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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 11, 2006

Kim, 16, mixes music, mean game on links

 •  Teens Wie, Bandea take shot at U.S. Open
 •  Holes in One

By Bill Kwon

Chan Kim, who started playing golf just four years ago, is one of Hawai'i's top amateurs. He shared the O'ahu Interscholastic Association boys golf title with Tadd Fujikawa last week.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Chan Kim

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Chan Kim took a music lesson even before taking his first lesson in golf four years ago.

The 16-year-old Kaimuki High School sophomore now plays a mean tenor sax. But he plays a meaner game of golf. A killer game, if you will.

His rapid improvement, including a share of the O'ahu Interscholastic Association golf title with Moanalua High freshman Tadd Fujikawa last week, has the world of local golf buzzing.

Kim and Fujikawa, who paired to win the HPLGA Four-Ball Championship against adult competition in February, are among the favorites in next week's David S. Ishii Foundation state high school boys championship at Turtle Bay.

Kim is coming off a solid showing in the Mid-Pacific Open where he was in contention until a final-round 78. He finished second behind Brandan Kop among the amateurs in the field.

The strapping Kim at 6 feet 2 and 198 pounds, makes one wonder if the school's football coach hadn't asked him to try out for the team also had been one of the favorites to win last week's Hickam Amateur Invitational.

The event was postponed because of heavy rains, much to Kim's disappointment. He had been looking forward to the 54-hole event as a tune-up for the state boys championship.

That Kim can be regarded as a favorite in any tournament locally shows how far his game has advanced in just four years. He wasn't even good enough to qualify for O'ahu Junior Golf Association tournaments at the age of 12 after his first golf lesson from Les Uyehara.

"Next year, he qualified for OJGA events," Uyehara said. "He started at the bottom of the HSJGA (Hawai'i State Junior Golf Association) rankings and worked his way up."

Uyehara, who taught Kim until last summer, said the youngster has the best potential of any local male golfer to play professionally.

"He's the best male golfer I've ever had," said Uyehara, who first taught LPGA standout Grace Park and Stephanie Kono, who won the girls state championship yesterday and captured the 2005 Westfield Jr. PGA of America Championship.

So who's this latest Korean wunderkind in local golf?

Born in Suwon, South Korea, Kim was 3 when his parents, Nak Jung and Kyung Ok Kim, moved to Hawai'i. The father is in the travel tour business, and the family owns the franchise in Suwon for Lotteria South Korea's answer to McDonald's.

As a youngster, golf was the last thing on Kim's mind. He was busy playing youth soccer and baseball, and was good enough to earn a red belt in taekwondo.

But both his parents golfed, and his younger sister, Helen, 11, wanted to take up the game. So Kim decided to make it a family affair.

Just months before signing up for lessons from Uyehara, Kim had to take an elective in band at Washington Middle School.

"They told me if I didn't like it I could quit after one year," said Kim, who chose to play the tenor saxophone.

And there was no quit in him.

He still has to squeeze in band rehearsals after school before heading to practice at either the Ala Wai driving range or the Walter Nagorski Course, where he now takes lessons from Lou Merkle, the club pro at the Fort Shafter nine-hole course.

Uyehara was aware of Kim's determination years ago.

"He has the disposition and very good self-control," Uyehara said. "His attitude was golf seven days a week. If he wasn't playing, he was practicing. I predict great success for him."

Kim, who averages around 290 yards on his drives, said he likes his chance in next week's state tournament and hopes it will be a jump-start to a successful summer of golf.

Already invited to play in American Junior Golf Association events in Wisconsin and Michigan, Kim plans on trying to qualify locally for the U.S. Junior Amateur, the USGA Men's Public Links Amateur Championship and the U.S. Open.

After his finish (tied for seventh) in last year's Westfield Jr. PGA of America Championship, he'd like nothing better than to win the event this year.

"Heading into Westfield last year, my game wasn't in top shape," Kim said. "If I can play close to how I'm playing now, I should do better."

While professional golf is in the distant future, Kim wouldn't mind playing collegiate golf. "It's like a steppingstone into professional golf," he said.

In either case, there's a bright future ahead for Chan Kim, whose name in Korean means, "glittering gold."