Andy Shim well remembers his first tournament as a professional.
He was 18 years old, less than a year removed from his 2012 U.S. Junior Amateur victory, and he had turned pro a month earlier. The 2013 tournament, a 36-hole event run by Open Golf Atlanta, was to be played at his home course, the Standard Club in Johns Creek, Ga. And two days prior Shim shot under par on the course.
“I didn’t have a doubt that I was going to play bad,” Shim said of his first round as a pro.
He shot 15-over 87 in the first round. A day later he carded an 80 to finish 25 strokes behind the winner. Making matters worse, his parents flew home to South Korea between rounds, and they remained there for an extended period. For more than a year Shim didn’t see his mother, who still hasn’t been back to the U.S.
Loneliness crept in. Shim started feeling ashamed of himself as a golfer. He even stopped talking to most of his friends from junior golf.
“From that day, I started having some problems mentally,” Shim said.
With his confidence at an all-time low, Shim struggled for years trying to chase his PGA Tour dream. Recently, though, Shim has started to see clearer. He believes in himself again and is determined to get back to the player he once was.
“I just realized that I’m wasting my talent,” Shim said. “I want to give it another chance to see if I can really make it on Tour.”
Shim, whose given first name is Hyeon Bo, made headlines six years ago by rallying from 5-down to score a 4-and-3 victory over Jim Liu in Stratham, N.H. Seven months after that U.S. Junior triumph, the South Korean native, who had moved to Duluth, Ga., just four years prior, decided to skip college and turn pro. Shim was home-schooled and didn’t have the grades or test scores needed to play Division I golf.
“I knew that if I went (to college), I would get behind and not be able to focus as much on golf,” Shim told Golfweek at the time.
With his parents’ support, Shim started playing the mini-tours. He tied for first at an Open Golf Atlanta event later in 2013, but that check netted just $942.
“When I was a junior I never knew what money meant, and then once I turned pro I had a lot of pressure to make money,” Shim said. “But I didn’t make any money really.”
Shim also moved around quite a bit. He lived for short stints in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. He spent six months in Vancouver to prepare for 2014 Mackenzie Tour Q-School, at which he failed to earn status. (Shim played in the tour’s Q-School last March in Santee, Calif., as well, withdrawing after rounds of 81-73-86.)
He also made frequent trips to visit his sister, who lived in Pensacola, Fla., and then Omaha, Neb. Most of those trips were done with his dad, by car.
“I knew all that wasn’t good for my golf,” Shim said.
Shim has spent more time of late in Duluth, more specifically at Atlanta Athletic Club in nearby Johns Creek.
Shim joined AAC three years ago and has met several people there who have helped him rediscover his confidence, including member Yung Lee and another young pro golfer by the name of Spencer Yi. The two have given Shim friends on the golf course and motivated him to find the work ethic he showed at the U.S. Junior, where he spent more time on the range that week than his competitors.
More recently at AAC, Shim re-connected with another friend, S.M. Lee, who plays at Dalton State.
“I hadn’t seen him for so long,” Shim said. “I didn’t have the guts to see all my friends who were playing well. I didn’t want to bring their games down.”
Shim said he constantly ignored friends who would try to reach out to him during the past six years. Texas senior Doug Ghim, who will play in the Masters this April, is one of them. Shim remembers deciding to go to Omaha instead of staying home to watch Ghim play in last year’s Palmer Cup at AAC.
“All my friends were trying to help me, but I didn’t accept it,” Shim said. “After talking to S.M. Lee for 30 minutes, it showed me that people really care about me.”
Shim loves golf again. He was excited when he talked about watching Kevin Na at the Tour Championship two years ago at East Lake. He was given the tickets by Eddie Lee, a friend of Na’s and a mentor to Shim as a former amateur star who turned pro as a teenager. (Lee won the OneAsia Tour’s 2002 Maekyung Open as an 18-year-old amateur. Now he has two kids and still plays professionally.)
“I wanted to go see Rory (McIlroy) and all them, but as soon as I got to the range and talked to Kevin, I just kept watching him over and over,” Shim said.
Shim still believes he can join Na on Tour someday. His main goal this year is to play in Web.com Tour Q-School.
“My parents said as long as I love golf, just keep on going,” Shim said. “I might be playing worse score-wise, but mentally I think I’m close to where I was at when I won the U.S. Junior. Mentally, I’m ready.”
When Shim won the U.S. Junior, he received a lifetime honorary membership to the Golf Club of New England. He could come back and play whenever he wanted. Only Shim has yet to go back; for years, he didn’t want to for fear of looking like a failure.
“I’ve wanted to go back so much,” Shim said. “Every time I was hating myself about golf, I wanted to go back.”
Shim paused, then said, “I still can.”
He believes in himself again, and as Shim now realizes, that’s most important. Gwk