LA QUINTA, Calif. – On his official PGA Tour profile Meen Whee Kim listed his dream foursome as Ironman, James Bond and the Terminator, which prompted his manager Andy Chong to ask about Tiger Woods, his idol and unrequited swing coach?
'Do they allow fivesomes?' the soft-spoken 20-year-old beamed.
No, at least not at PGA Tour Q-School, but then Kim already seems adrift in a dream that many outside of his inner circle couldn’t have imagined a month ago.
The square-shouldered prodigy is a stroke clear of the field and cruising to a PGA Tour card, part of an Asian invasion at this year’s Fall Classic that was at least partially sparked by the Tour’s transition to a new qualifying process which makes this week’s finale the last Q-School with direct access to the Big Leagues.
'More players from Korea tried (Q-School) because it was the last,' said Chong, pointing out that Kim will play next year in the United States even if that means he has to ply his trade on the secondary Web.com Tour.
But through three rounds at PGA West that seems about as likely as a snow storm in the Coachella Valley. He scorched the Stadium layout with a course-record tying 63 on Thursday and followed that with a 67 on Friday to move clear of the field at 18 under.
Not bad for a player who is 20 events into his professional career and in his second year at Yonsei University in Korea. But then the guy who modeled his swing frame-by-frame off of Woods’ action has been playing like his red-shirted idol of late.
Following his maiden victory at October’s Shinhan Donghae Open on the Korean Tour – a playoff bout over Tour staples Kevin Na, Paul Casey and Charlie Wi – Kim took medalist honors at the first stage of Q-School and was runner-up at second stage.
We see where this is heading, but then a third-place showing at PGA West may be underestimating Kim, who is following in the footsteps of John Huh, the only rookie on Tour this season to advance to the Tour Championship and the front-runner for Rookie of the Year honors.
For Kim, one of seven players in this week’s field from Korea, the capriciousness of final stage seems lost on him, be it via youthful sensibilities or a golf IQ that transcends his inexperience. The current consensus, however, is on the latter.
This is, after all, the same steely-eyed young man who forged his way to a gold medal at the 2010 Asian Games, an accomplishment that exempted him from pre-qualifying for this year’s Q-School, an additional hurdle that may have nixed his maiden trip to America, and Korea’s mandatory 22-months of military service.
All one needs to know about Kim’s accelerated learning curve came on Friday when he gave his unique take on the six-day Q-School slugfest that has dropped players with much more experience. When asked how he was pacing himself at final stage he flashed a toothy grin and explained, 'First two (rounds) were just practice.'
'That was the plan,” Chong said. “Mentally everybody gets drained. All you hear is six rounds, six rounds, six rounds, so to stay fresh he decided to view the first two days as practice rounds.'
It’s not surprising then that Q-School has become his personal introduction to the golf world.
Kim arrived in the United States for the first time on Oct. 15, preparing for first stage at nearby Desert Falls Country Club where Chong holds a winter clinic for Korean golfers. Since then he hasn’t stop impressing observers, and that includes Chong.
'He is so mature for his age, both on and off the golf course, and has such a subtle sense of humor,' Chong said. 'That’s what was so exciting about working with him. He’s a great talent but it’s really how he is able to absorb things so quickly.'
Yeah, like conventional wisdom that suggests 20-year-old phenoms making their first push through Q-School aren’t supposed to manhandle what was once billed as the toughest golf course in the world during the game’s most grueling tournament.
Or that his potential dream pairing, at least with Woods, is closer than he could have ever imagined. And no, Meen Whee, they don’t play fivesomes on the PGA Tour.