Michigan men’s golf coach Andrew Sapp knew that his team was better than its ninth-place finish two weeks ago at the Wolf Run Invitational. His players knew it, too.
But that would mean nothing until the Wolverines could prove it on the course. An opportunity came on Sunday and Monday, as Michigan headed to Glenville, Ill. to compete in the Windon Memorial Classic at the North Shore Country Club.
The Wolverines responded to the challenge, winning the tournament with a final team score of 854 (+2), just one stroke ahead of runner-up Ohio State and two strokes ahead of third-place California.
“We had a good week and a half of practice at home,” Sapp said. “I think that was kind of a good motivator with that poor finish that we had that last round in Indiana. I think it really helped the guys get their focus for this week and go out there and play some consistent golf, which is what we did.”
Michigan had success at an individual level as well. Senior Lion Kim, freshman Joey Garber, sophomore Jack Schultz and junior Matt Thompson all finished in the top-20. Kim took home the individual crown with a six-under 207, two strokes ahead of the Buckeyes’ Bo Hoag.
But it wasn’t easy.
Heading into the final round, Michigan clung to a two-stroke lead, with Ohio State, California and Tulsa all easily within striking distance.
And on the front nine, it appeared that the Wolverines wouldn’t be able to hold onto that slim lead. At one point, Michigan suddenly found itself in fourth place, looking up at the teams that they had led just moments before.
But the Wolverines kept their composure, as Kim, Garber, Schultz and Thompson all carded a score below par on the back nine. That was enough to give Michigan a one-shot lead heading into the final two holes. From there, the Wolverines would have to rely on Kim to bring home both the team and the individual trophies.
After a bogey on the 16th hole, Kim would have to finish strong on the final two holes in order to give himself and his team a chance for the win.
“(The 16th hole) wasn’t a bad bogey,” Kim said. “My lie after my second shot was really bad, so I just told myself, ‘Don’t make anything worse than a double here.’ From that lie, I knew I would make at least a bogey, so that wasn’t too bad of a score.”
Kim would quickly make up for it. On the 17th hole, after hitting his approach shot to about 25 feet from the pin, he sank the uphill birdie putt to put himself and his team on track for the win.
But he still had plenty of work to do. With just one hole left, Michigan held a one-stroke lead over the Buckeyes, who had already finished their round and were watching in the clubhouse. Kim also held a two-stroke lead over Hoag for the individual title. He would have to par the 18th in order for to secure the victory for the Wolverines.
“Basically it came down to me,” Kim said. “I knew that I had to par it.”
He didn’t make it easy on himself — that’s for sure.
After yanking his drive into the trees left on the 432-yard par-four 18th hole, Kim was forced to punch out, leaving himself with a difficult third shot into the green.
“I couldn’t go for the pin,” Kim said. “Coach and I talked about it, and (he) just said let’s put it on the green and just get a look at par. I aimed a couple yards left of the pin in the middle of the green, and that’s where I hit it.”
Kim left himself with a 45-foot, left-to-right putt for par and the chance to win the tournament for his team. It was a putt that few would have the confidence to make. But Kim drained it, earning himself and his team the victory.
It was Kim’s first career collegiate tournament win and Michigan’s first-ever win at the Windon Memorial.
“Lion’s performance was tremendous,” Sapp said. “He was clutch, especially coming down the stretch when we needed it. Hopefully this will motivate us to continue working hard because we know what we can do.”