Golf: Humble Kim eyes Players C’ship crowning glory once more

South Korea's Kim Si-woo is aiming for a second Players Championship victory at TPC Sawgrass. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR – A mixed dose of brutal honesty and tough love from his father, Du-ryu, has kept Kim Si-woo well and truly grounded as he pushes to grow his legacy on the PGA Tour as one of Asia’s greatest golfers.

Despite hitting fame early in his career following a string of historic achievements on the biggest stage, the 27-year-old South Korean has not let success get to his head despite seeing his shelves filling with silverware, the latest addition being the Sony Open trophy won in January.

As a 17-year-old, Kim shot to prominence in 2012 by becoming the youngest player to earn a PGA Tour card through the qualifying school, which is often regarded as the hardest test in the game.

Fast-forward to 2023 and he is now a proven four-time Tour champion with over US$19 million (S$25.7 million) in winnings.

He is also the youngest Players Championship winner with his triumph at TPC Sawgrass in 2017 at the age of 21.

When Kim first arrived in the United States as a fresh-faced rookie, he hardly spoke English but his command of the language has vastly improved.

After winning the Sony Open with weekend rounds of 64s, he shared an anecdote, in English, about some fatherly advice that has been the secret to him keeping his feet firmly planted in the ground, despite his growing fame and fortune.

“Yeah, my dad keep talking to me, you’re not the top player, so don’t try to act like a top player,” smiled Kim, who is ranked behind only compatriot K. J. Choi and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, who have eight wins apiece, in the list of Asian golfers with the most PGA Tour titles.

“I think I was not good enough for the top level, like (playing against) all the top 10 players. But somehow I got lucky, like that rookie year (when he won the 2016 Wyndham Championship), and then the next year, won The Players,” added Kim.

“I play with Rory (McIlroy), J. T. (Justin Thomas), all the good players, sometimes I’m like, what I’m doing here… they’re so good, driving like 360 and I’m like 60 yards behind. I’ve still got a lot of (catching up).”

Asians are sometimes known for their “tiger” parenting styles. In Kim’s instance, he is appreciative of his father’s frank opinions, which have kept him modest about his own stature in the game.

Three-time Major winner Jordan Spieth has played often enough alongside Kim to know the South Korean is the real deal, and that he will be among the front runners to triumph again when the Tour’s flagship tournament, the Players Championship tees off at TPC Sawgrass on Thursday.

“Si-woo might be the one of the most talented individuals in the game of golf and it’s always been fun to watch him play,” said Spieth.

Kim ended his bachelor days in December by tying the knot with Korean LPGA Tour player, Oh Ji-hyun.

He joked that going through the wedding preparation was so nerve-racking that it would help him deal with tournament pressure when he is battling for the next win, hopefully at the Players.

“I was worrying so much during the preparation for the wedding and also on the wedding day. I was more nervous than in a competition,” said Kim.

With Oh having been through the grind as a professional, Kim reckons his wife’s experiences will help him excel.

He said: “We can understand each other by knowing what part of stress and pressure are, and what parts to respect each other well.

“I think it’s comfortable because we understand each other when it comes to golf. This is really exciting, and hopefully get more confidence and more wins.”

  • Chuah Choo Chiang is senior director, marketing and communications, Asia Pacific, for the PGA Tour.

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