Youngest ever PLAYERS winner Kim set for The Open
In winning THE PLAYERS Championship at the age of 21 Si-Woo Kim has joined an elite group of modern golfing superstars.
The Korean had already booked a first Open start at Royal Birkdale, courtesy of making it all the way to the Tour Championship in the 2016 FedExCup play-off series, but in joining Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Jordan Spieth as the only two-time PGA Tour winners before the age of 22 in the last 25 years he has announced himself as a major talent – and possibly a major contender.
Moreover there was something of an Open flavour to his victory at TPC Sawgrass, coming as it did on a course which was buffeted by blustery winds and highlighted by a short game which saw him playing flop shots, running shots and everything in between during a flawless final round.
Ahead of last week his best performance of the season had been T22nd at the Texas Open. Added to his youth, it made the composure he displayed under pressure all the more startling and yet he seemed to take it all in his stride.
“When I was a junior player I learned that when you focus on second place, you don't play well,” he said after the win, suggesting a ruthless attitude which bodes well for the future and in the major championships.
“When I started the final round, I was actually very aggressive and the moment that I was leading, I was very confident. There were some strong winds and I was actually enjoying that. I was very confident that I could win.”
He revealed that he had discussed the course and experience of leading with his hero K.J. Choi, a fellow Korean and previous winner of THE PLAYERS. It might be an idea for them to address the distinct challenge of Royal Birkdale.
Nine years ago Choi finished T16th when the Southport course last hosted The Open and he was one of eight winners of THE PLAYERS to end the week in the top 20 that year.
In another hint that this year’s activity at TPC Sawgrass had echoes of The Open one of the 54-hole leaders Kim hunted down was J.B. Holmes, the American who led the field whilst Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson played out their stunning head-to-head battle for the Claret Jug last year.
Holmes shot rounds of 70-70-69-69 at Royal Troon which in some years might have been good enough to challenge for, or even win, the Championship. Alas for him he finished alone in third, ahead of 152 players, but 14 shots adrift of Stenson and 11 behind Mickelson.
The two men who shared second behind Kim also know The Open well.
Louis Oosthuizen was the 2010 Champion Golfer of the Year, when he destroyed the field by seven strokes on The Old Course at St Andrews, and he proved his liking for the venue by reaching a play-off in 2015, eventually losing out to Zach Johnson.
Seven Championship appearances elsewhere on the rota have failed to reap one top 15 finish, but the South African is yet to play Royal Birkdale and he will be encouraged by his week’s work in Florida.
He narrowly failed to claim a first victory on American soil, but in coming second he has given notice that he is primed to add to his major championship tally.
He’s finished second three times in the sport’s greatest events, twice after play-offs, so it could be argued that he’s only been a few swings from owning four majors. He maybe one of golf’s most under-rated players.
For Ian Poulter narrowly missing out on victory at THE PLAYERS was galling yet in the context of his recent history it was a success.
“It's been a rollercoaster ride,” he said. “There's been a lot of interesting things happen in the last 18 months which haven't been very helpful for playing golf.”
He has had to cope with injury woes, form concerns and threat of losing his playing rights on the PGA Tour – something which was eventually saved only by a miscalculation.
“It’s been tough, but I think it's time to start filling the positive thoughts back in my head and start enjoying golf again.”
With that in mind few golfers will be more enthused about this year’s Championship venue.
Ultimately the record books show that Poulter finished four strokes behind Padraig Harrington when second in 2008, but the Englishman played some of the greatest golf of his life on the back nine of the final round and for a while looked like setting a target no-one could match.
Indeed, when he holed a 20-foot birdie on the 16th he briefly shared the lead with Harrington and Greg Norman before the Irishman pulled clear.
Poulter will not forget how close he came to major glory. He still needs to qualify for this year’s Open, but should he do so, like Kim and Oosthuizen, he’ll be a leading contender.