Q-school round-up: Amateur Kim playing way into decision

December 14, 2013
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Each new playing partner asks Michael Kim the same question. Come Tuesday, it will be THE question for him.

“What are you going to do?”

Kim will have a big decision to make about his future if he keeps this up. He’s in fourth place midway through the Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament. He’s shot 13-under 203 through three rounds at PGA West, including a 6-under 66 Saturday at the TPC Stadium Course. It was the second-best round of the day at the Stadium Course.

He bogeyed his first hole Saturday, but made birdie on six of his next eight to make the turn in 5-under 31. One birdie, at the par-5 16th, and no bogeys gave him 35 on his second nine. Kim is tied for fourth with former Cal teammate Max Homa.

They led the Bears to victories in 11 of 14 tournaments in 2012-13. It was one of the best seasons in NCAA history. Homa won the NCAA individual championship. Kim was college golf’s player of the year. They also represented the United States at this year’s Walker Cup, a team, match-play competition between the United States and Great Britain & Ireland. Homa turned pro afterward. Kim remained amateur, returning to Berkeley for his junior season. The former teammates are paired together in the second-to-last threesome in Sunday's fourth round.

Kim, who wore a Cal hat and shirt in Saturday's third round, will have to decide if the status he earns this week is alluring enough to persuade him to turn pro before the completion of his college career. The top 45 and ties this week are exempt through the second reshuffle of the season. They’ll get starts in the first eight tournaments of 2014 before being re-ranked based on their season earnings.

“I’ve tried my best not to think about (whether to turn pro),” Kim said. “I’ve told everyone that I will worry about it after the tournament. I’m still trying to stick to that. I figure I’ll worry about it afterward.”

He decided to give Q-School a try after earning an exemption to second stage by making the cut at the U.S. Open. He finished 17th there to earn low-amateur honors.

Homa wasn’t surprised by his former teammate’s success. “He’s like Iron Byron,” Homa said. “He hits it as straight as anyone I’ve ever played with.”

Homa, who’s finished ninth and 30th in two PGA TOUR starts as a pro, shot a bogey-free 67 Saturday at the TPC Stadium Course. He’s been bogey-free over his past 42 holes.

Kim is one of three amateurs in the field. University of Southern California junior Anthony Paolucci is T-42 at 5-under 211 (71-72-68). Former BYU player Zac Blair is T-51 at 4-under 212 (71-74-67).

HALFWAY LEAD: Steve Saunders made eight birdies and three bogeys Saturday to shoot 5-under 67 and take the halfway lead at Q-School. He’s at 17-under 199 (67-65-67) and three shots ahead of Jimmy Gunn and Scott Pinckney. Saunders birdied his final four holes at PGA West’s TPC Stadium Course.

Saunders, 26, was a 2009 All-American at New Mexico. He comes from a golf family. His younger brother, Sam, also played college golf at New Mexico, as did two of his uncles. His father, Dave, played golf at New Mexico State. Dave Saunders owns the Albuquerque-based Golf Mart.

“I was basically going to learn how to play whether I wanted to or not, as long as I was physically capable of doing. I happened to love it, and took it and ran with it,” said Saunders, who missed the cut in all four PGA TOUR Canada starts he made in 2013.

TOP GUNN: Scotland’s Jimmy Gunn caddied at famed Royal Dornoch and worked part-time in carpentry to finance a full-time amateur golf career until turning pro six years ago at 27. He moved to the United States that year to develop his game, and is making his second Q-School appearance. An 8-under 64 Saturday at the TPC Stadium Course has him in contention; it was the low round of the day at the Stadium Course by two shots. He’s at 14-under 202 (68-70-64), three shots back of leader Saunders.

“I hit pretty much every fairway and had a lot of great looks,” Gunn, 33, said. “I don’t think I hit it outside 20 feet all day.”

BIG MOVE: Daniel Berger, who turned pro this year after his sophomore season at Florida State, made the move of the day with a 9-under 63 at the Nicklaus Tournament Course. He jumped 94 spots on the leaderboard to T-24 after making seven birdies and an eagle. He shot 7-under 29 on his second nine, playing his final eight holes in seven under to shoot the low round of the day.

Berger was an All-American at Florida State in 2013 and finished runner-up to Homa at the NCAA Championship.

He shot 75 the previous day at the TPC Stadium Course after making two double-bogeys. He’s at 7-under 209 (71-75-63).

DIVOTS: Chris Epperson held a four-shot lead after the first two rounds. He shot 76 Saturday to drop to seventh place, five shots off the lead. He’s at 12-under 204 (65-63-76). He was bogey-free for the first 36 holes, but had five bogeys, a double-bogey and three birdies Saturday. … Justin Thomas, who beat out Jordan Spieth to win college golf’s player-of-the-year award in 2012, shot 78 Saturday to drop to 122nd place at 2-over 218 (67-73-78). Thomas made quadruple-bogey 8 at the par-4 18th at TPC Stadium after hitting two tee shots into the water left of the fairway. Thomas turned pro after representing the United States at this year’s Walker Cup.