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A star is born as Tom Kim secures maiden PGA TOUR title at Wyndham Championship

Korea’s Joohyung “Tom” Kim announced his arrival on the PGA TOUR and cemented his rising star stature in the process following an emphatic five-shot victory over compatriot Sungjae Im and John Huh of the U.S. at the Wyndham Championship on Sunday.

At age 20 years, 1 month and 17 days, Kim became the second-youngest winner since World War II (youngest: Jordan Spieth, 2013 John Deere Classic) and the first born in the 2000s to win on the PGA TOUR after he closed with a stunning final round of 9-under 61 for a 20-under winning total.

After starting the week on Thursday with a quadruple bogey – Kim is the first player on record (since 1983) to make a quadruple or worse on the first hole and go on to win – he has now qualified for the lucrative FedExCup Playoffs starting on Thursday as victory earned him immediate membership. Last Sunday, he secured enough FedExCup points as a Special Temporary Member to earn his TOUR card for the 2022-23 Season.

“It's crazy,” said Kim. “I mean, I've never won a golf tournament starting with a quad and here we are. I played great this week. It was hard to stay in the moment in the final round just knowing that I was so close, but I never let my guard down until I holed that putt on 18.”

Kim returned early Sunday to complete the remaining eight holes of the weather-disrupted third round with a 68 and trailed third round leader, Im by two. Nicknamed Tom after “Thomas the Tank Engine”, due to his liking of the locomotive character from a British children’s book series, Kim charged out like a bullet train in the final round, shooting six birdies and an eagle for an outward 27 to take full control of the tournament which was the final event of the Regular Season. 

With a hot putter in hand – he ranked first in Strokes Gained: Putting and had gained 12.5 strokes over the field – Kim made bogey on 10 which only slowed him down momentarily before birdies on 15 and 16 allowed him to coast home to a winner’s cheque of US$1.3 million. He will also rise to No. 21 on the Official World Golf Ranking and has put himself in position for a spot in the International Team for the Presidents Cup against the U.S. at Quail Hollow next month.

“It’s been a hectic month and a lot of things have changed, for sure,” said Kim, who was playing in his fifth successive week and will now feature in at least two more Playoffs tournaments at the FedEx St. Jude Championship (top-125) and BMW Championship (top-70) due to his FedExCup ranking of 34th position.

“Like I've expected so much of myself and so does my team, we expect the highest. And it hasn't been the easiest. It might look easy for a lot of people, but it's a lot of work behind the scenes just from the manager doing so much beyond for me and my family who put in sacrifices,” added Kim, whose nine previous professional wins were achieved in countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan and Korea.

“This is just a start for me and I still have so much I want to accomplish and this is just - I bought the car, we bought the car, we just need to drive it, so hopefully I keep pushing that pedal.”

Kim said securing his TOUR card last week in Detroit with a solo seventh place finish had given him the freedom to free-wheel his game at the Wyndham Championship, where he became the third Korean winner of the event following K.J. Choi in 2005 and Si Woo Kim in 2016. He is also the ninth Korean to win on TOUR.

“A hundred percent, it took so much pressure off,” said Kim. “I think that's why I was able to rebound so nicely. I think last week that back nine was a 9-under-par round as well, but it was tough. Just knowing that if I could play well that week, I could come in here just not worrying about have I secured my card and everything. I told myself just have fun, enjoy it, you've got your card already, just enjoy every single moment and don't get too intense. But this back nine was crazy, it was probably the most intense round I've played. My putter felt like 200 pounds today, I'm not going to lie, it was crazy.”

The 24-year-old Im was disappointed he fell short in his attempt to land a third PGA TOUR win after he signed off with a 68 but finishing tied second saw him finish 10th in the Comcast Business TOUR Top-10 as he pocketed a US$1 million bonus pay out. He also took his hat off to Kim, whom he had played a practice round with at the start of the week.

“I missed a few clutch putts on the front nine which got me to a bad start, but overall I'm happy with the tie for second finish,” said Im. “I'm really, really happy for Tom. He's a great kid and to come out here and to win on TOUR as a non-member and secure your card is really not an easy task and he achieved that. I'm really proud of him.”

Image: Getty Images

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