This is the third in a series of articles looking back at USGA championships held at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. In June, the historic club will host its fifth U.S. Open Championship. Previous stories focused on the 1955 U.S. Open (Jack Fleck) and 1966 U.S. Open (Billy Casper).
If the USGA championships conducted at The Olympic Club in San Francisco have provided a stage for underdogs, then the 2004 U.S. Junior Amateur was true to form.
You can add the name Sihwan Kim to the likes of Jack Fleck, Billy Casper, Nathaniel Crosby and Scott Simpson.
All of those aforementioned players produced victories at The Olympic Club that were clearly not expected.
When the 2004 U.S. Junior Amateur commenced in June, the pre-championship favorites were defending champion Brian Harman, 2003 runner-up and Olympic Club junior member Jordan Cox, and American Junior Golf Association standouts Jon Curran, Matt Savage and Randy Lowry. Sung Kang of Korea was also coming off a semifinal showing at the U.S. Amateur Public Links.
Few people outside of Southern California had ever heard of Sihwan Kim, a burly Korean-born player who had moved to the U.S. four years earlier. This was, in fact, his first match-play competition.
Kim’s opponent in the 18-hole final – the competition switched to a 36-hole championship match the following year – was the equally unheralded David Chung, a 5-foot-5, 105-pound, 14-year-old from Fayetteville, N.C., who was only slightly taller than his driver. With his bucket hat, unusual putting routine – he would point his putter perpendicular to the ground to properly align himself – and uncanny short game, the home-schooled ninth-grader displayed the kind of moxie that Fleck and Casper produced in winning their U.S. Open titles against great odds decades earlier. In the quarterfinals, Chung rallied from five down with seven to play to defeat fellow North Carolinian Robert Riesen in 19 holes.
That same day, Kim ousted Harman, the defending champion who had torched the Lake Course during stroke-play qualifying to win medalist honors by eight strokes. The confident left-hander posted rounds of 67-66, the only competitor out of 156 to better par on the four-time U.S. Open layout.
By then, Kim had awakened everyone to the fact that he was a formidable foe. He followed that up with a 3-and-2 victory over Curran, an AJGA All-American from Hopkinton, Mass.
“I really surprised myself of how many [great] players I beat,” said a humble Kim.
Meanwhile, Chung defeated Kang in the other semifinal, 2 and 1.
The 18-hole final looked to be a complete mismatch. Chung looked like 10-year-old Eddie Lowery (Francis Ouimet’s caddie) next to the 6-foot, 200-pound Kim, and Chung gave up as much as 40 yards off the tee.
The match was tight throughout. In fact, it was Kim’s short game that proved to be pivotal late in the festivities. He got up and down for a clutch par at the par-5 16th hole to maintain his 1-up lead.
At the difficult uphill par-4 17th hole – it will be a par 5 for the 2012 U.S. Open – Chung kept the match alive by holing a 10-foot par putt. But with a chance to force extra holes, Chung missed a 6-foot birdie attempt at the closing hole.
Kim stood emotionless when the match concluded. He couldn’t believe he was a national champion. He also was the fourth 15-year-old to win the Junior Amateur and, at the time, the second-youngest to claim the title behind Tiger Woods.
“I was just blank,” Kim said after the prize ceremony. “I couldn’t say anything or couldn’t smile because I couldn’t believe I won this tournament.”
As it turned out, Kim and Chung wound up becoming college teammates in Northern California. In 2007, Kim enrolled at Stanford University and Chung would join him on the Palo Alto campus a year later. Both became standout collegians.
Chung got another shot at a USGA trophy in 2010, when he advanced to the championship match of the U.S. Amateur, where he lost to Peter Uihlein at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash.
Chung is currently a senior at Stanford, while Kim turned pro last June and is trying to make his way to the PGA Tour.
No matter how his career turns out, Kim’s name will always be on the U.S. Junior Amateur Trophy, and he is a part of The Olympic Club’s illustrious history.
David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer/content manager. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.