The English is still a work in progress and shaving every day doesn’t appear to be a necessity.
But Si Woo Kim’s golf game in the final round of The Players Championship on Sunday was a performance beyond his years and one for the ages.
Kim became the youngest ever to win The Players at 21 years, 10 months and 16 days when he crafted a 69 at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, the only bogey-free round of the day and a performance that any seasoned PGA Tour veteran would have been proud to claim under the circumstances.
His four-round total of 10-under-par 278 topped Ian Poulter (71) and Louis Oosthuizen (73) by three shots and earned the South Korean his second PGA Tour title and the second Players by a native of his country, his boyhood idol, 2011 champion K.J. Choi.
Kim earned a first-place check of $1.89 million and 600 FedEx Cup points, sending him 111 spots up the list to 21st. And he earned every penny and point, grinding out pars after missing 10 greens, making birdies at Nos. 1, 7 and 9, then refusing to blink or buckle under the back-nine pressure of the Stadium Course that has sometimes caused majors champions and double-digit winners to wilt.
But on the course, solid and stoic, he looked like belonged on a list of champions that includes 11 members of the World Golf Hall of Fame and global superstars such as Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Greg Norman.
He became the third international Players champion in four years and led seven international players among the top-10.
The smart money, if an international player overtook American co-leaders J.B. Holmes and Kyle Stanley, was on veterans such as Poulter, Oosthuizen, Adam Scott (the previous youngest winner, at 23 in 2004) or Masters champion Sergio Garcia.
Few saw Kim coming — including himself.
“I didn’t expect that I could be the champion of this tournament at this young age,” he said through an interpreter.
But he admitted to gaining confidence as the day wore on — especially after he took the lead for good with an 18-foot birdie putt at the ninth.
“The moment I was leading, I was very confident,” he said.
Poulter, 20 years older than Kim, knew the goods when he saw the leaderboards.
“You have to respect some good golf and that’s exactly what he’s done,” said the Englishman, who played his last seven holes at 2-over.
Kim did get some help, when Holmes and Stanley had disastrous days.
Holmes shot 44 on the back nine and his 84 was the highest score in Players history for a player who led or shared the lead entering a Sunday. Holmes plummeted 40 spots to a tie for 41st at 3-over par. He had taken his share of the lead despite tying for last among the weekend field in driving accuracy, and hit only eight fairways in the final round.
Holmes finished with an 8 on the par-3 17th hole, when he hit two shots into the water and four-putted, and doubled the final hole when he needed three shots to reach the green and took three putts.
Stanley was nine shots lower than his playing partner, but a 75 still dropped him into a tie for fourth at 6-under with Rafael Cabrera Bello – who had one of the most sensational finishes in Players history when he made the first double-eagle at the par-5 16th hole, and added a birdie at No. 17.
Lucas Glover (70), who was 5-under through 11 holes, briefly came within one of Kim, but bogeyed Nos. 13, 14 and 15 to fall out of contention.
He finished at 5-under 283 to tie for sixth with Scott (70), Brendan Steele (68) and Francesco Molinari (71).
World No. 1-ranked Dustin Johnson matched his best Players score with a 68 and posted his best 72-hole position with a tie for 12th at 2-under. Defending champion Jason Day made a quadruple-bogey 9 at the par-5 16th hole, hit his tee shot at No. 17 into the water, and limped home with an 80 to tie for 60th and kept up the streak of no back-to-back champions.
Garcia, the 2008 Players champion, had two doubles and a triple and ballooned 11 shots higher than his third-round 67 with a 78 to finished tied for 30th.
The only thing old about Kim might be his back. He’s been plagued by problems most of the season and has been forced to withdraw from four tournaments and missed the cut in seven other starts. He had not posted a top-10 since a tie for 10th in the Tour’s event in Malaysia last October, his first start of the wrap-around season.
But latching on with coach Sean Foley has resulted in a smoother swing that has produced less stress on his back and The Players might be a turning point. Never a long hitter off the tee, Kim hasn’t been hitting fairways (.550, 178th on the Tour), greens (.589, 201st) and when he did finally manage a way to get to the green, he wasn’t sinking much, buried at 176th in the Tour’s strokes-gained putting index.
An opening 69 raised his hopes. After a 72 in the second round, Kim had one of the better showings on a wind-blown Saturday afternoon with a 68, putting him two shots behind Holmes and Stanley.
Once Kim dropped his three birdies putts, he was unrelenting, especially when he made par saves on six of the back-nine holes.
“He played like someone that was doing it for five or six years … like it was just another round of golf,” Kim’s playing partner Oosthuizen said. “Never once did he look flustered at all.”