Golf

New Kim on the block

South Korean rising star becomes youngest winner of The Players at age 21

His name may not ring a bell in the golfing world, but Kim Si Woo got everyone talking at The Players Championship yesterday morning (Singapore time) when he became the tournament's youngest winner.

The 21-year-old displayed composure beyond his years to shoot a final-round three-under 69 to clinch a three-stroke victory at the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

Kim finished on 10-under 278 and is the second South Korean after 2011 champion K.J. Choi to win what is widely regarded as golf's fifth Major.

"I feel like I'm still dreaming," said Kim, who collected US$1.89 million (S$2.65m) and rose to 75th from his previous ranking of 198.

"I never expected that I would win this tournament and I wasn't doing that well at the beginning of this year, but I'm just so excited that I could be the champion of this tournament."

Unknown to many, the Seoul native already made headlines five years ago when he first earned his US PGA Tour card after finishing tied for 20th at Q-School.

TOO YOUNG

But then, he was seven months shy of the PGA Tour's minimum age limit of 18.

Kim ended up getting only six starts as an official PGA Tour member in 2013, missing the cut in all six and winding up on the Web.com Tour.

He played there in 2014 and 2015, regaining his card after becoming the second-youngest winner on the developmental circuit at the 2015 Stonebrae Classic.

It didn't take long for him to announce his arrival on the big stage.

Kim won his first PGA Tour title at the Wyndham Championship last August less than two months after turning 21, but he hadn't managed a top-20 finish since last October.

Acting on advice from his new instructor Sean Foley, who coaches Olympic champion Justin Rose and previously worked with Tiger Woods, Kim started using more hip-turn in his backswing and everything came together in Florida as he blew away arguably the deepest field of the year to win The Players title.

Kim also thanked compatriot Choi for helping him close out the victory.

"He taught me about the course and his experience of being in the leading position. That kind of advice actually helped me a lot," said Kim, who eclipsed the Players' age mark set by Adam Scott when the Australian won at age 23 in 2004.

"When I started the final round, I was actually very aggressive in order to get more scores and beat them. And, when I was leading, I was very confident that I could win."

Englishman Ian Poulter (71) bogeyed the last after shanking his second into a bush and finished tied for second with South African Louis Oosthuizen on seven under.

“I have to go for military service and... I’m ready for that.”Kim Si Woo, newly minted champion of The Players Championship, on enlisting for military service

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson carded a final-round 68 to finish tied for 12th while No. 2 Rory McIlroy ended with a 75 to drop to equal 35th. Defending champion Jason Day shot an 80 and plunged to joint-60th.

Kim's victory burnished his 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.

MILITARY SERVICE

South Korea requires all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 35 to complete at least 21 months in the military as a deterrent to North Korean aggression.

It offers exemptions to athletes who win a medal of any colour at the Olympics or gold at the Asian Games. Unfortunately for Kim, winning The Players does not bring an exemption.

"I really wish we could have that benefit," said Kim.

"However, regardless of me winning this tournament, I have to go for military service, and I've already decided I'm going, so I'm ready for that."

Kim, who said he had not decided when he will undertake his military service, hoped his victory would help inspire his countrymen to raise their game.

"I really wish I could be a good example for the Korean men's golfers," 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." - WIRE SERVICES

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