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Kim: the Youngest Winner of THE PLAYERS

Kim: the Youngest Winner of THE PLAYERS
Kim: the Youngest Winner of THE PLAYERS

If winning THE PLAYERS Championship is a big deal, then winning THE PLAYERS Championship at just 21 years old is a really big deal. And that is exactly what Si Woo Kim did this year, becoming the tournament’s youngest winner ever. “I feel like I’m still dreaming. I never expected I was going to win this tournament,” Kim said after the championship—but some dreams do come true.

While still a very young player on the TOUR, winning the “fifth major” certainly caught a lot of people’s attention. Kim may not have been known to the masses before the win, but he gave people plenty to notice now. After finishing tied for 22nd at the Valero Texas Open and then being cut at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Kim sat at 128 in the FedExCup standings. The win at THE PLAYERS catapulted him all the way up to number 21. It’s hard not to notice that.

A native of Seoul, South Korea, Kim was the PGA TOUR’s youngest-ever graduate of its qualifying school at just 17 years old. In 2013, as a rookie on the Tour, he never made the cut in eight tournaments entered. He found better success a year later in 2014. Settling in on the Tour is never easy, and Kim didn’t find success early on. It’s not hard to imagine, but as a 17-year-old rookie, adjusting to life on Tour is difficult. Kim has only ever had one teacher, his father, so they had to learn on the fly.

Starting on the Tour

Making the cut in 15 of the 19 tournaments entered, Kim saw his best success in 2014 at the Cleveland Open, when he placed third. Kim would break through in the win column in 2015 at the event, the Stonebrae Classic, becoming the Tour’s second-youngest winner, behind only Jason Day. Being mentioned in the same breath as Jason Day is always good company to keep.

After a successful 2015 on the Tour, placing tenth on the money list, Kim would get his card for the PGA TOUR in 2016. 21 was a good year for Si Woo Kim, winning his first ever PGA TOUR event at the Wyndham Championship in August 2016, and then winning again at the aforementioned 2017 Players.

Now with two PGA TOUR victories under his belt before his 22nd birthday, Kim joins Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Jordan Spieth as the only four players in the last 25 years with multiple PGA TOUR wins before the age of 22. Again, some pretty good company to keep.

Despite his early-career success, it hasn’t always been easy for Kim—specifically this season. Prior to his win at THE PLAYERS, Kim had just one top-10 finish this season, as well as seven missed cuts. It is still very early on in his career and there’s obviously work to be done, but the skills and potential for a bigger career are definitely there.

What’s in store for the youngest winner of THE PLAYERS Championship?

It remains to be seen exactly where Kim goes from here. What is known is that South Korea has a mandatory two-year military service requirement for all men under 30 years old. Eventually, it seems Kim will need to fulfill that—unless a waiver is granted similar to the successes of Olympians and the Asian Games winning baseball team. But for now, the poise down the stretch at TPC Sawgrass was hard to ignore. Firing a bogey-free 69 on Sunday—the only player bogey-free for the final round—he looked composed and comfortable despite immense pressure. That is the type of mentality needed to put together consistent, winning rounds of golf on the PGA TOUR.

Paired with Louis Oosthuizen on Sunday at THE PLAYERS, and despite being beaten by three strokes, Oosthuizen was in awe of the youngster’s composure: “He played like someone that was doing it for five or six years, like it was just another round of golf,” he said after the round. Oosthuizen would go on to say: “It just shows you how good a player he is and how cool and calm he is, and never once did he look flustered at all.” High praise for the kid, indeed.

Kim will now have to put his colleague’s praise to the test this week at Erin Hills for the U.S. Open. It’s a tall task to complete, but if Kim has shown anything through his first few years on the TOUR, it’s that he’s not afraid of the big moment. And if being the youngest winner of THE PLAYERS isn’t tough enough, Kim showed he wasn’t afraid to go big, hitting driver out of the rough on 14. Hey, kid, that shot may come in handy this week.

See also: Dustin Johnson’s Rocky Road to World Number One