University of Michigan senior men’s golfer Lion Kim played in the 2011 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. He earned an invitation by winning the 2010 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. What follows is a sampling of his experiences:
The Par 3 Contest
Wednesday for Kim marked the Par 3 Contest, one of the more special traditions at the Masters. Paired with Bubba Watson and Aaron Baddeley, Kim teed off at 1:05 p.m. on the nine-hole course that requires only short irons and wedges, and he was thrilled to be a part of it.
“It was just a fun, fun day,” said Kim. “Aaron had his family out, Bubba had his friend looping, and I had Chris [Whitten] looping for me. We weren’t trying to necessarily win it, but we just wanted to go out and have fun.”
Both Watson and Baddeley were impressed with Kim’s swing. “He is a very nice kid,” said Watson. “He is a young kid, but he swung it well. It’s great to see all the amateurs to be able to play in this. It was fun to play with him.”
“He looked like a good hitter,” added Baddeley. “He seems to have a good stroke. Obviously, I have not seen the rest of his game, but going off of that he seems like a good player.”
Asked if there was one particular moment he will remember more than another during the Par 3 Contest, Kim simply said, “Every hole is a memorable moment for me. Playing one through nine on the Par 3 course at the Masters will be something I will never forget.”
Kim’s brother was originally scheduled to be his caddie during the Par 3 Contest, but he was unable to make it. So U-M assistant coach Chris Whitten was pulled in from the crowd on the No. 2 tee to fill in. In a quick change, Kim’s tournament caddie, Louis Laurence, shed his white jumpsuit and passed it on to Whitten.\
“I just happened to be at the right place at the right time,” said Whitten. “I just tried to stay out of the way the best I could. Just to be here and watch is a good enough experience. Then to get called in, I was actually a little nervous. I just wanted to be in the right place and do what I could.”
“I asked Chris to be my caddie for the tournament, but when I found a guy he was out, so I figured I owed him,” said Kim. “My brother was unable to make it, so I asked Chris to loop for me in the last second and it worked out.”
Playing With The Big Boys
With a 12:31 p.m. tee time, paired with both 2012 U.S. and European Ryder Cup captains — Davis Love III and Jose Maria Olazabal — Kim began his Masters in grand fashion with a birdie.
“It is the best start you could ever ask for from an amateur,” said Kim. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
After Love III put his drive in the right side bunker and Olazabal was just short on it, Kim striped his drive down the middle to a roaring round of applause and yells of, ‘Go Blue.’ Kim used a seven iron on his approach to eight feet and then, lining up his putt, drained it to record a birdie as the crowd cheered his effort.
|Driving Accuracy||12 of 14 (85.71 percent)|
|Greens in Regulation||8 of 18 (44.44 percent)|
|Total Putts||28 (1.56 average)|
“I wasn’t nervous at all; I was more excited,” Kim said of walking up to the first tee. “I was looking forward to the round and I was confident. There was no question I was confident coming into this round.”
After opening with his birdie on No. 1, Kim knocked his tee shot in the left bunker on the par-three fourth. After his sand wedge went right at the pin and six feet past, his par putt broke right at the end, giving him a six-inch putt for bogey.
Now even, Kim’s tee shot on the par-three sixth hole tracked right at the pin, but he flew the green and landed in the short rough. With his wedge, he bounced his ball through the first cut as it rolled just wide of the hole for birdie. He pushed his par putt to the right for his second bogey. After a great drive on the par-five eighth hole, Kim’s second shot found the left side trees. His shot out of the pine straw clipped a tree and dropped straight down. He found the green and salvaged a bogey as he was two over going into No. 9.
Bombing his drive down the right side on No. 9, it rolled into the rough. Kim’s approached shot came out of the shadows and landed two feet from the pin as the crowd erupted. Draining his putt, Kim recorded a birdie to open and close the front nine with birdies and make the turn at one over.
Making the turn, Kim’s approach on No. 10 hit the center of the green but then rolled off the left side into the rough. After his chip just missed, he closed with bogey to go two over. Approaching Amen Corner, Kim’s second shot on the 11th found the water. After getting back to the green, he just slipped his bogey putt by the hole as he posted a double to go four over.
With a packed gallery, Kim teed off on the famed par-three 12th and it tracked dead at the pin. As it landed, it just went over the pin and rolled 20 feet past the hole. Two putts later, Kim posted par and seemed to be back on his game as he birdied the par-five 13th after a solid drive and nice hybrid approach shot.
Kim’s tee shot hit a branch on the left fairway and dropped directly into pine straw on the 17th. With a terrible lie, his second shot hooked right as he punched out, but he hit a strong chip shot and managed a bogey. Four over with one to play, Kim closed with a solid par to give him a 76, putting him in a tie for 87th with Vijay Singh, Mark Wilson and Mike Weir.
“Individually, I am not pleased with how I played,” said Kim. “I made way too many bogeys out there, but overall it was a great experience and I can’t complain. I just didn’t get many breaks today, but hopefully I can turn that around tomorrow.”
Asked if he was surprised by anything, Kim said after nine practice rounds, he knew where he needed to play in order to score, but, like everyone warned, the greens were a “tad” faster than he had played before.
“The greens, the speed of the greens,” said Kim. “It’s not surprising because I knew they would be a lot faster than yesterday or the previous eight times I played here.”
Following the first round with Kim, Davis Love III tried to put himself in Kim’s shoes and remember his first time at the Masters.
“I kept reminding myself this is his first time and try to help him along a bit, but he did well,” said Love III. “Even me, as a third-year pro, I wasn’t as prepared.”
