AUGUSTA, Ga. — As Michigan golfer Lion Kim walked up to the 16th tee during Monday’s practice round at the Masters, the senior heard a familiar shout from the crowd.
“I’m always proud to be a Michigan student,” Kim said. “But especially today, I probably heard people say ‘Go Blue!’ a thousand times. It just shows you how everybody knows the block ‘M’ and what it stands for. It’s very cool.”
Just as he did throughout his entire round on a blistery but warm Monday in Augusta, Kim looked up into the 16th-hole grandstands and gave his fans a smile and a thumbs up. He even stopped to take a quick picture with a few fans standing near the tee box.
And just moments later, Kim gave everybody a reason to shout. After hitting his tee shot on the par-3, 170-yard 16th to about 10 feet from the hole, he paused and looked into his bag.
“I grabbed a four iron, but (caddie Louis Lawrence) goes, ‘You should take a five or a six,’ ” Kim said. “So I was like, ‘I’ll go with a five.’ ”
It seemed like an odd choice for someone who was on his way to the green. But after walking about 20 yards, Kim stopped short of the pond that extends about 120 yards out from the green.
He threw down a new ball just short of the pond, and the crowd exploded with cheers — they knew what he was about to do.
“It’s a Masters tradition,” Kim said. “Every time in a practice round (at number 16), they want you to hit a shot where it skips over the pond and try to see how close you can get to the hole.”
Kim took a short backswing as if he was chipping, and the ball jumped off his club and onto the pond, making the surface look more like ice than water. It skipped several times and had just enough gas to make it over the pond.
The ball hopped onto the green and settled about 15 feet from the pin — Kim smiled, took off his Michigan visor and bowed to the crowd.
“I had never done that before,” Kim said. “I just basically told (Laurence), ‘I don’t want to embarrass myself and just leave it in the water.’ But it turned out to be a really good shot.”
It was a special day for Kim and the Michigan community as a whole, as Michigan polos and hats could be found around the course.
Kim started the day on the front nine with 2007 Masters champion and friend Zach Johnson. As he walked up to the first tee, thousands of people lined the fairways.
“It was amazing,” Kim said. “It was my first time playing in front of a crowd. But to tell you the truth, I wasn’t nervous at all. And that’s partially because I was with my good buddy (Johnson).”
Kim said Johnson helped him get to know the ins and outs of the course, but that he talked to him about other stuff, too. The two shared several laughs throughout the round.
“We can joke around and have fun,” Kim said. “That’s what’s exciting. For the first couple practice rounds, you’re not too serious. You’re just getting used to the course and to the layout.
“I was very pleased that a guy of his caliber still keeps up with a friend like me, and just tries to check up on me.”
After Kim and Johnson finished the front nine around 1 p.m., the two shook hands and parted ways. Kim took a lunch break and returned to the back nine at 4:15.
He had to end the round early in order to make it to the traditional Amateur Dinner on the night after the first practice round. But as he made his way off the 16th green and into a cart that took him to the clubhouse, he made sure he saved time to talk to a few more fans.
“That’s what’s special about practice rounds,” Kim said. “A lot of kids come in and they just want autographs. It doesn’t matter if you’re Tiger Woods or just an amateur — they want autographs. And that’s what’s fun and unique about this tournament.”