Greensboro, N.C. – The USGA already has a “Tiger,” a “Spider” and a “Golden Bear” as national champions. Add to that list Lion Kim, who won the 2010 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in the most dramatic fashion possible, sinking a 6-foot par putt at 9:06 p.m., 34 minutes after sunset, to defeat David McDaniel, 6 and 5, at the 7,218-yard, par-71 Champions Course at Bryan Park Golf & Conference Center Saturday.
Kim, 21, from Ann Arbor, Mich., lost the first hole of the scheduled 36-hole final to McDaniel, 25, of Tucson, Ariz., but won the second to square the match. He never trailed again.
“I was really tired mentally, but I just kept telling myself, ‘You know what, you've come this far,’” said Kim, a rising senior at the
University of Michigan. “To give up... I wasn't going to give up. I told myself, ‘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.’”
| Lion Kim sank the winning putt at 9:06 p.m. (Associated Press)
Facing fading daylight and a golf course that absorbed more than 1.5 inches of rain during a 7-hour and 8-minute suspension of play for lightning that began at 9:43 a.m. and ended at 4:51 p.m. Kim and McDaniel battled into the dusk and then very nearly the dark. Kim’s final putt was visible only because of the photographers’ flashes that illuminated the championship-winning moment.
The match ended on the 472-yard, par-4 13th hole where, coincidentally, play had been suspended nearly 12 hours earlier when Kim held a 2-up lead. After restarting at the 13th, Kim built a 4-up lead through 18 holes. Forgoing the normal break between rounds because of the suspension, Kim and McDaniel trudged on to hole No. 19 at 6:16 p.m. After Kim won the 19th and 20th holes to go 6-up, the feeling among spectators was when, not if, Kim would prevail. But McDaniel persevered.
“You know at the very end there I thought it might actually end up working in my favor because things were kind of chaotic,” McDaniel said of playing in darkness. “When you’re 6 down, 7 down, I could’ve won the two holes in the dark there, which I thought was actually kind of to my benefit. But it was still such a longshot that I didn’t think it mattered. It’s a lot easier winning holes in the pitch black than it is when it’s sunny out.”
McDaniel, who eschews regular golf shoes for spikeless athletic shoes, appeared to be suffering from blisters built up in the seven rounds of competitive golf required just to reach the final. McDaniel never played a match in college golf and normally plays just one round of golf per week, in a cart, at Crooked Tree Golf Course, a local municipal course in Tucson. The combination of a long week and the lengthy delay were difficult for McDaniel to overcome.
“Once I got back out there I just never felt comfortable,” said McDaniel. “Everything was a little bit off and the bad shots I hit kind of got magnified and I left myself in bad situations. I couldn’t make a putt. I still feel like I hit the ball decent but the putter went ice cold. I don’t even remember making a putt over 4 feet, so that’s really disappointing.”
Kim and McDaniel forged on into the looming darkness as Kim built a 7-up lead with 12 holes to play. But Kim, hole after hole, missed chances to close McDaniel out. As darkness descended, the tension of the match intensified. Kim missed a birdie putt on the par-4 28th that would likely have ended the match. The par-5 29th was McDaniel’s last real chance for a comeback, but a missed birdie putt allowed Kim to go 7-up and dormie.
McDaniel, winner of the 2009 Arizona Amateur and the 2010 Arizona Publinks Championship, two-putted from 12 feet for par to win the par-3 30th and go 6 down, but Kim was still dormie.
On the tee of the par-4 31st, with the fairway barely visible, the players were given the option to suspend play.
“Let’s play one more,” McDaniel said on the teeing ground.
“OK, one more,” agreed Kim.
McDaniel hit his tee shot in the fairway, while Kim hit his in the right rough. Spotters had to listen for the sound of the balls hitting the ground. They could not see them.
Kim’s approach missed the iconic peninsula green at Bryan Park some 20-yards left in the rough. McDaniel managed to hit the green, visible only because of the silhouette cast by Lake Townsend, reflecting the last sliver of light.
Kim paced off his chip and executed the shot to near perfection, leaving himself a 6-foot downhill putt for par. When McDaniel missed his 12-foot birdie try, the match was Kim’s to win.
“The only thing I could see was my ball and the cup,” said Kim. “My putter is even black. I couldn't even see my putter.”
When asked how he read the championship-winning putt in the dark, Kim said, “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.”
Kim, the first Korean-born Amateur Public Links champion, earned a USGA gold medal for his victory and possession of the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship Trophy for one year. He and McDaniel are exempt into the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., which will also host the 2015 U.S. Open. McDaniel also is exempt into the U.S. Mid-Amateur for golfers 25 and older to be played in September at Atlantic Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Kim of becoming a USGA champion. “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.”
Kim, whose given name is Jun Min, was born in Seoul, Korea, but moved to the United States when he was less than a year old. He has been known as Lion since he started playing junior golf tournaments. It was a change Kim’s parents made to distinguish him from other junior golfers.
“My dad wanted to name my Lion because, number one, it's very easy to remember,” said Kim. “I'm sure my parents got the idea from Tiger Woods. But 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.”
The U.S. Amateur Public Links, established in 1922 for bona fide public-course players, is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
Story written by Justin Hancher and David Normoyle, USGA Communications. Contact them with questions or comments at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.