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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 14, 2006

Kim has made Korean event his own over five decades

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By Bill Kwon

Barney Kim won the Korean Invitational three times in the 1960s, four times in the '70s, twice in the '80s and once in 1991, before winning this year's title.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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The 71-year-old has now won Korean Invitational 11 times

The Korean Invitational ranks among the five oldest continuous golf tournaments in Hawai'i.

Only four other tournaments still around have enjoyed longer runs: the Manoa Cup, which was played for the 98th time in July, the Jennie K. Wilson Invitational, the Francis Brown Four-Ball Championship and the Moanalua Women's Invitational.

The 56th annual KIT was held last weekend at the Pali Golf Course. While the event has lost a lot of its luster in recent years, take nothing away from the accomplishment of 71-year-old Barney Kim, who won in a two-hole playoff over Dae Sung Lee after both finished with a 158 total for 36 holes.

Kim shot 14-over par, the highest winning score in the tournament's history. (The best score is 135, set by Kyu Num Lee, when the 1961 tournament was held at the Ala Wai Golf Course.)

Kim's victory was notable because it was the 11th time he has won the event, doing so in each of the past five decades.

He won three times in the 1960s, winning his first title in 1965. He won four times in the 1970s, twice in the 1980s and No. 10 came in 1991.

"I never thought I'd see the 2000 one," said Kim about this decade's victory.

When told to go back and get his golf clubs for a playoff, Kim thought someone was kidding him. He was already in the clubhouse, knocking back a few brewskis.

He had a few more after the playoff with Lee, a former national taekwondo champion and coach of the U.S. Olympic taekwondo team.

"That kid can hit it long," said Kim, once a long hitter himself.

Kim and Hung Soo Ahn, a member of the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame, have dominated the Korean Invitational Tournament over the years, combining for 27 victories.

The first of Ahn's 16 victories came in the inaugural KIT in 1951, and he went on to win the event in six of the first seven years of the event. Spoiling Ahn's streak in that stretch was Howard Kim, Barney's brother, who was the 1953 titlist. Another of Barney's brothers, Douglas Kim, won the 1963 KIT.

Ahn's sweet-16 victory came in 1994 when he was 64.

With his victory Sunday, Barney is the tournament's oldest champion.

"Age gets you now," he said. "That's why it's so disgusting about my (golf) game. I think back 35 years ago and what I could do. I can't accept that I'm 71. Still, I'm going to keep playing until I cannot walk."

New high-tech equipment helps. But you still can't beat being younger and stronger, according to Kim, once a 1-handicapper who now plays to a 10.

Kim grew up in a family of 10 siblings in Kahuku, where his father worked on a sugar plantation. He took up golf when he was around 10 years old, playing at the nine-hole municipal course there.

"There was no junior golf at the time. You just taught yourself," he said.

After graduating from Kahuku High School in 1953, he spent two years in the Army, stationed in Germany, where he once reached the semifinals of an interservice tournament in Bamberg. After living in Los Angeles for about 10 years, Kim returned home and became one of the state's top amateurs.

Kim's only successes have been in the KIT, but one of the highlights of his career is playing in the 1966 Hawaiian Open, the year that Ted Makalena won.

But Sunday's triumph ranks among the best of his 11 KIT victories, he said.

"To me it is. Especially at 71," said Kim, who lives in Mililani. He and his wife, Deborah, have two daughters Cassie, a sophomore at the University of Washington, and Courtney, a Mililani High School junior.

These days Kim mostly plays social golf weekly with the 3A Golf Club, whose 24 members are mostly attorneys, architects and accountants. Hence, "3A."

It's a good excuse for a few beers afterward, he said. And to keep his game in shape for next year's Korean Invitational, especially now that he's the defending champion.

"In the old days, the (KIT) participation was good. But I guess everybody is getting old, and we don't have a lot more young players. And I don't know why a lot of the Korean nationals don't play. Too bad. This is a good-fun tournament."

The event isn't limited to those of only Korean ancestry, according to officers of the 61-year-old Korean Golf Club, which hosts the event. That's why it's called an invitational tournament.

But, obviously, there's a better chance of having your name on the trophy if your name is Kim there have been seven different Kims who have won or an Ahn named Hung Soo.