AUGUSTA, Ga. — As I walked up to the fifth hole of the par 3 contest on Wednesday, I heard a whisper from a nearby fan.
“Who is that guy?” the fan asked as Michigan senior Lion Kim approached from the fourth green. The fan’s friend shrugged his shoulders and took a sip of beer.
“No idea,” he responded.
But then the man noticed Kim’s Michigan hat and shirt.
“Oh, he must be a Michigan man,” the fan said.
It was a small moment that probably didn’t mean much to the two fans, but it was a moment that spoke volumes to what Kim has already accomplished — before the bright lights of the tournament even turn on.
Kim has given every Michigan graduate, every Michigan fan and anyone who has ever been associated with the University a reason to be proud. Throughout the week, he has conducted himself in a way that would bring any mother to tears.
In fact, I hope my mom hasn’t been watching for a couple reasons. One, because she cries a lot. And two, if she compared Kim to me, she may want to adopt him and send me packing.
Any time someone has asked Kim for an autograph, he has at least acknowledged the request, even if he didn’t have the time or permission to sign it.
As he walked up to the first tee for Wednesday’s par 3 contest, a young fan asked him for his signature.
Kim looked the boy in the eye and apologized: “I’m sorry, I have to go tee off.”
I’d say that’s a pretty valid excuse as Bubba Watson and Aaron Baddeley were standing on the tee, waiting for Kim to arrive.
He’s been more than willing to give an interview to any media member, and he’s treated me like he’s known me for years, always greeting me by name.
When the par 3 contest ended, fans swarmed Kim, asking for pictures and autographs.
Many media members would have tried to jump in there and get an interview when they knew they had a chance to talk with the player before he drove off and left for the day.
Instead, I waited — I knew I’d get my chance. I stood at the top of the hill behind the ninth green, and when he emerged out of the horde of people, I gave him a wave. He saw me and let me know exactly where he was going so I could talk to him.
Minutes later, I met him at the range and interviewed him and he gladly answered any questions I had.
I realize Lion Kim isn’t Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson. I realize there’s not as many members of the media covering him as there are for the other tour players.
But I can guarantee there are only a select few players on tour who have been as accommodating as Kim.
Woods has been nowhere to be found for the most part — he didn’t even play in today’s par 3 contest. Mickelson did show his face today for the contest, but other than that has been hard to find.
Don’t get me wrong, there are good guys on tour — Watson, Baddeley, KJ Choi and Zach Johnson were all more than willing to give an interview when I asked them.
And I’m not suggesting that Woods and Mickelson are bad people.
But Kim realizes it’s a privilege to be at The Masters, and his actions support that in every way.
So when you turn on ESPN or CBS to watch The Masters this weekend and you see the block ‘M’, feel proud — not just because one of your own is playing at Augusta, but because the man wearing the Michigan gear is representing the University in the best way possible, on the biggest stage in golf.
Just do your best to hold back the tears, Mom.
—Raftery will be at the Masters all week. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.