HONOLULU, HAWAII – JANUARY 15: Si Woo Kim of South Korea poses with his wife Ji Hyun Oh and the trophy after putting in to win on the 18th green during the final round of the Sony Open in Hawaii at Waialae Country Club on January 15, 2023 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
A mixed dose of brutal honesty and tough love from his father, Du Ryu, has kept Si Woo Kim well and truly grounded as he pushes to grow his legacy on the PGA Tour as one of Asia’s greatest golfers.
Despite hitting fame early in his career following a string of historic achievements on golf’s biggest stage, the 27-year-old Korean has not let success get to his head despite seeing his trophy shelves being filled with silverware, the latest addition being the Sony Open in Hawaii trophy won in January.
As a 17-year-old, Kim shot to prominence in 2012 by becoming the youngest player to earn a PGA Tour card through the gruelling Qualifying School, which is often regarded as the hardest test in the game. He prevailed through four stages.
Fast forward to 2023 and he is now a proven four-time Tour champion with over US$18 million in winnings. He also holds the proud record as being the youngest PLAYERS Championship winner in history following a memorable triumph at TPC Sawgrass in 2017.
Kim also threw in standout performances in last September’s Presidents Cup to cement his rising stature. He partnered Cam Davis and young compatriot Tom Kim in securing massive wins over Scottie Scheffler/Sam Burns and Patrick Cantlay/Xander Schauffele respectively, and later stunned Justin Thomas 1-up in the top Singles match to become the International Team’s leading performer with 3 points.
He often goes about his business on the golf course in quiet efficiency but at Quail Hollow against a power-packed American squad and partisan crowds, Kim showed a different side of his personality. He brazenly put his finger on his lips to shush the fans during a pressure-packed match against Thomas, and then celebrated like a kid visiting Disneyland for the first time after watching partner Tom Kim bury a winning putt just a day earlier.
When Si Woo first arrived in the U.S. as a fresh-faced wannabe golf star, he hardly spoke English but his command of the language has vastly improved. After winning the Sony Open with weekend rounds of 64s, he shared an anecdote, in English, about some fatherly advice that has been the secret to him keeping his feet firmly planted in the ground despite his growing fame and fortune.
“Yeah, my dad keep talking to me, you’re not the top player, so don’t try to act like a top player,” smiled Kim, whose four PGA Tour wins ranks him behind only countryman K.J. Choi and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, who have eight wins apiece, as Asian golfers with the most wins on Tour.
“I think I was not good enough for the top level, like (playing against) all the top 10 players. But somehow I got lucky, like that rookie year (won the 2016 Wyndham Championship), and then the next year, won THE PLAYERS,” reflected Kim.
“I play with Rory (McIlroy), J.T. (Justin Thomas), all the good players, sometimes I’m like what I’m doing here … they’re so good, driving like 360 and I’m like 60 yards behind. I’ve still got a lot of going (catching up).”
Asian parents are often known for their Tiger parenting styles, where they push their child to succeed in any field, whether in academic or sports. In Kim’s instance, he is appreciative of his father’s frank opinions which have kept him modest about his own stature in the game.
Australian great, Adam Scott, who has been on two Presidents Cup teams with Kim, is the least surprised to see the Korean star showing a fiery side to his personality.
“Well, I think he’s got a lot on the inside, and sometimes with guys, and certainly the Asian players, you don’t get a real glimpse of what makes them tick. I think Si Woo showed again at the Presidents Cup, if people forgot, he won THE PLAYERS, at a young age, but I think he was one of our best performers at the Presidents Cup, and beating Justin Thomas in a bit of an epic match. There’s a lot of Si Woo as a golfer, especially on the inside. I think when he’s in a position like this, the fire burns hot, and he’s going to be hard to beat if he’s in the lead.”
Three-time major winner, Jordan Spieth has played often enough alongside Kim to know the Korean is the real deal, and that he will be amongst the front runners to triumph again in the Tour’s flagship tournament, THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass from March 9-12, 2023.
“Si Woo might be the one of the most talented individuals in the game of golf and it’s always been fun to watch him play,” said Spieth.
Kim ended his bachelor days last December by tying the knot with Korean LPGA Tour player, Ji-Hyun Oh. He joked that going through the wedding preparation was so nerve-racking that it would help him deal with tournament pressure when he’s battling for the next win, hopefully at THE PLAYERS.
“I was worrying so much during the preparation for the wedding and also on the wedding day. I was more nervous than in a competition,” said Kim.
With Oh having been through the grind in professional golf, Kim reckons his wife’s experiences will help him excel. “We can understand each other by knowing what part of stress and pressure are, and what parts to respect each other well. I think it’s comfortable because we understand each other when it comes to golf. This is really exciting, and hopefully get more confidence and more wins.”
Note: The writer is senior director, marketing & communications – APAC for the PGA Tour and is based in Kuala Lumpur.