Not since YE Yang claimed the 2009 US PGA Championship, becoming the first player to beat Tiger Woods when he’d held the 54-hole lead, has a Korean male made the golfing world sit up in genuine admiration, as it has on countless occasions for that country’s female players over the past decade or so.
Step forward Si Woo Kim, who took calmness to another level as he became the youngest winner of the Players Championship at the age of 21 and also joined Woods, Sergio Garcia and Jordan Spieth in an illustrious group as the only players to win twice on the PGA Tour before the age of 22 in the last 25 years.
Praise can be cheap these days, often being handed out when it’s not really been earned, but boy did this young man from Seoul produce an impressive performance in announcing himself as a real contender to match in the men’s game what both Jiyai Shin and Inbee Park achieved in the women’s ranks by enjoying spells as world No 1.
That Kim’s closing round on one of the most demanding courses in the game was a flawless 69 was praiseworthy in itself. That he missed 10 greens yet managed to get up and down on every occasion, either to save par or make a birdie, was quite extraordinary and never once in any of those instances did he look close to being flustered.
“He played like someone who was doing it for five or six years like it was just another round of golf,” observed Louis Oosthuizen, Kim’s playing partner after the 2010 Open champion finished three shots behind in him in joint-second with Ian Poulter. “It just shows you how good a player he is and how cool and calm he is.”
That’s the thing that impresses most about all the Koreans, either male or female. It was exactly the same when Ben An took winning the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event, in his stride just under two years ago, finishing six shots clear of the field at Wentworth at the age of 23. Those women, notably Park in recent years and now the likes of So Yeon Ryu and In Gee Chun, meanwhile, seem to have an uncanny knack of being able to get the job done when it gets to the business end of tournaments.
It doesn’t seem too long ago that KJ Choi was ploughing a lone furrow for the Koreans on the PGA Tour and, having won eight times, including the 2011 Players Championship, it should be no real surprise to hear Kim talking about his compatriot having inspired him every bit as much as Woods. Even more so, in fact. “I think I would choose KJ as my major role model because he’s been a great golfer representing Korea, and I always wanted to be like him,” he admitted.
As both Choi and Yang start to see their careers on the main Tours wind down, though, a real strength in depth is starting to develop. On the back of a victory that earned him $1.89 million, Kim is up to 28th in the latest world rankings. He’s got five countrymen – Jeunghun Wang (57th), An (58th), KT Kim (79th), Sunghoon Kang (85th) and Youngan Song (94th) – for company in the top 100 while four others are in the top 200. Add in the fact there are currently 37 Koreans in the women’s top 100 and, certainly looking from a Scottish perspective, it makes you very jealous indeed, doesn’t it?
The worrying thing, too, as much-needed steps are taken to try and give our most promising young professionals the best chance possible to flourish is that more Koreans are likely to be playing on both the European Tour and Challenge Tour over the next few years. A new Asian leg for the Qualifying School will see to that, for sure.
“I didn’t expect that I could be the champion of this tournament at this young age,” admitted Kim of his success on Sunday. He might not be alone in that respect but, on the strength of how he did so, this is surely just the beginning of something special, both for him and Korean men’s golf as a whole.