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2010-09-16

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Lion Kim does 'M' proud, will play in 2011 Masters

By Kevin Raftery, Daily Sports Writer
Published September 15, 2010

No matter what the Michigan men’s golf team accomplishes this year, it will be hard to beat what senior Lion Kim has already achieved.

On July 17th, Kim did what only one other Wolverine has done in the history of Michigan golf. He qualified for the Masters, the most prestigious professional golf tournament in the world. The last was Chuck Kocsis, who did it 71 years ago.

Kim qualified by defeating David McDaniel of Tucson, Arizona 6-and-5 in the final round of match play at the 85th U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in Greensboro, NC.

But it was the way he qualified that makes the feat that much more remarkable.

Competing against a field of 156 of America’s best amateur golfers, Kim faced a long and difficult journey to the finals, to say the least. He would have to finish in the top 64 after two rounds of stroke play, and then he would have to win five match play matches in a span of three days in order to make it to the 36-hole final.

“In every tournament I play in, I always feel like I have a good chance to win,” Kim said. “And part of that is because I know I’ve prepared pretty well for every event. Coming into this tournament, I had a lot of confidence and I just told myself, ‘Stick to your game plan.’ ”

That confidence would be key for Kim as he weaved his way through the brackets.

After shooting 70-73 in the stroke-play rounds, Kim breezed through the first four rounds of match play with little trouble. But in the semifinals, he found himself down by two holes to Kevin Phelan, a sophomore at the University of North Florida, with just six to play.

“Even though I was two down, I still felt confident about my game,” Kim said. “I just told myself that I just need to win one hole, and if I do that, I know I’ll get the momentum back.”

Kim eagled the 15th to close the gap to one, and he birdied 17 and 18 to seal the match.

“That was actually the toughest match out of the six matches I won,” Kim said, “because we had to win holes with birdies and even with eagles. Kevin is a great player.”

But it was in the 36-hole final match when Kim’s mental abilities were challenged to the fullest.

After completing the first 12 holes with a two-hole lead, rain moved into the area and officials were forced to call for a rain delay. Seven hours later, Kim and McDaniel were still sitting in the clubhouse waiting for the delay to end.

“It was a long seven hours, and it felt even longer because I was so anxious to get back up knowing that I’m so close to winning the tournament,” Kim said.

Luckily for Kim, he had his good luck charm there to help keep him calm and focused.

“I have to give all the credit to my mom,” he said. “We talked a lot. She kept me relaxed. We talked about everything, even from my childhood days and about what her childhood days were like.”

Finally, at 4:51 p.m. — seven hours and eight minutes from when the delay was called — play resumed. And when Kim stepped back on the course, he picked up right where he left off. He won holes 13 and 14 and immediately took a four-hole lead. From there, he would have no troubles — that is, until Mother Nature stepped in again, threatening to prolong the tournament once again.

Heading into number 13 for the second time around, Kim held a commanding seven-stroke lead with seven holes to play. But as both players headed to the tee box, darkness engulfed the area. Kim and McDaniel could barely see five feet in front of them, let alone follow a golf ball hundreds of yards through the air. A rules official approached both players to ask what they wanted to do.

“It was pitch dark,” Kim recalled. “I was really close to closing the match up. I just told him, ‘Hey, let’s keep playing.’ I just thought that momentum was on my side and I had a pretty big lead, and I think he pretty much knew that his best chance of winning was really done at that point.”

Minutes later, Kim found himself staring down an eight-foot par putt in the dark to win the tournament. Somehow, he made the putt with only the ability to see his ball and the cup, and he had officially earned himself a bid to the Masters.

“That feeling is what all golfers live for,” Kim said. “I’ve been waiting for a very long time to win a golf tournament, and to finally get my first big win under my belt was a huge relief. One of the first things that popped into my head was, ‘It’s official. I’m going to get an invite to the Masters.’ And that is truly awesome.”

In less than seven months, Kim will be playing alongside seasoned pros such as Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, and yes — Tiger Woods.

"It'd be a dream come true to play alongside Tiger Woods at a major championship," Kim said. "In my opinion, he is the best athlete in the world. If that happens it will be a life-changing experience, golf-wise."

It is an incredible feat for anyone, even the professionals, to qualify for the Masters. But for a college player? Almost unheard of.

“Just the exposure that this will give our program is huge,” Michigan head coach Andrew Sapp said. “The Michigan bag is going to be seen on CBS, worldwide. It is one of those accomplishments for our program that really proves that you can be a championship golfer at the University of Michigan, and Lion has proven that. I think it will help in recruiting, and I think it will help our current players as well.”

“It’ll truly be an honor for me to represent the block ‘M’ at Augusta National,” Kim said. “I’m going to do everything I can to represent the University of Michigan well.”