Records tumbled in Tiger Woods’ wake when the prodigious amateur turned professional in 1996 in one of the most breakneck accelerations to the summit that golf has ever seen.
So when, 26 years on, a 20-year-old is matching the early feats of the 15-time major winner, it’s probably worth taking notice.
Kim “Tom” Joo-hyung accelerated his meteoric rise with victory at the Shriners Children’s Open on Sunday, becoming the first golfer since Woods to win twice on the PGA Tour before turning 21. The duo are the only players to achieve the feat since the Second World War, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
The South Korean carded an unblemished 24-under 260 to secure a three-shot triumph over Patrick Cantlay in Las Vegas, making him just the third player since 1974 to win a stroke play event without making a single bogey.
After his maiden triumph at the Wyndham Championship in August, it marks Kim’s second Tour win in his last four outings – and sandwiched between the two titles was a hugely impressive performance at the Presidents Cup in September.
He’s played nine Tour events since July, but Kim has shrugged off any suggestion of burnout.
“I’m a five-year-old at Disneyland,” he told reporters, “It’s hard to get tired from this.”
“A few months ago, I didn’t have any status in the US, and now being a two-time winner on Tour, having that place with Tiger, it’s an unbelievable feeling for me.
“It’s an honor for me, and it’s definitely a dream come true.”
At 20 years, three months and 18 days old, Kim clocked his second triumph six months earlier than Woods, who was under three months shy of his 21st birthday when he clinched the Walt Disney World Golf Classic in October 1996, two weeks after his first Tour win at the Las Vegas Invitational – now the Shriners Children’s Open.
In April the following year, Woods took his ascent to new heights by becoming the youngest ever Masters winner at Augusta. While a 23rd place finish at the US Open in June marked an impressive showing in Kim’s fourth ever major outing, the South Korean is keeping his feet planted firmly on the ground.
“Hopefully, I can have a long career, and I’ve got to work really hard – I can’t get satisfied at all,” he said.
“I’ve just got to keep playing better because there’s a lot of guys who work really hard and who have achieved a lot more than me.
“I’m not even close to Tiger. Whether it’s Tiger, Rory [McIlroy], Justin [Thomas], Jordan [Spieth], those guys, I’ve still got a long way to go, so I just need to keep working hard.”
‘I got really fortunate’
Kim’s winning card matched the record for the lowest winning score at the event since TPC Summerlin changed to a par-71 course in 2009, according to the PGA Tour, yet the 20-year-old had been locked level with Cantlay heading to the final hole.
Having shot a tournament best 11-under 60 on Saturday, Cantlay saw his hopes of a ninth Tour victory crushed by a disastrous triple bogey at the 18th. After finding the bushes from the tee, the American decided against a drop to try and play out, only for his escape shot to travel just one yard.
The American’s woes were compounded when his subsequent shot dropped into the water, as Kim parred to put the gloss on what had been a closely fought final day.
“When you have a two-shot lead and you have a guy like Patrick coming at you, no lead is safe,” Kim said.
“I just stayed really patient. I played my game plan, and I just got really lucky on the final hole. Patrick has played so good this week, and I got really fortunate.”
It marks Cantlay’s third runner-up finish in five starts at the event.
“After it was kind of in the bush there, I figured the only chance I had to stay in the tournament was to try to get it back in the fairway,” he told reporters.
“I played well all week for the most part, one bad swing at the end. Obviously would have liked to have closed the deal out today, but sometimes, that’s golf … the last hole makes the whole week kind of sour.”