College guys winning Arizona Golf Association tournaments are nothing new. In the past few years, collegians like Nathan Tyler, Charlie Beljan, Ben Kern, Aaron Manning and Jesse Mueller have all come up big against the state’s top play-for-no-pay guys.
But the latest trend is high school kids beating the state’s best amateurs at their own game.
Philip Francis did it a couple of years ago as a 16-year-old, and now Chan Kim, 18, has followed Andrew Yun, who was then 16, as back-to-back winners of the Arizona State Stroke Play Championship.
Perhaps those who compete under the AGA banner, which chiefly is made up of players 25 years and older, should get a new slogan. How about: “Hold those Huskies!’’
That’s Huskies as in Chandler Hamilton High School, where Kim and Yun were the top two players for the defending 5A-I state champions, who, by the way, have won it three straight years.
In fact, the top five players off that Hamilton team were entered last week in the Arizona Stroke Play Championship, which was played for the first time at the new TPC Scottsdale Champions Course. Besides Kim’s win and Yun’s 10th-place finish, both Shane Yoon and Chun-Ji Kim made the cut, while Chun-Ji Kim’s twin brother, C.J., missed by two strokes.
But this one belonged to Chan Kim, who birdied four of the last five holes to shoot 3-under 67 and win by five shots over Scottsdale’s Chris Kessler.
Kim also had the week’s best score, a 66 he posted in the third round.
Asked how he did it, and if it was his most important win to date, Kim answered the questions like a typical teen.
“I feel like I can hit it close (to the pin) all the time,’’ said Kim, who was born in Korea, grew up in Hawaii and moved to Chandler a year ago. “I can hit it high and it comes down soft. ...
“How does this rank among my wins? Maybe No. 2 or No. 3. I won the Hawaiian State Stroke Play last year, which was my first big win (against older amateurs), and I was low amateur last year at the Arizona Open. So either (No.) 2 or 3 probably.’’
Asked if it’s harder to play against Arizona’s finest amateurs or the outstanding junior players who compete on circuits like the American Junior Golf Association, where Kim also has won, he shrugged.
“I’m not sure,’’ Kim said. “It’s tough playing against (amateurs) who have a lot of experience, but playing against (the top players on the AJGA) also is tough but in a different way.
“I think the junior golfers practice so much harder, and now we even work out in the gyms, too. So when you play against (juniors) you try to fire low with no fear of going at the flags. The mentality is all about going as low as you can go. We don’t feel the pressure. It’s like there’s nothing to lose.
“Playing against (amateurs), you try to play a little smarter. You go for some of the flags, and you take two putts (for par) when you need to. So it’s a little bit different.’’
Ed Gowan, the executive director of the AGA, said he doesn’t care who wins the association’s tournaments — top amateurs, college guys or high school kids.
“It’s kind of funny, because last week I had a guy complain to me about how difficult the setup was on the Champions Course,’’ Gowan said. “I told him, ‘Excuse me! I just had an 18-year-old high school kid shoot 66.’
“Chan Kim has all the shots, and the way he controls a golf ball is amazing. So you take your hat off to these high school kids. It’s good stuff, and it really shows you how strong Arizona junior golf is these days.’’
Chances are we’re all going to learn more about Kim, who has given his verbal commitment to play at Arizona State next year. He’s a smart kid who has ignored the “home school’’ path taken by most of his peers with similar talent, and he’s in no hurry to get to the PGA Tour, although that’s where he wants to play.
“I came to Hamilton last spring, and I wish I would have come sooner,’’ Kim said. “It’s such a great school, and they give us so much support.
“I thought about home schooling, but why waste the teachers, who are such great resources? They’ve really helped me academically.’’
As for the rush to get to the pro tours that seems to afflict so many youngsters these days: “I got to be good friends with Tadd Fujikawa when I was in Hawaii, and he turned pro. He tells me it’s really hard out there, that the guys always shoot under par. That’s their normal.
“I just feel if I can go to college and beat the best college players, that eventually those are the guys I’ll have to beat on the PGA Tour.’’