PONTE VEDRA BEACH • At 21, Kim Si Woo is the same age as golf's No. 1-ranked men's amateur, Maverick McNealy.
But, while McNealy was preparing to lead Stanford in a National Collegiate Athletics Association regional tournament that started yesterday, Kim turned back the deepest field in professional golf to win the Players Championship on Sunday. The South Korean became the youngest winner of the tournament, which featured 48 of the world's top 50 players.
"It's unbelievable that I won this championship, and I am very excited I'm the youngest champion for this tournament," he said.
Kim, who won his first PGA Tour event in August in Greensboro, North Carolina, joined Sergio Garcia of Spain as the only golfers born outside the United States in the post-World War II era to have recorded two Tour victories before their 22nd birthdays.
Kim said that his win at last year's Wyndham Championship and the two-year Tour exemption that came with it, freed him to play without fear this season. "Because of that experience, I could be relieved and I could be very stable," he said.
He had endured a wretched 2017 campaign until last week, his cause not helped by back and wrist injuries.
Acting on advice from his new instructor Sean Foley, who coaches Olympic champion Justin Rose and previously worked with Tiger Woods, Kim has started using more hip-turn in his backswing and everything came together in Florida.
He is the second South Korean to win the Players Championship, joining K.J. Choi, who was 40 when he won in 2011.
HOLDING HIS OWN
The Korean ladies are dominating the LPGA Tour, so I was kind of jealous seeing that and I wanted to represent Korea very well.''
KIM SI WOO, newly-crowned Players Championship winner, on flying the South Korean flag high.
"I really wish I could be a good example of the Korean men's player," Kim said. "The Korean ladies are dominating the LPGA Tour, so I was kind of jealous seeing that and I wanted to represent Korea very well."
Kim is also the latest in a procession of prodigies to have won on the Tour in the last 18 months.
That baby-faced bunch also includes Emiliano Grillo, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama and Cameron Smith, all of whom were 24 or younger at the time of their victories.
How he did it
PONTE VEDRA BEACH • Resolute and cool under pressure, Kim Si Woo, ranked 75th in the world, used a bogey-free final round of 69 to collect his biggest victory by finishing 72 holes on 10-under 278 at the Players Championship.
American Kyle Stanley and compatriot J.B. Holmes, who closed with an 84, were 54-hole co-leaders, but Holmes bogeyed three of the first five and Stanley two of the first four to stumble back.
South African Louis Oosthuizen, second after three rounds, sank a four-foot birdie at the par-five second to reach nine under but found water at the fourth and made double-bogey to fall back.
That left Kim and Englishman Ian Poulter, who was a stroke behind him after Saturday, atop the leaderboard at eight under - Poulter after a tap-in birdie at the second plus a five-foot birdie putt at the sixth and Kim after a 17-foot birdie on the opening hole.
Kim sank a 24-foot birdie putt at the par-four seventh to seize the lead and sank an 18-foot birdie at the par-five ninth to reach 10 under for a two-stroke advantage.
Then the South Korean parred his way through the back nine, his last putts no longer than four feet on any hole as he calmly ignored winds and tension to prevail.
Poulter (71) and Oosthuizen (73) shared second on 281.
"The young guys now come out more experienced than ever, more prepared to win," said Adam Scott, who was 23 in 2004 when he made the Players Championship his second career Tour victory. "They understand what a golf ball does better than we ever did."
Kim's victory burnished the South Korean's reputation as one of the best young talents on the PGA Tour but he knows his career will soon have to take a back seat to defending his country.
South Korea requires all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 35 to complete at least 21 months in the military. It offers exemptions to athletes who win a medal at the Olympics or gold at the Asian Games.
Unfortunately for Kim, winning the PGA Tour's flagship event does not bring an exemption. "I really wish we could have that benefit," he said on Sunday. "I've already decided I'm going to go (for military service), so I'm ready for that."
His compatriot Bae Sang Moon, another two-time winner on the PGA Tour, lost a legal battle to defer his military service in 2015. He is expected to return to competition next season.