Shim overcomes big deficit to win U.S. Junior
STRATHAM, N.H. – Andy Shim was the first person on the driving range at the Golf Club of New England when unofficial practice for the 2012 U.S. Junior Amateur began Friday, July 13.
A week later, he could be found on the practice green as the sun was going down the night before his final match with Jim Liu – “I want to beat Jim Liu,” Shim said while working on his short game Friday evening.
He was the first one to the course and the last one to leave – every day.
He left Saturday with a trophy.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Shim, who rallied from 5 down after 18 holes to defeat Liu, 4 and 3, and win his first U.S. Junior title.
Shim, who moved from South Korea to Duluth, Ga., three years ago, becomes the first Korean to win the U.S. Junior since 2004, when Sihwan Kim won at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. Shim now automatically qualifies for this year’s U.S. Amateur and next year’s U.S. Amateur Public Links.
His victory is also the largest final-round comeback in the tournament’s 65-year history, besting the previous mark of four holes.
“I mean, I just can’t believe it,” Shim said of the record-setting rally. “It was awesome.”
Liu, the 2010 champion, played his morning round much like he did all week – near perfect. He tied for medalist honors on Tuesday and birdied 14 of 18 holes in five days leading up to the final round. He never let any of his previous five matches this week reach the 18th hole.
To say the least, he was a model of consistency, and that continued through his first 18 holes. He made six birdies and just one bogey while only missing three fairways and three greens, taking a 5-up lead after one round.
But Shim didn’t quit. His dad, Jae Fil, relaxed his son at lunch and his mom, Myeong Hee, also gave her son some words of encouragement between rounds.
“I know Jim is one of the best players in the world, but I’ve been playing good lately,” Shim said. “My parents just kept telling me I could do this. So I just kept telling myself that I could do this.”
Shim took their advice. While the first round indicated a likely second title for Liu - who would’ve become the third person to win two U.S. Junior Amateurs - the second round was a much different story.
And while Shim was the one making mistakes in the first round – he found three hazards on his first 18 – it was Liu who fell apart in the afternoon.
Shim won six of the first eight holes, including making an eagle to claim the 287-yard, par-4 fourth hole. Liu missed his first six fairways and first five greens, and Shim took advantage.
The 17-year-old with a bubbly personality took his first lead with a par on the par-3 eighth and never looked back, despite being bothered by blisters on both feet all day.
“I guess I had to hurt to play good,” said Shim, who had his feet tended to three times during his afternoon round.
Shim’s short game got him to the final match, and Saturday, it won him the tournament. He holed three chip shots this week and made long putt after long putt, including his last visit to No. 9, where he made a 35-footer for birdie to go 2 up. Earlier in the morning he had made almost the same putt for birdie.
He finished his second round with three birdies and an eagle, more than enough to comeback against and then put away a struggling Liu.
“I played well in the morning, but it’s a 36-hole match for a reason,” Liu said. “Nothing is decided until everything is over. Unfortunately, I was on the wrong side of things, but Andy played well on the back nine and he won.”
And here’s how it happened:
• • •
SHIM TAKES EARLY LEAD: Shim made the first strike on the par-4 second hole, making his first birdie of the day to take a 1-up advantage over Liu.
After the two traded birdies on the par-5 third hole, Shim missed his first green of the day on the par-4 fourth. Liu, who had hit the previous three fairways and greens, missed his tee shot, but still managed to find the green in two.
With Liu looking at a long birdie putt, Shim chunked his third shot from the rough and left it about 15 feet short of the hole. Still in the rough, Shim then holed out for par to remain ahead after Liu two-putted.
• • •
LIU FINDS HIS GROOVE: Liu found himself 1 down heading into the par-5 fifth hole. He found yet another fairway after Shim drove his ball into the fescue around the left fairway bunker.
Shim’s second shot found the front greenside bunker, which also claimed Liu. But after Liu hit his shot out of the sand onto the green, Shim clocked his over the green and out of bounds. He would concede the par to Liu and settle for bogey.
Shim’s troubles continued on No. 6 – a 165-yard par 3 with little room for error. Liu stuck his tee shot to about 4 feet while Shim hit right of the green and into the trees. Liu sunk his birdie putt to take his first lead of the day.
Shim notched a third-straight bogey on No. 6. After both players missed the green, Shim rolled his chip shot about 15 feet past and two-putted for bogey. Liu made par and took a 2-up lead.
Liu won the next hole – the par-3 eighth – with bogey after Shim carried the green, chipped back over the green and ended up with a double.
