Young And Pressure-Less
Amateur Final Features Two Icy-Cool Customers In Chung,
Francisco - Ah, the innocence
of youth. Sometimes it's just better to be incredulous and maybe a bit
naïve. The thought of feeling pressure or anxiety doesn't manifest
itself quite as quickly. Things like the yips and shakes haven't become
part of their vernacular.
the two individuals who will compete in Saturday's 18-hole championship
match at the 57th U.S. Junior Amateur at The Olympic Club, Sihwan
|Sihwan Kim has surprised even himself by reaching
the U.S. Junior Amateur final. The 15-year-old is bidding to become
the second-youngest champion in the event's 57-year history. (John
two youngsters aren't even old enough to possess a driver's license
yet they are about to play for the biggest prize in junior golf.
you would hardly know it by their expressions. To them, the rolling
hills, plush fairways and challenging holes of the 6,790-yard Lake
is almost like a Sunday stroll.
Are you kidding? These kids' icy-cool demeanor would make Retief
14 years, 6 months and 10 days, Chung,
who beat Sung Kang in the semifinals, 2 and 1, would become the youngest
champion in the history of the championship. He'd break the record by
some guy named Tiger Woods, who 15 years, 6 months and 28 days old when
he won the first of three consecutive titles in 1991.
just going to stick with my game plan," said Chung,
"I'm not going to try and think about any records right now. I just
can't think about [the title]. I just think of it as another round."
at 15 years, 7 months and 20 days, would become the second-youngest
champion in the event's history. He'd also be the fourth 15-year-old
to win the championship, and all of them were California
residents at the time. Although
he was born in Korea,
now lives in Fullerton.
seems shocked that he's even in this position. He all but conceded his
Friday morning quarterfinal match to defending champion and 2004 stroke-play
medalist Brian Harman
on Thursday night. Then he went
out and upset the left-hander, 1 up. He followed that up with a 3-and-2
victory over Jon Curran,
who shot the equivalent of 6 under par in his third-round win over Kevin
am pretty surprised," said Kim,
who moved to the U.S.
four years ago to better his golf game. "I've been able to accomplish
many things [this week]. I play with great players . and I was able
to learn something from every player. And it's great to win a match
against a great player."
getting to the finals brings about several perks, one being an exemption
to the U.S. Amateur next month at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck,
Both players were unaware of this benefit until informed after their
that's going to be hard," said Chung,
acting like a kid on Christmas morning.
"I was going to try and qualify in Valencia
[at Tournament Players Club of
Valencia] and I don't have to do that anymore. It is pretty cool."
was also reminded that he receives an exemption from local qualifying
for next year's U.S. Open, which happens to be at Pinehurst (N.C.) No.
2, where his parents have a membership (they also belong to Highland
C.C. in Fayetteville).
would be really awesome if I made it," said Chung,
his eyes widening with every word.
put it past Chung
that he couldn't qualify, either. He seems to have a mastery of the
impossible, especially deficits. In his morning quarterfinal victory
over Robert Riesen
he rallied from a five-hole deficit over the last seven holes to post
a 19-hole victory, making four birdies in a six-hole stretch.
Sung Kang of Korea in the semifinals, Chung
won four consecutive holes from
No. 11. The rally started when Kang missed a 3½-foot par putt
to lose No. 11. Chung
then birdied the 12th (8-footer) and stuck his tee shot at 13 to within
four feet for another birdie and his first lead in the match. His up-and-down
par won 14 when Kang chunked his greenside chip from the rough and made
registered another up-and-down
par at 15 from the greenside bunker and converted an 8-foot birdie at
16 for his fifth consecutive one-putt. Kang matched his birdie from
five feet to stay in the match, but he couldn't hole a tricky downhill
14-footer for par at 17 to extend the match to 18.
guy is my idol," said a gallery member of Chung
's amazing short-game prowess.
"He gives me hope."
performance has been remarkable considering every opponent out-drives
him by at least 40-50 yards. He has yet to reach the 464-yard, uphill
17th hole in regulation this week, but it doesn't seem to matter. Not
when you have confidence and a hot putter.
I just stick to my game and hit the good shots, I'll be right up on
the green with them," said Chung.
put on a short-game display against
especially on the back nine when he got up and down for par at 12 and
13 to halve the holes. At 14, Kim
faced a chip shot that was eerily
similar to the one he had against Harman in the morning quarterfinal.
He picked out his line and hit the shot with perfect pace. The ball
rolled toward the flagstick, stopped momentarily and then dropped for
a birdie, which gave him a 2-up lead. He won No. 15 with a par and closed
3 and 2, with a par at 16.
happens in match play," said Curran,
who had his best finish in a USGA competition. "I played good. I can't
really do much else. [ Mark ]
Silvers was getting up and down on me [in the second round] and I pulled
that one out [in 19 holes]. And this one, I just fell short."
was one of many 17-year-olds this
week making his final appearance in the Junior. When asked if he was
surprised to see a 14-year-old and 15-year-old playing in the final,
he replied: "I don't know. I played with Kim
today and he hits the ball just
as far as I do. He chips and putts just as well as anybody. It [age]
is almost becoming a non-factor."
statement couldn't be more truthful. Consider that a 14- and 15-year-old
competed in the final of this year's Women's Amateur Public Links and
last year's Women's Amateur final four had three teenagers. And a 19-year-old
was low-amateur at this year's U.S. Open (Spencer
might be 14, but his mannerisms
are anything but sophomoric. Last Friday, he played a practice round
with local pro and club member Josh
(no relation to Spencer)
and absorbed every bit of knowledge he could Levin showed him where
to hit the ball and the little nuances of the greens.
is obvious Chung
is a fast learner. Remember, he's home-schooled, will be taking three
college-level classes this fall at a local community college and has
scored 99 percent on his Iowa Test, a standardized exam home-schooled
students must take to show their academic aptitude.
cuts the ball when the play calls
for a cut and he uses every slope and hill to his advantage. And he's
a master with the putter.
just try to pick out my line and hit it there," said Chung.
"If it goes in good, but if it doesn't, I know I hit a good putt."
That's a good thing for the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA competition.
just don't tell him there's pressure. And even then, he might not believe
is a USGA staff writer.
E-mail him with comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.