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SportsMonday Column: Michigan's own Lion Kim brings maize and blue to The Masters

BY RYAN KARTJE
Daily Sports Editor
Published April 3, 2011

This week, as they are nearly every year at Augusta National, all eyes will undoubtedly be on Tiger Woods — golf’s super-sized, polarizing and, according to the media, possibly dying star.

Tiger hasn’t donned the green jacket since 2005, but that doesn’t matter. Tiger is a walking-talking media bombshell, and his (likely) four trips to Amen Corner this Thursday through Sunday will be the story of the weekend.

It just won’t be the story I’m reading.

Because instead of a Tiger, I’ll be watching a Lion.

Lion Kim, senior captain on Michigan’s golf team, will stand at the very same Corner this weekend, TaylorMade R11 driver in hand. He probably won’t wear any green jackets when all is said and done, but he’ll walk the legendary course with a Michigan bag, Michigan head covers, Michigan shirt and specially designed Michigan shoes — customized FootJoys with an emblazoned block ‘M’.

At the foot of golf’s holy grounds, a course that Kim has idolized throughout his career, Kim will surely be a small (read: miniscule) fish in a large (read: ocean) pond. But decked out in his maize and blue, he’ll be our small fish in one of the world’s most legendary ponds.

Kim has played six rounds at Augusta National since becoming the U.S. Amateur Public Links champion. Six rounds that mere mortal golf fanatics would give their soul to play. For those who don’t know, the course isn’t open to non-members, and membership is open to about 300 men, give or take a few, for a small fee of about $10,000 per year.

So when Kim plays his first real round on Thursday afternoon, a round he earned with some of the hardest work of any athlete at the University, it’ll be a pretty damn big deal.

Kim will be just the third Michigan golfer to ever grace the holy ground during the Masters. But Chuck Kocsis and Bill Newcomb the other two, will never be able to make the claim that Kim can.

Kim, at 22, will be the first Wolverine to ever play the tournament while still a member of the Michigan golf team. He’ll be one of us — a Michigan student — walking among some of the greatest golfers the world has ever seen.

Call me a sucker, call me cliché, but there’s something about a story like Kim’s that still makes me feel all tingly. And when you see Kim walking the fairways at Augusta National, I dare you not to feel all mushy inside.

Kim won’t have a big-time caddy there — he’ll be using a local caddie that’s been at Augusta forever.

Kim won’t have any huge endorsements or any huge corporate sponsors pasted onto his shirt, golf bag and hat. Instead, he’ll be endorsing us, representing Michigan as best he can.

As college sports slip further and further into corruption, as huge conferences become huge corporations and 18-, 19-, 20- and 21-year-olds become celebrities, players like Lion Kim are a healthy and desperately needed reminder that there is still some purity, some loyalty in the college sports we love so much.

Kim got to the hallowed holes of Augusta National with no more than hard work and determination. He won’t intimidate many people when he’s there — he’s definitely not the most imposing or intimidating guy.

But he’s our guy. Michigan’s guy.

So take your eyes off Tiger this weekend, even if it’s just for a hole or two. Because for those of us in Ann Arbor, for those of us in need of proof that dreams are attainable, Lion may just make a bigger roar in Augusta this weekend.

-Kartje thinks you should check out the Daily’s exclusive coverage of Kim’s Masters’ run on michigandaily.com this week. He can be reached at rkartje@umich.edu