During the round, Davis III noticed Kim taking some difficult lines and wanted to help but knew that he had to learn on his own and gain as much experience by himself.
“I think you have to learn your way around the course,” said Davis III. “I saw [Kim] do a couple things where I was just like, don’t lay up over there. Lay up on the other side of the fairway. You could tell what he was trying to do. He was trying to put it where he put it, and he hit a good shot, but it was at the wrong angle. You just learn that by doing it. You just go, ‘oh boy that was dumb,’ because those guys hit it over there. I think that experience is worth a few shots, and probably the difference for first timers.”
The Waiting Game
Coming out for the second round paired again with Davis Love III and Jose Maria Olazabal, Kim looked focused as he parred the opening hole. After his tee shot on No. 2, he clipped a tree and dropped to the fairway nearly 80 yards behind his playing partners. Kim drew his approach right to left to the mouth of the par-five second hole. Striking his wedge shot to about six inches, he birdied with a tap-in putt to cheers from the crowd.
|Driving Accuracy||12 of 14 (85.71 percent)|
|Greens in Regulation||12 of 18 (66.67 percent)|
|Total Putts||29 (1.61 average)|
Playing steady through the middle of the front nine, Kim said he had his first bad shot on No. 7 as he was “in-between” clubs and pushed the shot into the right greenside bunker. Successfully getting out of the bunker, Kim’s par putt narrowly missed as he drew even with a bogey. However, Kim got the stroke back on No. 8 with his second birdie of the front side.
After a strong drive and perfect second shot, Kim wedged his approach just over the pin as it rolled 15 feet past the pin. The distance was not a factor as Kim drained the putt to go back under par. He closed the front side with a chip and great par-saving putt on the ninth hole.
Determined to learn from the mistakes on the back nine made Thursday, Kim stroked his approach on No. 10 to about 15 feet and ran it up just short as he tapped in for par. Entering Amen Corner, Kim reached No. 11 in two but landed his second shot back left with the pin in the front. After just missing his 35-plus foot bending putt, Kim dropped in the par-saving putt and fist pumped his way to the 12th tee box.
With the pin back right on the par-three 12th, Kim landed his tee shot in the middle of the green. With a 20-plus foot putt, he narrowly missed a birdie as it stopped less than a foot away. Kim just missed another birdie on the par-five 13th after his stellar approach landed in great position for a birdie opportunity. Stroking the seven-footer, the ball stopped on the edge of the cup, as Kim waited to see if it would drop. He tapped in for par.
Kim added par after par on holes 14 through 17 and was one under heading into 18. After a great drive on the closing hole, his approach hit the green and rolled just off the back side. Kim attempted to bend the putt, but the green speeds took it right at the apex and pushed it back off the green. Using his putter again, Kim’s par attempt just missed as he closed with a bogey and an even-par round of 72.
As he walked off the green disappointed from a closing bogey, Kim could only think of how special this week has meant to him.
“It was amazing,” Kim said of playing in the Masters. “Just to walk 36 holes with Davis Love III and Jose Maria Olazabal and competing as an amateur doesn’t get any better. Those two are clearly some of the best players in the game and it was fun to play alongside them.
“Obviously, I scored better than I did yesterday, but I am disappointed with the finish. Yesterday was disappointing because I had way too many bogeys, usually I am pretty consistent. Overall it was a great week, I cannot complain about anything this week.”
Learning was the emphasis for Kim this week, but just how much was he able to take in?
“Everything,” said Kim. “The way these pros interact with fans, the way they prepare for each round, their demeanor on the golf course, their attitude on the golf course. You can just learn so much and I think I did.”
After missing the cut, Lion Kim went back to Augusta National on Saturday to practice and to wish K.J. Choi, who he played three practice rounds with, luck.
“I just wanted to go back out to the range, get in some practice and really just watch how these guys prepared for the third round,” said Kim. “Also, I wanted to wish K.J. luck. He has been one of my idols growing up. To get some practice rounds in with him and a chance to really get to know him a little better was great. I learned a lot from him.”
The one thing Kim did not do was go back out onto the course. He just stayed on the range and in the player’s clubhouse talking with players to keep the learning going for as long as it could.
“I felt coming in to this week that I wanted and could make the cut and play during the weekend,” said Kim. “I fell just a little short, but I learned so much. I gained quite an experience. I will get better from what I learned.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling, but my attitude leaving the Masters is I know that I have the capabilities to play with these guys. If I clean up every aspect of my game, I will start competing with them. I know I will be back here some day.”
On Sunday, after packing their things and leaving the rental home, Kim and his family headed to Augusta National one more time to have lunch and say their goodbyes.
“We had a chance for another wonderful lunch, and thanked and said good bye to people before we left,” said Kim. “This was an experience that has taught me so much, and we had so many people to thank. Plus, I told them I would be back some day.”
The one item Kim had a hard time with was saying goodbye to his Mercedes S400 courtesy car.
“It was tough,” chuckled Kim. “I had a lot of fun driving around in that car. There is always next time.”
Kim opened the tournament with a 76 and followed with an even-par 72 to just miss the cut by three shots. He knows he could have played better but didn’t walk away empty handed.
“I gained a lot of confidence with my game and a lot of confidence competing with the players in this field,” said Kim. “I felt like I could compete with them. I truly believe I have what it takes to be out there. My skills, my attitude and my dedication towards the game are what well help me make it. If I just keep doing what I am doing, I think I will be out there very, very soon.”