ARDMORE, Pa. – For a brief moment Saturday, Michael Kim surveyed the leaderboard near the 15th green and let himself ponder the possibilities. He was 3 under for the day, and he was tied for third at the 113th U.S. Open … and he wondered: What if I won?
The 19-year-old tried to snap out of it, to regain his focus and finish strong, but he came undone late in his third round. But even with that disappointing bogey-double bogey-bogey finish, he will head into the final round at Merion in solo 10th, five shots behind Phil Mickelson.
“I wasn’t really looking at (the leaderboard) just because I wanted to know what place I was in or how many shots I was back,” he would explain later. “I just thought it was super cool to see my name on that big leaderboard next to the leaders like (Charl) Schwartzel, (Phil) Mickelson, (Luke) Donald, all those guys. It was a cool feeling.”
Forty-two years ago, an amateur named Jim Simons held the 54-hole lead at the U.S. Open. The course: Merion.
The sub-7,000-yard track in the leafy suburbs outside Philadelphia also seems to suit Kim’s game – he’s a short-and-straight hitter who can putt like a pro. A good combination around these parts.
That’s what carried him to four wins this season at Cal, and it’s why he has received several postseason accolades, including the Nicklaus and Haskins awards, given annually to the top player in college golf.
“If it was his first tournament on Tour at an easy golf course it would be remarkable,” said Webb Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion. “But to do it here, to handle the pressure, is great.”
“It’s phenomenal,” Paul Casey said. “It took me years to figure out how to play a U.S. Open golf course, and then you’ve got to develop the maturity to deal with the ups and downs and the breaks that you’re given in a championship like this.”
It’s remarkable, yes, but having a college player in contention at the U.S. Open is nothing new, at least not recently.
In 2012, Beau Hossler, then 17, briefly held the lead during the second round at Olympic Club, but Jordan Spieth (Texas) would eventually earn low-amateur honors, tying for 21st. A year earlier, Patrick Cantlay (UCLA) tied for 21st at Congressional. A year before that, Russell Henley (Georgia) and Scott Langley (Illinois) tied for 16th at Pebble Beach.
Since 1980, no amateur has finished better than T-13 at the Open.
“These guys in college are pretty good,” Kim said, “and I think it’s great that we get a chance out here to prove it.”