State champion Kim taking game to Arizona
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By Bill Kwon
By Bill Kwon
Will the last golfer to leave, please put back the flagstick.
It's not exactly a brain drain but it could be a start of a trend — Hawai'i's gifted young golfers moving to the Mainland to take their game to the next level.
First, Kimberly Kim moves from the Big Island to Arizona with that purpose in mind. And she wins the U.S. Women's Amateur, becoming the youngest champion at age 14 in the 106-year history of that historic event.
Now, Chan Kim, no relation to Kimberly, is also moving to Arizona at the end of this month for the same reason — for more opportunities in golf.
And you know that Michelle Wie — even though her game is already at the highest level in women's golf — will pull up stakes and move to California with her parents when she graduates from Punahou School and enters Stanford this fall.
For both of the Kims, it wasn't a decision taken lightly by either of their parents. Such an uprooting requires sacrifices from everyone in the family.
In Kimberly's case, she lives with her mom, while her father makes the 5,820-mile "commute" to Phoenix whenever he can. "I have to take care of my business to support her," says Soo Young Kim, a Big Island orchid grower.
In Chan's case, his parents, Nak Jung and Kyung Ok, and younger sister, Helen, will move to Chandler, Ariz. So at least his family will be together, making the transition a lot easier. They've already found a place to live there.
Still, it took a year before her son finally made up his mind about the move, according to Chan's mother. They first talked about it that long ago.
"We tried to go (then) but Chan said no. He wanted to stay with his friends," she said. Especially those in the school band.
So, only recently did Kim, a Kaimuki High School junior, tell his parents, "OK, I want to go to Arizona."
He'll transfer to Hamilton High School, an Arizona prep golf powerhouse, which even has its own golf course.
That was definitely a factor, according to Kim, who couldn't get over such an amenity. And his new home will be driving distance to the American Junior Golf Association tournaments in Southern California and Nevada, besides Arizona.
"You don't need to fly to the tournaments. I think it's a huge advantage," Kim said.
"I'm still kind of nervous about it, but I'm pretty excited. It's such a great opportunity and there will be more competition. I feel you have to go to the Mainland. Unless you're like Tadd (Fujikawa)," said Kim, referring to Hawai'i's newest Super Kid in golf.
Steve Kanner, Hamilton High golf coach, didn't have anything to do with recruiting Kim, although he has four golfers of Korean ancestry on his team. But you can be sure that Kanner is elated. It's not often you can land a player who won the state high school boys' title as a sophomore and who also became Hawai'i's youngest state amateur champion with his victory last week, just 13 days before his 17th birthday.
It was one of his friends playing for Hamilton High, Andrew Yun, who swayed his decision the most, according to Kim.
"I met up with him at (PGA) Westfield and he said I should go to his school. He said, 'Because you live in Hawai'i, I play more (AJGA) events than you do.' "
Yun, who i's ranked sixth in Golfweek's national junior boys' rankings, told Kim that if he played in more tournaments, he'd get a better ranking than what he has now, around 248th.
"He told me it was one of the reasons why even he left Washington (state) to go to Arizona."
Not that the 6-foot-2 Kim has gone unnoticed, even though he's under the radar in terms of ranking.
Already Casey Martin, University of Oregon's golf coach, has been in touch by e-mail. Also, UNLV's Dwaine Knight.
Interestingly, both coaches will be at the Heather Farr Classic in Mesa the week that Kim gets there. It'll be his first golf tournament in his new home state.
"I definitely want to play collegiate golf," says Kim, who said moving up in the rankings to get a college scholarship was also a factor in his move. "Even if I get to play some PGA events, college is my first priority."
And he won't soon forget Hawai'i, his adopted state since he came here as a 3-year-old from South Korea. A tournament he definitely will be back for is the Governor's Cup. He knows that one of the amateurs on the team will qualify for an exempt spot in the Sony Open in Hawai'i.
It's the way that Fujikawa took in gaining national attention. Kim wouldn't mind taking the same route, although with a slight detour to Arizona.