PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Si Woo Kim earned access to a room reserved for winners of The Players Championship. He now shares locker No. 4 with Lanny Wadkins, the former PGA champion and Ryder Cup stalwart. Locker No. 5 belongs to Lee Trevino, the six-time major champion.
Both are in a far more exclusive club located about 30 minutes away at the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Kim is still 21.
The strength of The Players Championship is the depth of its field, the size of its purse and the pedigree of so many winners. Now that Kim has joined the list, all but 12 winners in the 44-year history also are major champions.
By all accounts, the South Korean is just getting started.
Kim showed remarkable calm amid inevitable chaos at the TPC Sawgrass to become the youngest winner of The Players Championship. He took the lead with a 25-foot birdie putt on the seventh hole and never gave it back. He missed the green 10 times and saved par each time. Playing in the penultimate group, he had the second-best score in the final round (69), and he was the only player in the field to not make bogey.
It will rank as one of the best Sunday performances on the scary Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.
And maybe the most surprising.
Statistics and scores going into The Players Championship would not have led anyone to pay attention to Kim.
The tour’s “strokes gained” statistic measures how a player performs against the field and has become the most reliable standard. Going into last week, Kim was ranked outside the top 200 in three categories related to the long game (driving, approach shots and tee-to-green).
He was better in putting, the most important category in golf. Kim was at No. 183.
As for his results?
He did not have a top 20 all year. He had only made two cuts against a full field (Bay Hill and the Texas Open). Kim, who has been dealing with a nagging wrist injury, also withdrew from three tournaments this year after opening rounds of 83, 81 and 76.
So is he another Adam Scott or another Craig Perks?
Scott won The Players in 2004, though by then he already had five victories worldwide, including the Deutsche Bank Championship (before it was a FedEx Cup playoff event). He was No. 18 in the world when the Australian won at Sawgrass.
Perks was No. 203 in the world who had never won on the PGA Tour or competed in The Players Championship until the 35-year-old Kiwi chipped in for eagle on the 16th hole, made a 30-foot birdie putt on the island-green 17th and chipped in for par from behind the 18th green to win by two. That turned out to be his only victory.
This was the second PGA Tour title for Kim. He shot 60 in the second round of the Wyndham Championship last August and won by five.
By winning The Players Championship, Kim became only the fourth player over the last 25 years with multiple victories before turning 22. The others were Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Jordan Spieth.
Not to be overlooked is how Kim reached this stage in the first place. Five years ago, Kim decided to try Q-school on the PGA Tour because it was the final year for players to gain instant access to the big leagues. Kim went through all four stages (starting with a pre-qualifier) and earned his card.
The problem was that Kim could not become a PGA Tour member until he turned 18 the following June, so 2013 effectively was a lost year. Kim wound up playing eight PGA Tour events and didn’t make a cut. He spent a full year on the Web.com Tour in 2014 and had only one top 10, and the following year he won the Stonebrae Classic and earned his way back to the big leagues.
“I was a little pressured that I qualified at Q-school when I was 17 years old,” Kim said through a translator. “Because I was very pressured, I think I didn’t do well for two years. However, the Web.com Tour experience actually really helped me to get more experience. And from that experience, I think that made me win this tournament.”
Kim now has a victory in each of his two seasons.
More importantly, he has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, along with a three-year exemption to the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. He also faces mandatory military service in South Korea unless he wins a major or an Olympic gold medal.
For now, that place in the winners-only locker room at the TPC Sawgrass is a good place to be. Kim will have plenty of time to show where else he belongs.
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