After trailing Jim Liu, who was 5 up in the morning round of 18, Andy Hyeon Bo Shim battled back to win the title with a 4-and-3 victory. (Joel Kowsky/USGA)
Stratham, N.H. – Andy Hyeon Bo Shim, 17, of Duluth, Ga., rebounded from a 5-hole deficit – the largest comeback in championship-match history -- to defeat Jim Liu, 16, of Smithtown, N.Y., 4 and 3, and claim the 2012 U.S. Junior Amateur title at the 7,125-yard, par-72 Golf Club of New England.
“This is a dream come true,” said Shim. “I couldn’t believe myself. He is in the top 5 (juniors) in the country… I was 5 down, but if I just keep making my birdies on the front nine, it happens… I just kept thinking about one shot ahead.”
Liu was 5 up after the morning 18 of the 36-hole match, but Shim won eight of the first 10 holes in the afternoon on the strength of three birdies, one eagle and six pars. By the 28th hole, Shim had a startling 3-up lead.
Shim said his parents gave him no pep talk during the lunch break. “They didn’t even think I would make the cut for match play,” Shim said with a grin. “They were happy. They said, ‘Just play. Have fun. If you lose, you lose. Just do your best. Don’t do stupid stuff.’”
Liu, the 2010 Junior Amateur champion, might have rated as a slight favorite because of his experience. When he took a 5-up lead to lunch, spectators predicted an early end to the match.
But Shim’s comeback started on the first hole of the afternoon when he won the 19th with a par. He cut the deficit to three holes with a birdie on the 21st. When he drove the green of the 287-yard, par-4 22nd hole and rammed in a 10-foot eagle putt, he was only two holes down.
On the very next hole, Liu pulled his tee shot into the woods. Lost ball. Liu double-bogeyed the hole and Shim won it with a par. One hole down. When Shim won the 25th hole with a par, the match was all square.
Shim was roaring back despite badly blistered feet, an ailment that plagued him all week. He was granted a pause for medical attention three times during the match.
“It feels a lot better,” Shim said. “I guess I had to hurt to play good.”
But Shim’s sore feet were on the march. His par won the 26th hole and he was 1 up for the first time since the second hole of the morning round. He made a curling 30-footer for a birdie on the 27th, nearly the same putt he had holed in the morning, to go 2 up. Spectators who had trudged the early holes in the match picked up their pace and talked about the startling comeback.
“He was the first one here every morning to practice since three days before this started,” said one worker from the club, “and he was the last player to leave at night.”
Shim’s birdie from the greenside bunker on a 10-foot putt won the 28th hole. He was 3 up. He held the margin until the long, par-4 30th hole, when Liu made a bogey and Shim took a 4-up lead. The match ended with a handshake and a hug between the two opponents on the 33rd green.
Liu said that when Shim went 4 up, his own hopes were dashed. “I never worried until that hole,” Liu said. “I never gave up but when he won that hole, I knew I was in trouble.”
Liu’s swing had been dependable throughout the week, taking him to 24 birdies and only three bogeys through all of his matches. On the 19th hole Saturday afternoon, it began to let him down. He has been working on tightening his swing and shortening his backswing. Under pressure, he admitted, his backswing became longer and caused wayward tee shots.
“I used to miss them left and right,” Liu said. “At least now I just miss them left.”
Shim becomes the third Korean player to win the Junior Amateur. Terry Noe of Korea won in 1994 and Sihwan Kim won in 2004.
Shim says he’ll play in the 2012 U.S. Amateur, for which he won an exemption with his Junior Amateur title. Until now, he had few golf credits other than the 2012 Georgia PGA Junior Championship and one American Junior Golf Association title. Now Shim, who is home-schooled, is thinking about attending a college in the United States.
“Of course, I really want to play in college,” he said. “My scores are pretty low, so I don’t know what kind of college would want me… I like golf more than school.”
The U.S. Junior Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted by the United States Golf Association, of which 10 are strictly for amateurs.