Kim dominates record-setting Deere

Writing from Silvis, Illinois

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The numbers are staggering. Four trips around TPC Deere Run in 257 strokes. Thirty birdies. Over 400 feet of putts holed. A finish at 27-under-par. An eight-stroke victory.

Consider each a record for the 48 playings of the John Deere Classic, and consider this: Michael Kim, author of all of the above, is only now finding his game after five years as a professional.

No wonder he couldn’t get back to sleep after waking up at 4:30 a.m. Sunday, finding it difficult to sleep on a five-stroke lead.

“I went on the Internet to see how to slow my heartbeat down, and everything said, ‘Take deep breaths,’ and I’m like, ‘I’ve been taking deep breaths for 30 minutes!’ ” Kim said.

That didn’t work, and watching the Wimbledon men’s final and part of the World Cup final proved only minor distractions. Instead, Kim’s mind worked overtime.

“I probably went through a million different scenarios,” Kim said. “Making birdies out of the gate, losing the lead after a few holes. It wasn’t all confidence with the season I’ve had. It would have been weird if I was 100 percent confident.”

Kim, who turned 25 on Saturday, had made the cut in only eight of 22 previous starts this season. Now, by virtue of steamrolling the field, he was off to Carnoustie for the British Open, will get an invitation to next year’s Masters, has an exemption through the 2019-20 season on the PGA Tour, and is a lock for at least the first tournament in this year’s playoffs.

Not bad for a South Korean-born American who grew up in San Diego watching Tiger Woods win week after week on television.

“As a kid you don’t really know how hard that is, how much work that takes,” Kim said. “To be sitting here with the trophy, I’m at a loss for words.

“I think I made the right career choice.”

Bronson Burgoon (closing 69), Joel Dahmen (65), Francesco Molinari (64) and Sam Ryder (66) deadlocked for second at 19-under 265. That would have won 10 of the previous 18 tournaments at Deere Run. Instead, Kim’s nine-stroke victory matched the total margin of victory for the previous 10 John Deere Classics.

Said Burgoon, who played with Kim, “He just was rolling them in from everywhere and hit a couple of really good iron shots. He did what he had to do. Going into the back nine, unless he had a torrential meltdown, we were all playing for second.”

A recent coaching change has Kim hitting more fairways than before – 46 of 56 this week – and his new mental trigger for putting is worth a about million bucks: the $1,044,000 he earned for winning. That’s 

The most settling factor for Kim on Sunday was one of the first he considered: making birdies out of the gate. He birdied the first three holes – a run of seven straight adding him his final four holes on Saturday – and stretched his lead to an eventual nine strokes at mid-round.

“I expected a lot of the guys like Harold and Francesco and Matt and Bronson – they weren’t going to just let me ease my way into the trophy,” Kim said. “I felt I needed to make birdies on the front nine just to show I’m still playing well. Seeing that ball drop on No. 1 for birdie was great. To see it drop (on No. 2) really, really calmed me down. On 3, I don’t know. As soon as I lined it up it felt like it was going to go in.”

The putts went in from 12, 15 and 24 feet, and like that, he was 25-under and threatening Steve Stricker’s record of 26-under 258, set in 2010. He matched it with a 7-foot birdie putt on No. 8 and surpassed it with a 20-foot putt for a deuce on the par-3 16th.

After that one, he cupped his left hand to his ear to better enjoy the cheers of the crowd, one which usually enjoys a battle down the stretch but this time roared for a rout.

“Did Patrick Reed do something like that at the Ryder Cup? I felt I got it from him,” Kim said. “Once I got past 15, I felt I could do whatever the last three holes and still get away with the trophy. I think I got a little excited.”

Hardy finishes with a run

Nick Hardy came into the final round stuck in 55th place, having played the first 54 holes in 5-under-par 208. That’s good but not great.

Sunday, he fired a 5-under-par 66, including seven birdies in the last 10 holes, which jumped him to 43rd on 10-under 274, a spot he shared with, among others, former Illinois teammate Dylan Meyer and fellow alum Steve Stricker. It also earned him $18,096.

It could have been better. He missed a 23-inch par putt on the second hole and later bladed a wedge. Fix those two shots and the payday is around $36,000.

“Obviously I had stuff out there that doesn’t happen too much,” Meyer said. “I tried to keep a good attitude and finish as well as I could. I put together a really good final 10 holes, which feels good.”

Hardy is six weeks into a pro career that started at the Rust-Oleum Championship. So far, he’s made the cut in all four tournaments – two on the web. com Tour – and earned $36,951. That’s promising, but guarantees nothing. After Monday’s Rockford Pro-Am, that’s what his schedule has on it. Nothing.

“I’ve played well the past four tournaments but I haven’t played as well as I could,” Hardy said. “This last 10 holes, moving on to the rest of the summer, is going to give me some confidence for sure.”

Around Deere Run

The field averaged 68.254 strokes on Sunday and 69.185 for the week. The 64s of Molinari and local favorite Zach Johnson were the rounds of the day. ... Steve Stricker, after his 67 for 274 on Sunday, will take three days off and root for his daughter Bobbi in the Illinois Women’s Open at Mistwood Golf Club. ... Burgoon on his plans for the trip to Carnoustie: “I’m going to have a glass of red wine and I’m going to pass out.” ... Kim ran his career earnings to $3,008,729 on the PGA Tour, plus $318,637 on his Tour play.

Tim Cronin

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