays. By the time he finished, heíd spent 14 hours at the course.

But on Sunday, there was no evidence of fatigue in Kimís game. He birdied the first three holes, adding two more later on a day when he did not register a bogey. Thatís not surprising, since heíd only bogeyed one hole in each of the previous three rounds.

At the end of the day, Kim set a tournament record by shooting 27 under par during the four-day span. He finished eight shots ahead of his nearest competitor, a margin of victory that was not only a tournament record, it tied the largest winning margin this season in the PGA.

Best of all, his mother, father, and brother were all waiting for him on the 18th green to celebrate his first PGA win. "I teared up a little bit on the green when I saw them," Kim confessed later. It was a stroke of luck that his brother Richard could attend; he now lives in Seoul, South Korea, and happened to be in San Diego visiting their parents during the tournament.

After years of struggling, the turning point for Michael might have been a change in coaches. Kim was coached for eight years by James Oh, but recently made the difficult decision to take instruction from John Tillery, the director of instruction at Cuscowilla Golf Club in Eatonton, Georgia. Tillery made some adjustments to Kimís approach to driving, and the results have obviously paid off.

Others at the tournament werenít surprised by Kimís victory, either. Zach Johnson, who won the JDC in 2012 and has been one of Kimís mentors, said of Kim, "Heís had some struggles and shouldnít, because heís really, really, really, really, really good. Iíve played him in practice rounds. What youíre seeing is just everything culminating for the better."

Now that the word is out about how good Kim is, even more eyes will be on him. This breakout victory qualifies him for the British Open and the Open Championship, and gives him a two-year tournament exemption, ensuring we will see much more of this young Asian-American golfer in the seasons to come. And it sounds like he can definitely handle the pressure.

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