As Si Woo Kim walked purposefully towards the 17th tee of TPC Sawgrass during Sunday’s final round of the Players Championship, I was reminded of the opening lines from ‘Casabianca’: “The boy stood on the burning deck, whence all but he had fled…”
There could not have been a more apt description of what the 21-year-old South Korean did than Felicia Dorothea Hemans’ famous poem about the 12-year-old boy who withstood a fierce attack from Lord Nelson’s fleet in the Battle of Nile. However, unlike Casabianca, who set ablaze L’Orient in the end and died along with it so that the British forces did not get hold of the French naval flagship, Kim’s story had a much happier ending.
It really was a virtuoso performance from Kim, who became only the second Asian player to win the Players Championship (after KJ Choi in 2011), and also the youngest ever (Adam Scott was 23 when he won in 2004).
There has been a lot of talk as to how someone so young and relatively inexperienced, and someone who had not been playing even half-decent golf in the lead-up to the tournament, could master a course as tough as the TPC Sawgrass.
Kim, after all, was ranked 75th in the world at the start of the week, and in 13 starts this year, missed the cut in five tournaments and withdrew in three because of back issues.
But let’s not forget this is a guy who has already won on the PGA Tour – the Wyndham Championship last year – and he came through the Qualifying School aged just 17. In fact, because of the Tour regulations, he could not start playing until he turned 18, effectively wasting his card and a fine effort in qualifying. If his ball-striking was impressive the first three days, his ability to scramble on the Sunday was jaw-dropping. Despite missing as many as 10 greens in regulation in his round, he managed to finish with a 100 per cent scrambling record. As wind picked up and the course became firm, making birdies was never going to decide the title; but avoiding bogeys and higher numbers was the key.
Henrik Stenson won the tournament in 2009, shooting a phenomenal 66 in the final round.
He still reckons that was one of the best rounds of golf he ever played. Speaking to me earlier this year, he said: “By Sundays, Sawgrass becomes rock hard. And if you have a bit of wind, God help you. I played so well for my 66… on any other course, it would have been close to 60. Of course, I remember the birdies, but it was the bogeys that I did not make that helped.”
There were only two players in the field who shot better than Kim’s 69 (both 68s), while a number of big names fell by the wayside with big numbers. Overnight joint leader JB Holmes shot an 84, while defending champion Jason Day (r) and Justin Rose settled for 80s.
It will be interesting to see where Kim goes from here. However, there is one thing that is definitely going to slow down his career – the mandatory military service in South Korea. Kim says he is ready for it, but a period of at least 21 months away from the sport would definitely be a telling blow.
New on Asian Tour
The recently announced Panasonic Swing on the Asian Tour is another great step forward for the Tour.
The Japanese electronic giants are involved as sponsors of four events on the Asian Tour, and players who do well in the four tournaments will now play for a bonus pool based on their finishes.
The top-three players will share $150,000, with the winner netting $70,000.
While this may not compare to the $35 million FedEx Cup pool for the top-125 players on the PGA Tour, and the $5 million Race to Dubai pool on the European Tour for the top-10, it is a start nevertheless, and hopefully, it will grow into something big in the future.