Lion Kim: Maize & Blue at the Masters
MGOBLUE Lion Kim
MGOBLUE
Lion Kim

July 31, 2010

U.S. Amateur Win Earns Lion Kim a Spot in 2011 Masters

By Joanne C. Gerstner

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Michigan junior Jun Min "Lion" Kim noted the irony while it was happening.

He was in the middle of one of the biggest moments-to-date in his golf career, preparing to sink a six-foot putt to win the 85th annual U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship on July 17. Night was quickly claiming the dying daylight at Bryan Park's Championship Golf Course in Greensboro, N.C. Kim knew he had to act quickly, yet very calmly and precisely, to take the match.

A seven-hour rain delay pushed Kim's championship round to a late afternoon start, and that led to finishing minutes after sunset. The only things Kim saw were his white ball, and the thin white outline of the cup. Kim drained the downhill putt for a 6-and-5 match play win over David McDaniel, and celebrated by pumping his fist and yelling "Yeah!"

It was a joyous moment, but unseen by the crowd until the flashbulbs from the photographers, click-click-clicking in rapid speed, illuminated Kim in the dark.

"It was really crazy: I won, I was so happy, and at the same time you couldn't see anything. I've never been through that before," Kim, from Lake Mary, Fla., said. "I was lining up my putt, and I couldn't see anybody around me, the light was disappearing so fast. I had to get it in there while I could.

"I never felt too nervous, I was never stressed that whole day. I had prayed over things with my mom (Hyun) and took some naps. I just wanted to go out, play my best, and see what happened. I told my mom before I played, I was going home happy no matter what because I did my best."

Kim is the first active Michigan golfer to win the prestigious U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. He has been a standout in his first three seasons at Michigan, earning honorable mention All-America and second-team Big Ten honors.

He went home from the U.S. Amateur Public Links with quite the haul: a gold medal, custody of the fancy silver trophy for a year, a painting of the hole where he won the title, a three-year exemption for U.S. Open local qualifying and a two-year full exemption for the U.S. Amateur.

He will compete in the 2010 U.S. Amateur, scheduled for Aug. 23-29 at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash.

"This is really huge for the program, because it shows high school players in Florida and other warm-weather states that you can come to Michigan, get your education and play very high-level golf. You will compete for championships if you come here. You don't have to migrate south. Come to Michigan and be the champions and best. And that's what Lion has done."

-- U-M Golf Coach Andrew Sapp

The most exciting prize comes in April 2011, when Kim tees off as part of the Masters field in Augusta, Ga. The U.S. Amateur Public Links champ gets a coveted automatic spot in the Masters field, putting Kim alongside the best professional golfers in the world.

Yes, there really could be a pairing of Kim, nicknamed "Lion" by his parents when he was young, with that other famously nicknamed golfer - Eldrick "Tiger" Woods.

"That would be sweet... Tiger and Lion playing golf together," said Kim, who has never visited or played the hallowed private Augusta National course. "I'm excited just thinking about it. I can't wait until they send me the invitation in December. Even though I know it's coming, it's going to be a very wonderful day for my family and the whole U-M golf family. We all share in this."

Michigan golf coach Andrew Sapp said Kim's victory has energized the entire program. And they're even more excited at the thought of seeing Kim, wearing his Michigan golf garb and with his Wolverine golf bag, on national TV from the Masters.

"I think we all feel like we've won something, that's how happy we are for Lion," Sapp said. "We're walking on clouds since it's happened, and I don't think we're going to come down for a long time. But we will, because it's time to use that energy to help us focus, work even harder, and become even better golfers.

"This is really huge for the program, because it shows high school players in Florida and other warm-weather states that you can come to Michigan, get your education and play very high-level golf. You will compete for championships if you come here. You don't have to migrate south. Come to Michigan and be the champions and best. And that's what Lion has done."

Kim added, "People asked me why I chose Michigan when I came out of high school, like I was making a mistake by going toward the cold weather. I then tell them how Jack Nicklaus went to Ohio State, Luke Donald went to Northwestern, and so on. I am proud I chose Michigan."

Sapp and Kim hope to make as many trips to Augusta as possible in the time before the Masters, getting in crucial practice rounds to learn how the course plays.

Kim is a precise, controlled golfer. His strength is consistently hitting the fairway, and playing very smart golf. He was hopeful for a good run at the U.S. Amateur Public Links championship, based on the style of the Bryan Park course. The fairways are tight, punishing those who go for too much and get sloppy.

Kim, who had his mom in the gallery all week, felt he needed to play focused and remain confident. His ability to remain calm ultimately helped him win six straight match play rounds to take the title.

Kim's dad, Yong, is also usually part of his fan club at big tournaments, but he wasn't able to make it to the U.S. Amateur Public Links as he attended to the family restaurant in New Jersey.

Kim enjoys having his parents watch him play, even if they don't seem to handle the stress well.

"Every time I looked over at my mom, she had her head down and was praying," Kim said. "I don't think she was praying that I was going to make a birdie or par, she prays for me to have the strength to do my best no matter what. That brings me comfort. My dad gets really nervous too, but he's a little better at not showing it all the time."

And what will happen to Kim's parents when he tees off at the Masters?

"Wow. That's going to make them super, super nervous, I hadn't even considered that yet," Kim said, adding a laugh. "I think they're going to be stressed out, but really happy too. Having me play in the Masters, while I am still here at Michigan, is a really happy, unexpected surprise. We're going to take it all in together."