Reinvigorated Kim adds punch to UCLA
OOLTEWAH, Tenn. – There are a number of reasons UCLA is making its eighth consecutive appearance at the NCAA Championship this week at The Honors Course.
None, however, might be more interesting – and probably more remarkable – than the play from Alex Shi Yup Kim.
As a freshman last season for the Bruins, Kim could barely break an egg as far as his golf was concerned.
How about these stats: Kim ended the season No. 438 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings; in 28 rounds he was 121 strokes over par; he had just one top-10 finish in nine starts and managed to break par in a round only three times.
Kim finished his rookie campaign with a 75.5 stroke average. Ouch.
Fast forward to the present, where he leads a band of young Bruins into the national championship.
Kim, who was born in South Korea and grew up in Fullerton, Calif., tops UCLA’s lineup in the rankings at No. 42, one spot better than sophomore teammate Gregor Main. That’s a 396-spot improvement in one year.
Though Kim has yet to win at the college level, he had four top 10s and seven top 20s this season, posted 10 rounds under par and had his score count for the Bruins in 32 of his 34 rounds.
He was instrumental in UCLA’s third-place finish at the NCAA East Regional, shooting 67-70-71 and tying for eighth with freshman teammate Mario Clemens.
Kim was the only UCLA player this season to earn first-team All-Pac-10 honors, quite an accomplishment when considering the conference’s strength and stable of talent.
Maybe most remarkable was that Kim shaved 4.1 strokes off his scoring average from last season (75.5 to 71.4).
“I’ve been on campus here 29 years,” said Rich Bertolucci, UCLA’s associate sports information director,” and have seen a few great players - like Corey Pavin, Tom Pernice, Duffy Waldorf, Jay Delsing, Brandt Jobe and Kevin Chappell, to name a few. But I have never in that time seen a player improve by four strokes and go from obscurity to first-team All-Pac-10. It’s really been amazing watching his improvement.”
Kim, who at 5 feet, 7 inches and barely 140 pounds looks more like a jockey than a golfer, credits his success to experience, confidence, added strength and a change in swing coaches over the summer.
“Last year was a learning process,” Kim said. “It was a big adjustment for me from junior golf. I’ve also been working out a lot and getting stronger.
“The main thing now is I am more comfortable and playing with a lot more confidence,” he said. “Even my practice rounds are much more productive.”
Last summer, Kim began working with Don Brown of Torrance, Calif., on his swing and overall mental and physical game, and that has been a big factor in the turnaround.
“I’m not a long hitter, and last year I really had trouble off the tee,” Kim said. “Not only was I short, but I was missing fairways, and that’s not a good combination for scoring well. I’m still not a long hitter, but I’m stronger and getting a little more distance. Mainly, I’m hitting a lot more fairways.”
UCLA coach Derek Freeman likes what he sees in the way of Kim’s maturity and attitude.
“He has the heart of a lion. There’s no give-up in him,” Freeman said. “He has everything you want internally to be successful. He leads by example both on and off the golf course, and that’s what you want in a student-athlete.
“Last season, he got thrown into big-time competition and quickly exposed to what college golf is like at the highest level,” Freeman said. “He’s adjusted to that now and has worked so hard to get better. It certainly has shown this year.”
Kim is no stranger to The Honors Course and said he’s very excited about playing here this week for a national championship.
In 2007, Kim was a member of the West team in the AJGA’s Canon Cup on this course and helped lead his squad to a 27-23 victory over the East team.
“The Honors is a great layout and a tough challenge,” Kim said. “But I think it’s a course that suits my game and suits our team. The tougher the course, the better for us.”
We’ll find out how true that is this week as Kim and the Bruins (one other sophomore and three freshman) attempt to add a third NCAA Championship prize to their trophy case along with those from 1988 and 2008.