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#TOURBound: Globetrotting Chan Kim earns first PGA TOUR card at 33

6 Min Read

Tour Bound

#TOURBound: Globetrotting Chan Kim earns first PGA TOUR card at 33

    Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin

    Chan Kim has globetrotted around the world of professional golf, winning eight times on the Japan Golf Tour and competing in 12 major championships.

    But his first TOUR card was fueled by an excursion to Vegas.

    In early August, at the time outside the top 50 on the Korn Ferry Tour Points List, Kim made a trip to Las Vegas for some work with Nick Helwig, an instructor at the Butch Harmon School of Golf. Kim had missed three straight cuts, and thoughts of losing full Korn Ferry Tour status altogether were starting to creep in. Adversity was nothing new for Kim – he was competitively sidelined for all of 2018 with a back injury – but he knew there wasn’t much time to waste.

    Helwig gave Kim two keys: “Don’t lock your right knee up when you rotate back … try and feel like everything’s kind of moving through to your left when you swing through.”

    Worked like a charm. Kim followed a made cut in Omaha with back-to-back victories at the Magnit Championship and Albertsons Boise Open presented by Chevron, blazing past most of his peers on the Points List and cementing his first PGA TOUR card for 2024.

    Chan Kim wins at Albertsons Boise Open

    With three events remaining in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, Kim stands No. 2 on the Korn Ferry Tour Points List, 146 points back of Ben Kohles. The season-long points winner will earn fully exempt TOUR status and qualify for the U.S. Open and THE PLAYERS Championship.

    Kim, 33, won by three strokes in New Jersey before making history at Boise, the first event of the reimagined Korn Ferry Tour Finals no less, becoming the first player to go bogey-free and win at the same Korn Ferry Tour event. Kim finished 28 under at Hillcrest Country Club for a two-stroke win over David Kocher, who shot 12-under 59 in the final round.

    Chan Kim's interview after winning Albertsons Boise Open

    After the Albertsons scores were finalized, Kim made a point to congratulate Kocher on his final round, expressing belief that his time is coming soon. For the globetrotting pro whose career is worthy of the nickname Mr. Worldwide, that time is now.

    Kim – who lives outside Phoenix but has made his career on tours across the globe, predominantly the Japan Golf Tour – is now headed to the PGA TOUR.

    “Definitely means the world to me,” said Kim of cementing his first TOUR card with the Albertsons Boise Open title. “This is what I came here to do. That was a goal from the beginning of the year. I took the risk of coming over here to play instead of just playing in Japan … to achieve that goal is great.”

    It’s the goal that was determined last fall, when he competed at Final Stage of Q-School (finishing solo second), committing to a season on the Korn Ferry Tour in pursuit of a PGA TOUR card.

    “I just figured it was time,” Kim said at Q-School. “I’ve got five years on the Japan (Golf) Tour as far as exemptions, but it would be nice to play closer to home. I would like to go home on my off weeks and sleep in my own bed.”

    Mission accomplished for Kim, who was born in Korea but moved to Honolulu with his family around age 2, as his dad wanted to start a tourism business. He moved to Arizona for his final year of high school, then played collegiate golf at Arizona State University before leaving to turn professional.

    Kim played a variety of sports as a kid including baseball, basketball, tennis and soccer – even training in martial arts, and skateboarding. But it was golf, which he pursued from age 12 or so, that he has turned into a career.

    Kim turned pro in 2010, and his first two Official World Golf Ranking-recognized starts came on the Korn Ferry Tour that summer; with two missed cuts, it was an inauspicious beginning. He toiled on smaller circuits for a few years – including the Canadian Tour (which later became PGA TOUR Canada), the Challenge Tour and Asian Tour – before finding his stride on the Japan Golf Tour.

    His first victory in Japan, the 2017 Mizuno Open, also brought a spot in that year’s Open Championship. He finished T11 at Royal Birkdale, evidence that his game could hang with the best. The world appeared his oyster.

    Then his back went out, sidelining him competitively for all of 2018.

    “I was kind of wondering, ‘OK, if this doesn’t work, what do I do from here?’” Kim said. “I went to, I think, eight different doctors, both here (United States) and in Korea, and got myself back in shape, and I’m just fortunate to be playing golf right now.

    “Just muscle stiffness,” Kim explained of his injury, “but I’ve always had a bulging disc and it’s a bit dehydrated. So basically the vertebrae were kind of touching, like punching each other, because one side was tight. So as long as I keep that nice and loose, I won’t have any more problems.”

    Two weeks after returning to practice, Kim returned to competition in Singapore – “started swinging, hopped on a plane, went to see what I could do.” Kim missed the cut by two strokes but was encouraged. He took a couple more months away from competition while tuning back up, and the rust didn’t take long to shake off, as he notched six top-five finishes that summer before an eventual win at the Japan Open Golf Championship. He was back; he won again in 2020, and he won twice more in 2021.

    Kim qualified for the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour Finals via non-member FedExCup points (in the previous Finals format), on the strength of a T15 at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP and a T16 at the Puerto Rico Open. He made two of three cuts in the Finals, earning a spot at Final Stage of Q-School, where he finished runner-up to earn 12 guaranteed Korn Ferry Tour starts in 2023. (Two weeks after Q-School, he won the Japan Golf Tour’s Casio World Open by six strokes for good measure, finishing 32 under.)

    Chan Kim sticks tee shot to set up birdie at ZOZO

    His 2023 season took a while to heat up, but a few fruitful tips in Vegas paid dividends, as did a mid-season putter tweak. He began the year with a blade putter, switched to a mallet, then back to a blade in Utah. Two weeks after the return to the blade, he won. Then he won again.

    Kim’s plans to celebrate his back-to-back Korn Ferry Tour victories, which occurred concurrently with Viktor Hovland’s victories at the BMW Championship and TOUR Championship en route to the FedExCup title?

    Back to Vegas.

    “I’m going to go back, grab some more lessons and probably go watch a couple shows,” Kim said. “Who knows what else will happen in Vegas, right?”

    That is true. Vegas led to a TOUR card, after all.

    Kevin Prise is an associate editor for the PGA TOUR. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.

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