Stratham, N.H. – He’ll be facing a player with a U.S. Junior Amateur title already on his resume, his own professional swing coach, a top junior ranking and a verbal commitment to attend Stanford.
Andy Hyeon Bo Shim has none of that.
His dad, Jaefio, has been his only coach since he picked up the game at age nine. He’s not an American Junior Golf Association All-American. And there won’t be any college commitments until the home-schooled 17-year-old, who has only been in the United States for three years, builds up more credits.
What the native Korean does have, however, is the opportunity of a lifetime on Saturday when he takes on tri-medalist Jim Liu in the 36-hole final of the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at The Golf Club of New England. “I can’t even believe I’m in the finals right now,” said the personable, and seemingly always smiling Shim. “But I’ve been working hard at it.”
He certainly should be. Liu won this championship two years ago at 14, surpassing Tiger Woods as the youngest victor. Liu shared medalist honors this week – with Shintaro Ban and semifinalist Nicolas Echavarria – and has barely been challenged en route to the final. Many players would be intimidated at facing a player with such glittering credentials.
Shim doesn’t happen to be one of them.
“I’ve been playing pretty well lately, too,” he points out. “I’m feeling confident.”
He advanced on Saturday by defeating Joo-Young Lee of Hilliard, Ohio, 4 and 2, in the quarterfinals, and then held off Colombia’s Nicolas Echavarria, 2 and 1, in the semifinals. He entered match play as the 43rd seed after shooting 6-over par 150 (72-78) in stroke-play qualifying, making the cut by three strokes. His toughest match came in the round of 16 when Andrej Bevins of Elk Grove, Calif., who earlier in the day had eliminated two-time U.S. Open qualifier Beau Hossler, took him to 19 holes.
In Friday’s quarterfinals against Lee, he was 1 down after eight holes before winning four of the next five holes to take control of the match.
The defining moment of the semifinal came at the par-5 10th hole with the match all square. Both players reached the green in regulation, but Shim was facing a 50-foot putt and Echavarria, also a semifinalist last year, was staring down one from 15 feet. Shim poured his into the hole to take the lead.
So Shim should be feeling good about his game.
“I didn’t play really well in stroke play, but I feel like everything is going in in match play,” he said. “I one-putted six times on the front side [in Thursday’s third round of match play]. “The best is my short game right now. I’ve chipped in twice and made a lot of putts.”
His family moved from Korea, where his father still owns a wedding hall business, to Duluth, Ga. for the education and the golf. They chose Duluth because of its thriving Korean community. Golf had turned serious for young Shim when he won a local tournament at 12, and the family felt they would not only be comfortable in the Duluth area, but would find more opportunities for him to develop his talent.
His biggest wins to date are the Georgia Junior Amateur and an AJGA tournament. He also reached match play in last year’s U.S. Junior Amateur, losing on the 23rd hole in the first round to Wesley Gosselin. Impressive accomplishments, but not the kind that had people thinking he would be playing on the final day of the U.S. Junior Amateur. You could even include Shim among that group.
“I just wanted to make the cut and get into match play,” he said. “My goal this week has been just to beat the guy I’m playing that day and keep it going. I didn’t really think about getting to the finals. It just feels like it’s a dream come true.”
Now that he’s there, he doesn’t appear the least bit fazed. He’s excited, but not anxious. He practically skipped across the putting green, a smile never leaving his face, moments after winning his semifinal match. “It’s a little unbelievable that I’m here,” he admitted.
So what will be his approach against Liu in the finals?
“I just will try to do what I always do; hit it straight into the fairway and make some putts,” he said. “He’s not going to shoot 63 or something, so I just have to make some putts. I’ll just play my golf. This is fun for me.”
Rob Duca is a New England-based freelance writer who is contributing to usga.org.