Korea’s Tom Kim recalls watching with pride when Si Woo Kim triumphed at the 2017 PLAYERS Championship to emerge as the youngest winner of the PGA TOUR’s flagship tournament.
This week, he has “one shot” to break Si Woo’s record and get into golf’s history pages once more.
Tom, 20, will make his debut in the TOUR’s US$25 million showpiece at TPC Sawgrass, which will feature 44 of the top 50 players in the Official World Golf Ranking and 29 of the top 30 players in the FedExCup standings.
“I remember watching him (Si Woo) winning. He was the youngest PLAYERS champion and to see him do that definitely motivated a lot of us Asian players to try and come out to the PGA TOUR,” said Kim on Wednesday.
“I’ve watched this event on TV so many times. Didn’t really know what to expect and I arrived here on Monday, got a feel of it and began to understand why all the players say it’s the fifth major. It’s an incredible place to come to, the atmosphere is amazing and it’s a good week to play well.”
Tom has taken the golf world by storm following wins at the Wyndham Championship last August and Shriners Children’s Open two months later, which made him the first golfer since Tiger Woods to win twice before turning 21. He also put in a memorable debut appearance for the International Team at the Presidents Cup.
Currently ninth on the FedExCup points list, Tom has Si Woo’s record in his sights. Six years ago, Si Woo played his way into golf’s annals when he triumphed at TPC Sawgrass at the age of 21 years, 10 months, 16 days.
“I’ve got one shot at it,” said Tom, who will be 20 years 8 months and 21 days old on Sunday.
“Everyone who plays this week has a chance to win and everyone wants to win it really badly. I thought it would be another regular event. It’s actually not. There’s a feel to it. I think it’s the history of this event, the past champions and what the title holds … that’s what makes it special. It’s definitely one of our biggest events of the year.”
Like all other golf courses which are new to him, Tom will be counting on experienced caddie, Joe Skovron to map out a game plan at the ultra-challenging Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. Skovron was a long-time caddie for Rickie Fowler, who was the 2015 PLAYERS Champion.
“Big time,” Tom said of Skovron’s importance as his bagman.
“It mentally takes the stress off me in terms of prepping as he knows these courses so well. He doesn’t really make mistakes. He’s won here before. We have a great relationship and he’s one of my best friends now. He’s like my brother.”
Kim’s preparation has included a practice round with 2021 PLAYERS winner Justin Thomas, Max Homa and Jordan Spieth. He has also forged friendships with World No. 1 Jon Rahm and reigning FedExCup champion Rory McIlroy and being the new kid on the block, he is thankful the TOUR’s biggest names have taken him under their wing.
“He (Rahm) and I played in Memphis (last year) and we’ve gotten closer. He takes on like the big brother role. Every time I have questions, he answers them all the time,” said Tom.
Despite his early success, he insists he still has a long way to go in his hopes to establish himself as a mainstay on the PGA TOUR. “I’m trying to learn every day and trying to get better. I’m still only 20 years old,” he said.
“I felt like distance was something I’ve lacked before but I’ve gained a lot of speed. I’m not far off these guys anymore. For me, I try to be really consistent overall. I’d like to be able to get the putter a little bit more hot when I want it to. I’m playing against these guys who have so much experience.”
His trademark straight-shooting game should serve him well at the Pete Dye-designed golf course, which is often described as the truest test in the game. “It’s a lot more narrow than I thought it was. And 17 (the signature par-3 hole with an island green) is actually bigger than you think. So it’s kind of a mix,” said Tom.
“It really tests every part of your game. To have a chance, you definitely have to be playing well against the best players in the world.”