Interview With 2010 APL Champion Lion Kim


By USGA
July 17, 2010

THE MODERATOR:  We are here with Lion King.  Take us through your round.

LION KIM:  Obviously, this whole match really it was a grind.  Obviously David was playing great all day ‑ all week really.  So coming down the stretch, I just knew if I won at least two more holes, I would take care of it.

But David kept plugging along.  He won a hole on 12.  You know, he gained a little momentum there.  But, you know, I just kept telling myself, Stay positive and execute the shot that you have visioned and you may have a chance of winning this thing.

Q.  It was up to you as players how long you wanted to keep going.  What was your thought process?

LION KIM:  To be honest, the game plan, obviously, I didn't want to come back the following day just to play ‑‑ I mean, it could end on the first hole if I just par or if I just tie David on that hole.  I wasn't feeling great about doing that.

I just knew that, you know, actually No. 13 has been actually a bad hole for me.  I've bogeyed it I think six times, including stroke play.  That hole hasn't been nice to me.

The game plan was, if I lost that hole, I was going to tell David that we're not going to play anymore.  I just had this positive thought that, you know, my match could end there.  Although 13 has been my worst hole out here, I just had a funny feeling that for some reason 13 was going to be nice to me towards the end.

Q.  How long was your winning putt?

LION KIM:  I think it was a 6‑footer down the hill.  Only thing I could see was my ball and the cup.  My putter is even black.  I couldn't even see my putter.

It's funny, because usually obviously when we read putts, we're looking from the other side, from the side and everything when you're reading putts.  This time, obviously since we couldn't see anything, I just had to feel it with my feet just to see what kind of slope I was in.

My feeling was this is going to be a hard left‑to‑right putt.  Since it's a downhill putt and it's a do‑or‑die situation whether I make it or not, I just told myself, Give it a good stroke and just hope that it just goes in the back of the cup, and it did.

Q.  What was it about the putting greens that fit your game so well?

LION KIM:  You know what, I don't know.  I mean, the first day I was here, the first thing I did, I went on the putting green first.  That's usually my routine is to putt first.  Seriously, it was a funny feeling.  I just knew as soon as I hit a couple putts, I turned around and told my mom, I said, Look, this is probably the best greens for me because it's not too fast, but at the same time it's not too slow.  So I could be really aggressive with my putts if I really just trust my line.

I guess, I don't know, from start to finish, I just knew this is the type of putting green that I love.  I mean, the speed is perfect.  Even when I'm hitting 4‑iron or 5‑iron, I just have a good thought that it's not going to roll off because it's so fast.

I don't know.  This whole week, just the whole golf course really fit my game perfectly.

Q.  What were you thinking when you went back out on 13 after the suspension of play?

LION KIM:  Yeah, I mean, you know, I was really tired mentally, but I just kept telling myself, You know what, you've come this far.  To give up...  I wasn't going to give up.  I told myself, you know, It's too late to give up, you've come too far, you have to give everything you have.  If you're going to go down, go down fighting.

You know, I don't know.  I guess my faith with God and just having the positive thought in my head was really a huge key for me this week.

Q.  How does it feel to be a USGA champion?

LION KIM:  Amazing feeling.  You know, this is definitely obviously the biggest golfing moment for me, but at the same time it's very humbling, to tell you the truth, because looking at the past champions here, to see my name go up amongst these past champions, it's an honor really.

But, you know, I'm going to take this experience and I've got to get better.  I've got to have bigger goals and reach even harder to reach my full potential so...

Q.  During your acceptance speech you talked about how it’s been seven years since you won your last tournament. What has your path through the last seven years been like?

LION KIM:  You know, they say the first win is the hardest.  But obviously for me, the second win was the hardest 'cause it's been a while.  You know, I've played some phenomenal golf in between, though.  I'm not saying I've struggled for seven years.  I've come so close.  I can't tell you how many top‑five or second‑place finishes I've had ‑ many, many.

Again, I guess that's what kept me relaxed coming into today was because I wasn't expecting that I need to win.  I just told myself, Just go with your game plan and see what happens.  I feel very lucky to come out on top.

Q.  Was there any one moment during the round that you felt like you had the win in the bag?

LION KIM:  Well, to be honest with you, on 10, you know, I thought I had a birdie putt about like 10 feet.  I hit the flag.  I felt like if it didn't hit the flag, it would have been like a foot.  I guess, you know, it was an unlucky break, I guess.  It went sideways 10 feet.

I thought to myself, If I make that putt, then I'll probably seal the deal.  But I missed it.  Luckily, you know, David and I tied on that hole.  We went to the 11th hole, which is a par 5.  That hole has actually been the best hole for me.  I think I've birdied it almost every single time except for today.

But, you know, again, I have to go back with keep having these positive thoughts in my head and never had a bad mindset, so...

