5 Things: After 63, Kim in Q-School driver's seat

Meen-Whee Kim

LA QUINTA, Calif. – We’re one-third of the way through PGA Tour Q-School. Two rounds are in the bag, but there’s still 72 holes remaining. Here’s 5 Things to take away from the second round at PGA West:

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1. THIS KID’S THE MAN: Korea’s Meen-Whee Kim is just 20 years old, but he’s already had some big wins in his career. He arrived at Q-School having collected his first professional victory at October’s Shinhan Donghae Open, where he beat PGA Tour players Kevin Na, Paul Casey, Charlie Wi, Seung-Yul Noh and John Huh. Kim also won the 2010 Asian Games, a victory that exempted him from his country’s 22-month, mandatory military service. That’s a nice perk.

Now Kim is trying to win PGA Tour Q-School. He holds the 36-hole lead after shooting a course-record 63 at the Stadium Course. Kim is at 13-under 131, one shot ahead of Vaughn Taylor (68-64), who’s trying to earn a PGA Tour card at Q-School for the second consecutive year.

Kim’s 63 was the low competitive round of his career. He learned the golf swing by comparing himself to videos of Tiger Woods. Kim started playing when he was 12 years old. He has been in the United States since October, as he advanced through the first and second stages of Q-School to get to PGA West. This is Kim’s first time competing in the United States.

K.J. Choi, the first Korean to advance through Q-School, gave Kim advice before his first Q-School attempt. “He just said it’s very difficult,” Kim said through a translator. Kim is making it look easy, and he’s not the only one.

Q-School has been kind to Kim’s countrymen. Korea is the only country, besides the United States, to have multiple players graduate from each of the past two Q-Schools. Sang-Moon Bae and Seung-Yul Noh had successful rookie seasons after graduating from PGA West last year. Bae lost a playoff at the Transitions Championship and made the quarterfinals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Noh finished 49th on the money list.

Kim isn’t the youngest player in the field. His countryman, Si Woo Kim, is just 17 years old, and also in contention for a Tour card. Si Woo Kim doesn’t turn 18 until June 28, and won’t be able to play as a PGA Tour member until then. That means if he earns a PGA Tour card this week, he’d have to rely on sponsor exemptions and Monday qualifiers to get PGA Tour starts before his 18th birthday. His money earned doesn’t go into the reshuffle until he becomes a PGA Tour member.

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2. COMEBACK KIDS: Matt Hill got some advice from a PGA Tour player after his first-round 74 that left him in a tie for 150th in the 172-player field. Hill’s fellow Canadian, PGA Tour player David Hearn, sent a text message after the round that said “Don’t worry about it. There’s a lot of golf left.”

Hill’s in good shape now after a second-round 65 that moved him up more than 100 spots on the leaderboard. Hill, the 2009 NCAA champion, is T-39 at 5-under 139. This is his first time at Q–School finals after missing out at first stage in his first two attempts. He won the Canadian Tour’s order of merit this year.

“I’m just trying to plug along,” Hill said. “There’s a lot of golf left.”

Hill wasn’t the only player to make a big move Thursday. Arjun Atwal’s 64 was 10 shots better than his opening round, and moved him from T150 to T31.

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3. HOFFMANN’S HOPES: Morgan Hoffmann is one of the few players who can describe Q-School as a “fun” week. Hoffmann already has his PGA Tour card thanks to his 19th-place finish on the Web.com Tour money list. He’s at Q-School to improve his status and stay fresh for his 2013 debut at the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Hoffmann missed out of second stage at last year’s Q-School, but used Monday qualifiers and sponsor exemptions to play his way into Web.com Tour status and then a PGA Tour card.

Hoffmann is T-5 after two rounds at PGA West after consecutive 67s. He can improve his status for next year’s PGA Tour with a high finish this week. Q-School and Web.com grads get into PGA Tour events on a space-available basis. They’re ranked by their finish on the respective lists. He can only improve his status this week.

"I didn't want to go two months without playing a tournament. It's the perfect opportunity to keep my game sharp,” Hoffmann said. "It's a confidence booster either way. I'm going out here and having fun. I can be aggressive. That's the way I like to play. It's a fun week. I'm just going at every pin, not letting anything bother me."

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4. THIRD TIME’S A CHARM? Richard Lee has lived around the cut line at PGA Tour Q-School. He missed his PGA Tour card by a shot in his first attempt at the 2010 Q-School. Last year, he played his final five holes at PGA West’s Stadium Course in 5 under par to get his first Tour card with a shot to spare.

Lee is back at Q-School this year after finishing 138th on the PGA Tour money list. Maybe this time he won’t be sweating come Monday. Lee is in third place after shooting 66-67. He didn’t start this week with high hopes, though.

“Golf is funny because I came here feeling really prepared, and when I got here, I don’t know if it was being anxious or getting ahead of myself, but it kind of slipped away,” Lee said. “It’s a funny game. Going into yesterday’s round I really didn’t know what to expect.

“I’m doing my best just to relax, as much as I can. It’s hard to relax, especially this week. It helps that I’ve been here before.”

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5. SHORT SHOTS: Derek Ernst is the highest-placed among the five 2012 All-Americans. Ernst, a UNLV product who was a semifinalist at the past two U.S. Amateur Public Links, is T-14 after shooting 68-68. Patrick Cantlay is T-96 after shooting 73-70. ... Camilo Villegas shot 67 Thursday at the Nicklaus Tournament Course to move from T-50 to T-23. He’s 7 under par. ... Chez Reavie’s 6-under 66 at the Stadium Course moved him up 80 spots on the leaderboard, from T-111 to T-31. Since the FedEx Cup began, Reavie is just the second player to play Q-School finals the year after he qualified for the Tour Championship. ... Erik Flores’ second-round 78 was 11 shots worse than his opening-round 67. He dropped from T-9 to T-127. Romain Wattel also went 67-78. ... 2011 U.S. Amateur champion Kelly Kraft is T-142 after shooting 74-72.

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