Positioned on the calendar the week prior to the start of the FedEx series on the PGA Tour, the Wyndham Championship field was an odd conglomeration. Only one player in the World Golf Rankings top 10 made an appearance, and despite his eighth-place position, Rickie Fowler has been a down arrow during 2016.
At the same time, the FedEx standings told a different story with five of the top 11 teeing it up in Greensboro. For the top 50 or so in FedEx points, Wyndham represented an opportunity to stage themselves to go the distance to Atlanta and the Tour Championship. For those sitting at 100 or higher, the incentive was a little more urgent. Wyndham performance not only represented positioning for the coming weeks, but status for the coming year.
So while Korean Si Woo Kim will be the official winner for the week in North Carolina, a player like Shawn Stefani might also want to take a victory lap. Stefani came to Greensboro 133rd in FedEx points, not only out of the playoffs but also staring at an attempt to requalify for fully exempt status for 2017.
With a pair of 66s on the weekend and a T14 finish at -12, Stefani leaped 10 spots to be secure for next year. He heads to Barclays at 123rd. Even Luke Donald, who was safe at 99th, had to celebrate moving up 51 spots with his runner-up finish. He’s now very much primed to make it to Atlanta.
On the flip side, what Wyndham giveth, Wyndham also taketh away. Both Matt Jones and Whee Kim sat on the good side of the bubble going in. But by missing the cut on Friday, they both slipped above the 125 transition line.
As simple as that might appear, a variety of qualifiers factor into each player’s status for the coming year, while FedEx participation is more clearly defined.
For Kim it was not only a breakthrough win, but a response to a question in the golf community that has lingered for years. Excellence in professional golf has been a given when it comes to Korean women. Beginning with Se-ri Pak and taking it forward to Olympic gold medalist Inbee Park, the South Koreans have owned the LPGA Tour. But the question has always been why the men don’t demonstrate the same success.
For a long time, K.J. Choi carried the Korean colors on Tour. But Choi’s presence on Tour came reasonably late in his career, having joined at age 30 in 2000. His success cannot be questioned with eight career wins and a few flirtations with major leaderboard.
In his wake, players like Sangmoon Bae and Seung-Yul Noh have also enjoyed a measure of success in recent years. But Kim posting a win at age 21 is more in line with the LPGA wave who crashed the winners circle at an early age.
At 17 and change, Kim was the youngest player ever to move through Tour qualifying in 2012, finishing 20th. He was so young that he had to wait nearly seven months to meet the Tour’s minimum age requirement of 18 before he could take advantage of his success. In 2014 he played on the Web.com tour full-time, and in his second year on the developmental tour, he cashed a winners check at the Stonebrae Classic in California. He became the second youngest winner ever on that tour, behind Jason Day.
Back-to-back top 10s in Hawaii and Palm Springs early in 2016 suggested the promise he showed in the minors travelled well to the Tour. He displayed the usual rookie inconsistency through much of the year, missing cuts at a rate of one in every three events. But that immaturity was overcome near the end of the schedule year.
Statistically nothing stands out about his game on the physical side, but he has three electric numbers when it comes to scoring. With 347 birdies this year, he ranks second on Tour and backs that up with 12 eagles to stand fourth. And call it a streak or call it a skill, he leads the Tour in hole-outs with 20 over the year.
Perhaps emulating the formula the young Korean women have employed over the years, Kim pointed to his father’s contribution after the win. “My father traveled with me all the time, and whenever he travels with me he’s teaching, swinging, and he’s sure of my health and food. And so that helps me out a lot. That’s why I won today.”
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.