• • •
SHIM SETTLES DOWN: After surrendering four straight holes, Shim got one back on the par-4 ninth, making about a 30-footer for birdie.
“I just had to make that putt,” Shim said. “I was telling myself that I could make it. My caddie told me to just hit right at it and I made it.”
He then matched Liu’s birdie on No. 10 before making a mistake on No. 11 – normally a 369-yard par 4 that was moved up to about 275 yards. Shim decided to drive over a hazard separating the fairway from the green, which sits about 40 feet below the tee box. He missed left, finding his third hazard of the day.
“I wasn’t really comfortable with the tee shot there,” Shim said. “That spot is just really uncomfortable.”
Liu got a hole back on No. 11 to return to 3 up, but Shim responded a hole later, sticking his approach to 3 feet and making birdie to pull back within two.
• • •
LIU TAKES CONTROL: The match would remain at 2 up in favor of Liu until the par-3 14th, when Liu made a 20-footer for birdie. The putt marked the beginning of a surge from Liu to close the first 18 holes.
He birdied the next hole to move to 4 up. It was his only birdie on the par-5 15th all week. He then added another victory with par on the par-3 17th after Shim found the rough on his tee shot and then chipped well past the hole, eventually making bogey.
Liu entered the clubhouse at 5 up, and as the heavy favorite to win his second U.S. Junior title.
• • •
TROUBLE FOR LIU: For the past half a year or so, Liu has had problems off the tee.
His driving woes have cost him numerous titles. They normally pop up out of nowhere, he says, even after days of flawless play.
On Saturday afternoon, the driving demons returned.
After hitting 11 of 14 fairways during his morning round, Liu missed his first six fairways the second time around on the front nine. He also missed his first five greens – he hit all but three during his first 18 holes.
“I’ve been making swing changes and things fell apart the second 18,” Liu said. “It’s like what happened with the other close calls. I just have to keep working on it and hopefully I can breakthrough.”
He drove left on No. 1 and settled for bogey. He then watched Shim sink a par putt to move back to 4 down. Shim then took No. 3 with a 4-footer for birdie, moving to within three of Liu, who found some thick fescue that required two tries to make it out of.
Then came Shim’s best shot of the day. He drove the green on the 287-yard, par-4 fourth hole and ended up about 5 feet from the hole. It was a shot that resulted in an easy birdie for Shim.
“I played [Friday] from the same tee box, same pins and just lined up and hit it again,” Shim said.
Liu missed the green left, chunked his second shot and ended up with par.
Liu’s driving got even worse on No. 5. He drove it way left and out of bounds on a hole with arguably the widest fairway on the course. He would find the same greenside bunker that he found in the morning, only this time he failed to make it on the green. He would concede par to Shim, who moved to within two.
“I felt like I had lost eight or nine holes already,” Liu said.
• • •
SHIM TAKES THE LEAD: After halving No. 6, Shim and Liu both found the right fairway bunker on the par-4 seventh. Liu made it out, landing short of the green and just in the left rough while Shim had to lay up well short of the green after his ball came to rest just on the edge of some fescue.
Shim would then stick it to 8 feet and save par while Liu made bogey, and officially surrendering his comfortable lead.
Shim then took control. With Liu struggling in all facets of his game, Shim rattled off three straight victories to take a 3-up lead after 10 holes. On No. 8, he made a 6-footer for par while Liu missed a 5-footer. On No. 9, he drained a 35-footer from almost the exact line as his morning round. Then he made a 15-foot birdie putt after hitting his third shot out of the bunker on No. 10 – a putt that left Liu, for the first time, albeit slightly, visually dejected.
“The one on No. 10 definitely shifted the momentum,” Liu said.
• • •
SEALING THE DEAL: Shim’s last win came on No. 12 after Liu missed a 5-footer for par and Shim saved par to move to 4 up. He then remained 4 up after a 60-foot chip to 2 feet to save par on No. 13.
Finally, after halving No. 14, the golfers moved to No. 15, one of the two or three toughest holes on the course this week. Both golfers drove it well off the fairway.
Shim was way right while Liu was, as he had been many times Saturday afternoon, well right. The only difference aside form the direction was that Shim could still play his ball. Liu drove it into some tall weeds and had to drop.
“Before I used to miss it left and right,” Liu said. “Now I got my misses down left, so it’s a step at a time.”
Shim punched it over the fairway and into the rough, but would make a bogey to secure his first U.S. Junior title.