Notebook: Kim Earns Low-Amateur Honors

Michael Kim Low Amateuer

University of California-Berkeley All-American Michael Kim came away with low-amateur honors in his first-ever U.S. Open appearance. (USGA/Joel Kowsky)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

By Stuart Hall and Dave Shedloski

ARDMORE, Pa. — On the surface, Michael Kim’s performance at the 113th U.S. Open might appear disappointing: A final-round 76 and 10-over-par 290 finish.

In the context of this 113th U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club’s East Course, though, Kim found nothing but superlatives. For one, the 19-year-old University of California-Berkeley junior earned low-amateur honors with his 17th-place finish.

“That feels awesome,” said Kim, who in the past two weeks has claimed both the Jack Nicklaus and Haskins awards for being the nation’s top collegiate player. “I had a difficult ending, but overall the week [was] just an unbelievable experience.”

Kim began his final round in 10th place at four over par, and the top 10 players and ties earn exemptions into the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. He went out in 1-over-par 37, holding his own on a day when scores ballooned. Double bogeys at the 356-yard, par-4 11th and 511-yard, par-4 18th unraveled his round.

Kim, who hopes to play on the USA Walker Cup Team this September, can take some solace in his finish. Among the players ahead of him entering Sunday’s final round, 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, who briefly held the final-round lead, shot a 78, and Steve Stricker, who began the day one shot off the lead, shot 76.

This week also served as a barometer for the progress of Kim’s game.

“My game isn't too far away, I think,” said Kim, a native of Korea who moved to the U.S. when he was 7 and has since become a citizen. “I think I gained a lot of confidence from that. I met a ton of great players out here and just looking forward to what my future holds.”

Of the memories he will take away from this national championship, the most lasting may be seeing his name among the top five on the leaderboard on Saturday.

“I could have stared at that leaderboard for hours on end and wouldn't have stopped,” he said. “It was pretty cool.”

Kim, however, did not qualify the experience as his best golf memory.

“The top two or three, for sure,” he said. “To contend, however short, at a major during the third round and also a little bit during the second … it's just an experience I'll never forget.”

And one he would like to repeat.

Dufner’s Late Charge

At one point during his second round Friday, Jason Dufner was so disgusted with his game that he threw his wedge into a bunker in frustration.

On Sunday at the U.S. Open, he almost had a chance to throw Arnold Palmer out of the record books.

Until he lost a drive out of bounds at the difficult par-4 15th hole and made double bogey, Dufner was steaming toward the top of the leader board. As he stood on that tee, Dufner had made five birdies and stood five under for the day and just three over for the championship after beginning the day nine shots behind 54-hole leader Phil Mickelson.

Palmer owns the record for largest final-round comeback in the U.S. Open, having rallied from seven down to take the 1960 title at Cherry Hills Country Club in suburban Denver with a 65.

In all, Dufner converted six birdies in a round of 3-under 67. It tied for best round of the championship with Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Billy Horschel and Hideki Matsuyama.

"Yeah, there's definitely some birdie holes out here," said Dufner, 36, who matched his tie for fourth from last year's U.S. Open, finishing four strokes behind champion Justin Rose. "You wouldn't expect to birdie six of them in one round. But I birdied five of what I termed to be the easier holes on this golf course. Unfortunately that front nine yesterday (41), and one bad swing on 15 today is probably going to end me up a few short."

After winning twice on the PGA Tour last year, Dufner hadn't posted a top-10 finish in his 13 starts coming into the U.S Open.

"I felt pretty good all week, just had a rough year where I can't get anything going," he said. "I had a really nice birdie on the first hole and made a great par on 3. And then made some birdies. If I miss either one of those putts early in the day, it might have been a different story. But it was nice having some things going my way."

A First For An Open at Merion

Shawn Stefani was determined to have fun Sunday in the final round. Mission accomplished.

It didn’t hurt that he made history along the way.

Stefani, 31, of Houston, registered the first hole-in-one in a U.S. Open at Merion when he banked in a shot off the hill left of the 17th green and watched it meander all the way into the hole.

"I didn't know what to do but jump up and down for joy," Stefani said after making the 43rd recorded ace in U.S. Open history.

Stefani used a 4-iron on the hole, which measured 213 yards for the final round. When the ball dropped, he raised his arms and hopped around the tee box in celebration. 

"I was actually trying to hit the left side of the green and cut it," said Stefani, playing in his second U.S. Open. "And then I kind of pulled it. I pulled it about five yards.

“Once it did kick, it kept rolling and I was like, ‘Well, this could be good.’ And the fans stood up and then it kept getting closer and closer and then when it went in, I was just super excited because it's the first hole‑in‑one I've ever had in a tournament."

It was the sixth hole-in-one at the U.S. Open in the last 10 years, with the most recent coming in the third round of last year’s Open when John Peterson aced the par-3 13th at The Olympic Club.

Stefani endeared himself to the Philadelphia crowd and the Merion membership by kissing the ground on the hillside where the ball had landed.

"There's some great fans up here and I know they can be tough on you, and they can love you forever," Stefani said. "I'm sure they appreciated me going to the ground and kissing it, because obviously the ground is where the kick started and the ball kicking right and going on the green."

Pace Setter

With an odd number of golfers making the 36-hole cut (73), Robert Karlsson went out as a single in Sunday’s final round. Karlsson chose not to use a non-competing marker and played Merion in a tidy 2 hours, 56 minutes, shooting 3-over 73.

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer and Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer.

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