Michael Kim, 20, could become the first amateur to win the U.S. Open since 1933. (Redington/Getty Images)
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
ARDMORE, Pa. -- Michael Kim stood on the 15th green, an early evening sky starting to envelop Merion Golf Club and a birdie putt awaiting him. He glanced up at the leaderboard and smiled.
“I kept looking at the leaderboard not because I wanted to know how I was doing in the tournament, but it was so cool to see my name next those names like Mickelson, Donald, Schwartzel,” the wide-eyed 20-year-old University of California junior said. “It was just an incredible feeling.”
Then he made the putt to move into a tie for third just two strokes off the lead of the 113th U.S. Open.
Kim had never heard of Jim Simons.
Simons was the Wake Forest University junior who led going into the final round of the 1971 U.S. Open, also here at Merion.
A hundred years ago, Francis Ouimet became the first amateur to win the U.S. Open.
Now Kim was trying to position himself to do what Simons didn’t.
Only seven times has an amateur won the U.S. Open (four of them by Bobby Jones) and no one has done it since Johnny Goodman in 1933 at North Shore Country Club in Illinois.
The parallels are thick. But so is the rough at Merion and moments later it smacked Kim back to reality.
The Jack Nicklaus award winner as the nation’s top collegiate golfer, Kim pulled his tee shot well to the left on the 16th hole, found the rough and made bogey.
One hole later, Kim, who although listed at 150 pounds looks like he weighs about as much as a pair of golf spikes, made double and one hole after that completed the slide by bogeying the 18th, too.
In a matter of three holes, Kim went from possibly making history to probably being history, saved only by a string of four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine.
He shot 1-over 71 and enters the final round in a tie for 10th, five shots back of leader Phil Mickelson.
“Nerves got the best of me the last few holes,” admitted Kim, who punched his ticket for Philadelphia via U.S. Open sectional qualifying. “I kind of went through that what if situation in my head. What if I won or what if I did this. I tried to snap back out of it, but I hit an awful tee shot on the next hole.”
But he still has an opportunity to do something no one would have expected at the start of the week -- beat Tiger Woods.
“Tiger's been an idol of mine since I basically started golf,” Kim said.
It says in Kim’s bio that his favorite golf movie is Happy Gilmore. No one gave him much of a chance, either.