Michael Kim Ends Busy Week with Success at Hawks Ridge

Ball Ground 9

Co-medalist Michael Kim lines up a putt on the ninth green at Hawks Ridge. (USGA/Paul Abell)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

By Stan Awtrey

BALL GROUND, Ga. – Michael Kim acknowledged Monday that sometimes, being young can work to your advantage.

Kim, the No. 1-ranked college player from the University of California, capped off a busy week of competition and travel by sharing medalist honors in U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying at Hawks Ridge Golf Club.

Kim, of Del Mar, Calif., shot 67-66 to finish at 11-under 133, leaving him tied with veteran mini-tour professional Ryan Nelson of Charleston, S.C., who had rounds of 68-65. The third qualifying spot was taken by amateur Grayson Murray of Raleigh, N.C., who shot 69-66 to finish 9-under.

Kim arrived in the Atlanta area last week and managed to sneak in a practice round at Hawks Ridge. He then played in the NCAA Championships at Capital City Club, where the No. 1-ranked Golden Bears lost in the semifinals to Illinois, 3-2. It was an emotionally trying loss after an exceptional season in which Cal won an NCAA-record 11 tournaments.

The real trick came when Kim flew from Atlanta to Columbus, Ohio, to accept the Jack Nicklaus Award, presented annually to the nation’s best golfer. Kim left Atlanta at 9:30 a.m., arrived in Columbus an hour later, and drove to Muirfield Village Golf Club. At 11 a.m. he walked into the media center at The Memorial Tournament for a 40-minute ceremony with Nicklaus, then raced back to the airport for a 2:45 p.m. flight to Chicago Midway, where he sprinted to his connecting flight back to Atlanta. He was back at his hotel by 6:30, just in time for dinner and a good night’s sleep.

“I was pretty tired waking up this morning,” he said. “It’s all worth it now.”

That’s where the resiliency of youth showed up for Kim. He didn’t show any fatigue on Monday. He seemed to get stronger as the day progressed, birdieing four of his last nine holes and just missing reaching his goal of 12-under.

“It’s a dream come true,” Kim said. “You practice all year and you dream of the majors and think about playing alongside Tiger or Phil or Matt Kuchar.”

Nelson was happy to return to Hawks Ridge for the sectional. Two years ago, he shot 12-under at Hawks Ridge and qualified for the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club. “It fits my eye,” Nelson said. “I don’t know why. It’s a brutal walk.”

Nelson missed the cut, recalling that he “hit it in every bunker” on the first nine of the second round at Congressional.

On Monday he ended his first round with an eagle then played a bogey-free afternoon round. He had two bogeys in the morning, thanks to a pair of three-putts.

“I struck the ball fantastic today,” he said. “On this golf course, you’re going to have a lot of opportunities and I converted enough.”

Nelson thought he needed to make two birdies over his last four holes in order to qualify. When that final birdie putt dropped on the 18th hole, he knew things looked good.

“Made it to the dream tournament,” he said.

The other spot went to Murray, who endured a difficult year on the college front. He started the year at Wake Forest and transferred to East Carolina, but had issues with the coach and left the team before the season ended. He now plans to attend and play at UNC-Greensboro after he sits out a year.

Murray made an eight-footer on his final hole for the birdie that wound up securing his place in the Open.

“It was the exact same putt I had had in the morning,” Murray said. “So I knew exactly what it was going to do. It was an eight-footer up the hill. I make those all the time. You’ve just got to man up and make those.”

Just missing a qualifying spot was T.J. Vogel, who turned professional on Monday morning after representing the University of Florida in the NCAA Championships. The 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion shot 69-67 to finish at 8-under 136. He is the first alternate out of the sectional.

Nicholas Cullen qualified for the 2012 British Open, where he narrowly missed the cut. On Monday, he had the 18-hole lead with a 65. But the Australian struggled in the second round and shot 74 to finish tied for 11th.

PGA Tour winners Billy Andrade and Heath Slocum were unable to advance. Andrade shot 3-under 141 and Slocum finished at even-par 144.

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