Michigan golfer Lion Kim captures U.S. Amateur Public Links championship
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — The course grew so dark that University of Michigan junior Lion Kim couldn't see anything — except the ball and the hole.
That was just enough visibility to give him the U.S. Amateur Public Links championship.
Kim defeated David McDaniel 6 and 5 on Saturday night to win the 36-hole final at the rain-delayed tournament. The 21-year-old soon-to-be senior at Michigan came out of a seven-hour weather delay and won two straight holes, gradually built up his lead and claimed both a trophy and a traditional invitation into the field at next year's Masters.
"My putter is even black. I couldn't even see my putter," Kim said. "Usually, when we read putts, we're looking from the other side and the side. ... This time, obviously, since we couldn't see anything, I just had to feel it with my feet to see what the slope was in. My feeling was, it was a hard left-to-right putt."
Kim marked his first tournament win since 2004 by pumping his fist — but his celebration was visible only when photographers popped their flashbulbs around the green.
"I'm not sure how he made it," McDaniel said.
It capped a marathon 14-hour day for the players. Kim led 2 up through 12 holes when play was halted at 9:43 a.m., when a line of thunderstorms began making its way through central North Carolina.
When things resumed on the soggy course at 4:51 p.m., Kim had a bogey on the 13th while McDaniel double-bogeyed the hole. Kim then made a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 14 to take a 4-hole lead.
"I was really tired mentally, but I kept telling myself, 'You've come this far. ... It's too late to give up,'" Kim said. "You've got to give everything you have, and if you're going to go down, go down fighting."
Pars on the first two holes of the second trip around the course helped Kim take a 6-up lead on McDaniel. The lead grew to seven strokes on No. 6 after McDaniel sent his second shot into the water hazard and bogeyed the hole.
McDaniel — a 25-year-old from Tucson, Ariz., who notably eschews golf spikes in favor of sneakers — took his only lead on the first hole of the day. Kim then evened the match on No. 2.
McDaniel didn't win another hole until the next-to-last one — but it was enough to prolong the match by one more hole. He sank a 6-inch par putt on the par-3 12th after Kim holed out for bogey.
"It wasn't that dramatic for me, because I was down 7 with seven (holes) to play," McDaniel said. "We were just trying to squeeze it in before it got completely dark."
With darkness descending on the course, an official from the USGA approached both players at the tee box on No. 13 and told them that if either wanted to stop, he would halt the match and resume it at that point Sunday morning.
Play on, they both said — and it worked out just fine for Kim.
"I didn't want to come back the following day ... it could end (after) the first hole," Kim said. "I wasn't feeling great about doing that. ... The game plan was, if I lost that hole (No. 13), I was going to tell David we weren't going to play anymore. But I just had this positive thought that my match could end there, although 13 has been my worst hole out here. I had a funny feeling that 13 was going to be nice to me."