WINDERMERE, Fla. – Scrawny. Skinny. Short.
Those are all words people might use to describe California sophomore Michael Kim.
But those who know him use another word.
“He’s one of the toughest kids you’ll meet,” Cal senior Max Homa said. “He doesn’t hit it far – well a lot farther this year than last year – but with him playing on our team since the rest of us are super long, he doesn’t care.”
Kim, a 5-foot-9-inch, 135-pounder who was born in South Korea and went to high school in Del Mar, Calif., is a tough competitor. After a rocky front nine on Monday at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational, Kim pulled it together on the back-nine and finished with an even-par 72 on the difficult Isleworth Country Club track near Orlando. Kim sits at a two-day total of 5-under 139, three shots clear of Texas’ Jordan Spieth in the race for medalist.
“I was a little nervous and a little excited this morning because obviously this is a huge tournament,” Kim said. “But I made sure to calm myself down and just hit greens and make pars.”
The quiet demeanor that Kim displays on the course also can transform into fire at times. After missing the green on the par-3 11th, Kim had a decision: hit a high shot and land the ball on the green or bump and run it into the slope and let it trickle down to the cup. He went with the latter, and it worked out.
“But when I hit it, I thought it was going to come up way short,” Kim said. “So I kind of threw my club in my bag, frustrated, but when I looked back to see where it stopped, it was 5 feet away for par.”
He walked up to his ball, and Spieth said to him, “Hey, you want a mulligan?”
“I just started laughing, and said, ‘No, I’m fine,’ ” Kim said.
After that, it was right back to business for Kim. He doesn’t like talking too much on the course, and tries to keep his head clear of any bad thoughts.
“I’ve been pretty good with a short memory,” Kim said. “One of the good things about my mental game is that I just stay positive all the time.”
So that’s why the pressure doesn’t bother him.
This year Kim has finished in the top 10 of Cal’s four events Cal. And yet, he still doesn’t consider himself a leader or the No. 1 player on the team.
“I mean, we have five guys that can, in any tournament, win the tournament,” Kim said. “Really any of us can play the No. 1 spot (on the team). And if you look at our first four tournaments, it’s not the same guy that’s helped us win, or played the No. 1 spot, we’re playing as a team.”
Kim knows it will be difficult to play with the lead heading into the final round Tuesday.
“It’’ll definitely be a grind,” he said.
That’s exactly where his toughness will come in handy.
After a 7-over 295 total for the second round, Cal leads at 3-over 579. However, four teams are within five shots of the Bears: Illinois is three shots back at 582. Texas and Florida are tied for third at 583 and New Mexico (584) is fifth.
“Tomorrow, I think we just have to grind. Grind every shot, one shot at a time,” Kim said. “It’s a tough course, as it was today, so we just have to keep fighting for that shot or save.”
Kim leads by three strokes over Spieth, Florida’s Tyler McCumber and New Mexico’s James Erkenbeck, who all sit at 2-under 142. Illinois’ Brian Campbell and Alabama’s Justin Thomas are tied for fifth at 1-under 143.