New Zealand Golf Magazine
Every now and then a player emerges and delivers a performance that defies belief. It is just not that often that it happens at The Players Championship.
A relative unknown player emerges triumphant.
Regarded as the unofficial
fifth major championship, The Players is a tournament that takes experience and time on the PGA Tour to know how to master the vagaries of the infamous TPC Sawgrass layout.
The past 10 champions are testament to that – Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Martin Kaymer, Tiger Woods, Matt Kuchar, KJ Choi, Tim Clark, Henrik Stenson and Stephen Ames. All household names in world golf who all won in their prime at The Players. Experience was a big factor.
Well that was the theory. Enter 21-year-old South Korean Si Woo Kim who became the youngest winner of the Players Championship with a near flawless final round to win by three shots from Ian Poulter and Louis Oosthuizen.
“I still can't believe I'm the champion, and I'm the youngest champion,” he said through a translator at the press conference. “I'm looking forward to working hard from now on.”
On the notoriously tough TPC Sawgrass, world-famous for its closing stretch which includes the island green at the par 3 17th – Kim was the only player in the field to play the final round without a bogey.
He carded a three-under par 69 and made the finishing holes look like a walk in the park. Kim, with all of the pressure in the world on his shoulders on the 17th tee, found the middle of the island green and calmly two putted from around 45 feet to maintain his lead.
On the 18th tee, among the most daunting closing holes on the PGA Tour, Kim smashed his drive down the middle without any fear of finding the hazard left of the fairway.
Kim said he wasn't nervous because of his victory in last year's Wyndham Championship secured him a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour.
With the victory he won NZ$2.74 million first prize and has earned a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, and a three-year exemption to the Masters.
The previous youngest champion of The Players was Adam Scott, who was 23 when he won in 2005.
Kim became the second player from South Korea to lift the Player Championship aloft joining K.J. Choi in 2011. The significance of that was not lost on Kim who grew up watching Choi and former major winner YE Yang win major events on the PGA Tour and dreamt of following in their footsteps.
“From that moment, I was dreaming that I really want to be in this tournament,” said Kim in reference to Choi's win six years ago.
“And I'm very glad I could practice with him. He gave me a lot of advice. That's why I could do well.”
Kim made headlines but there was also plenty of interest in a sub-plot which saw Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter return from the golfing wilderness.
Poulter, who only two weeks before the event was spared his full PGA Tour status because of a clerical oversight, made the most of his turnaround in fortune and reminded everyone of his quality.
Chasing the win, Poulter hit his tee shot well wide on the final hole. He took a penalty drop, then hit a pitching wedge over the trees and he almost holed it. He made par and completed a fine week.
Poulter was back but the main talking point was the emergence of a new star on the PGA Tour.
It shouldn't have come as a surprise, Kim has always been one step ahead of his time. He qualified for the PGA Tour at the tender age of 17 and at last year's Players Championship he played the par fives in 11-under par in a sign of things to come.
There is no doubt that the world stood up and took notice of the history making feats of Si Woo Kim at the Players. In many ways it summed up just how deep the talent in world golf is right now and how many fearless players there are emerging on the world stage.