Q.  What was the last tournament you won?

LION KIM:  It's embarrassing to say, but it's the 2004 AJGA Avila Junior Classic.  I mean, I've won a few USGA qualifying tournaments, but they never really go down in my résumé as a win or I never really tell anyone I won a golf tournament when I've won a qualifier.  For me, when I go in a qualifier, I just tell myself, Get whatever spot they're giving you.  If it's a three spot, I'm just like, Get this spot and that's it.

Q.  What’s it going to be like, come December, when you receive a letter with Augusta National letterhead?

LION KIM:  It's a dream come true.  Obviously it's every little kid's dream to play in the Masters one day.  But at the same time I realize it's an opportunity that a lot of people don't get to have.  I feel very lucky to get this opportunity, to play in the Masters.

Again, it's very humbling.  I'm going to work hard.  I can tell you this right now:  once I go back, I'm probably going to work twice as hard.  My two coaches, I know if you talk to my two coaches at Michigan, they'll say, He's probably the hardest worker on our golf team.  But, trust me, I'm going to work even harder so I can reach my full potential and hopefully one day be on the PGA TOUR and become a major champion.

Q.  What’s it going to be like going back to school?

LION KIM:  I don't know.  I mean, obviously I don't really know my history for our program that well.  But I don't really know anybody who played for Michigan that played in the Masters.  But either way it's an honor.  To be able to represent my school in any way, we're taught at Michigan that you should always think it's an honor to represent the University of Michigan, and it truly is.

Yeah, back in school I'm sure a lot of my friends and even professors are probably going to realize that I'll be playing in the Masters and probably miss a full week of class.  But, you know, yeah, I'm sure they're not going to care that I miss classes for the Masters.

Q.  Have you talked to your dad yet?

LION KIM:  Not yet.  I haven't.  I haven't talked to him yet.  I'll call him first right away after this.

Q.  What do you think he’ll say about you winning the first tournament he hasn’t attended?

LION KIM:  Yeah, you know, it's funny.  Last night my dad, he cried last night saying like, Lion, you're in the finals.  I said, Dad, it's not over yet.  But he said, For you to get this far, because, again, what I said out there in my presentation, you know, it's been a tough road golf‑wise for me and my dad because we've had our share of ups and downs.  I would disagree with him in many ways when it comes to him trying to teach me in this game.  But at the same time he knows me the best.  I truly believe he knows me better than I do myself, if that makes any sense.

He knows me so well.  He even knows what I'm thinking, what I'm going through right now.  I don't even have to tell him; he can just read my mind for some reason.  He's an amazing dad.

You know, obviously, again, he and I will have our disagreements at times, but at the bottom of my heart I know that he is the best dad for me.  I mean, he's the reason why I'm here, because of the love and the support that he has given me.

Q.  Yesterday you talked about how you’ve thought that you’re a great match-play player but that your opponents always played tough. Can you talk about how tough an opponent David was?

LION KIM:  Yeah, David is a tough competitor.  Obviously even when we can't see the holes, the last two holes, he never gave up.  He kept fighting.  I mean, he kept fighting.  That shows you how great of a competitor he is.

Yeah, like I said before, I do believe I'm a good match play player.  But I felt like before this week I've always been unlucky because when I do play well, it always seemed like my competitor would play even better.

But this week, like I said before, my mindset was, Well, if your competitor plays good golf, then you need to play great golf.  If your competitor plays great golf, then you need to play phenomenal golf.  Whatever they do, you need to answer back.

That was my mentality all week when I made it to match play.

Q.  Have you ever played in darkness like that?

LION KIM:  Once actually.  We played with a golf ball that actually glowed in the dark and things like that.  We had a glow stick at the flag pole.  Yeah, it was nothing new to me.  To be honest, I shot 39 in the dark when I played with my buddies like that.  I shot 39.  So, yeah, I wasn't too worried.

Q.  Where does the nickname 'Lion' come from?

LION KIM:  I get that question a lot.  I told Ron this.  You know, my last name, Kim, is probably by far the most popular last name out of all of South Korea.  It's like John Smith or Anderson here.  I remember playing in an AJGA golf tournament.  There were literally seven Kims on the men's side and six on the women's side.  I used to get these questions from volunteers when I would go to a tournament to register, the lady would ask me, Which one of the Kims are you?

So right then my dad wanted to name my Lion because, number one, it's very easy to remember.  It's very unique.  I'm sure my parents got the idea from Tiger Woods.  I know for a fact they didn't name me Lion Kim thinking I would be the next Tiger Woods.  Trust me, they're smarter than that.

So, yeah, I mean, it's the reason.  And also they tell me they named me Lion because of my last name.  It sounds a lot similar, if you say it quickly, like the cartoon Lion King.  It's easy.  Trust me, when I go to tournaments, I have people say, Yeah, welcome back, Lion.  How can we forget your name?  It's pretty cool.

Thank you so much.

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