Bryan Kim shakes his opponent Joshua Bai's hand after the match (USGA photo)
Incoming Duke University freshman Bryan Kim
became the second Blue Devil to win the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship
with his 2-up victory over Joshua Bai
on Sunday in the weather-delayed 36-hole final at Daniel Island Club’s Ralston Creek Course, in Charleston, S.C.
Kim, 18, of Brookeville, Md., joins Jason Widener (1988) as Duke players to etch their name on the U.S. Junior Amateur Trophy that includes the likes of major champions Tiger Woods, Johnny Miller, David Duval, Jordan Spieth, Scottie Scheffler and Brian Harman, this year’s Open winner at Royal Birkdale who sent a congratulatory video message to the champion.
“It really hasn't sunk in yet,” said Kim, who was playing in his third U.S. Junior Amateur but had not made match play in his previous two. “Especially coming into this week, I hadn't made a cut at a USGA event, but to not only make the cut but win all six of my matches, especially against all these great competitors, it just means the world.
“It's a huge stepping-stone. Just to have my name like right next to those guys, those big guys, it just means if they can do it, I can do it. I'm right on track, so I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing, and hopefully I'll get there one day.”
The championship match of the 75th edition of the Junior Amateur was extended a day due to multiple storms on Saturday, one of which delayed the start of the final by 3½ hours. Play was eventually halted for the day at 5:36 p.m. EDT with Kim holding a 1-up lead thru 25 holes.
It was the first time in 21 years that the U.S. Junior Amateur finished a day later than scheduled.
After Kim completes his freshman season with the Blue Devils next spring, he’ll have a 76-minute drive from campus to Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 in the Village of Pinehurst for the 2024 U.S. Open, an exemption he receives as the winner of the U.S. Junior Amateur.
He’s also the lowest-seeded player (No. 52 from stroke play) to win the title since Charlie Beljian (56) in 2002 at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga.
Both players are exempt into next month’s U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club in suburban Denver.
Bai, 17, of New Zealand, was hoping for that bid to Pinehurst, where his idol, Michael Campbell, captured the 2005 U.S. Open 10 months before he was born. Danny Lee, a Korean-born player who represents New Zealand, also won the 2008 U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst. Former world No. 1 amateur and professional Lydia Ko remains the last Kiwi to claim a USGA title (2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur).
“Just try and take the positives,” said Bai of his week in South Carolina. “I played really well. It really boosted my confidence going to tournaments in the future. Just helps me know that I can compete at the top level. Just want to say really congratulations to Bryan. He's a great player and even better person.”
More than an inch of rain fell on the property on Saturday, but the maintenance staff, led by superintendent Joey Franco, got the Ralston Creek Course in impeccable condition for the resumption of play for the 8 a.m. restart on Sunday.
Bai, competing in his second U.S. Junior Amateur, wasted no time regaining the lead by winning Nos. 26 and 27, converting from 8 feet for birdie on the former and registering a two-putt par on the latter, a 245-yard, par-3.
Two holes later, Kim tied the match by making a 9-foot birdie and then took a 1-up lead on No. 30 by getting up and down for par. Bai had a chance to tie the hole but lipped out a 5-footer to complete a disappointing three-putt green.
But after the two tied the 31st hole, Kim squared the match with a brilliant 60-degree wedge pitch from rough short and right of the 284-yard, par-4 32nd green to 2 feet for a conceded birdie. Kim was unable to match the 3 after finding a greenside bunker off the tee.
Kim eventually took the lead for good by stuffing a 113-yard gap-wedge approach to 7 feet on the 376-yard, par-4 35th hole. After Bai missed his long birdie try, Kim calmly converted his putt.
“I had a pretty good number,” said Kim of the shot. “I just really felt comfortable with those shots all week, those little knock-down wedges. Just hit three good shots, and that's what you need to do to make a birdie. Felt really good.”
At the 557-yard, par-5 closing hole, Bai, needing a birdie to force extra holes, went for the green in two with a 3-wood. But he pushed the 250-yard shot well right and sent his third shot over the green. He would eventually concede Kim’s birdie and the match.
“Bryan is not going to make anything less than a par,” said Bai of his decision on the final hole. “He could even make birdie, so I thought I just had to give it a shot, try and get on the green, have a putt for eagle or get it close [for a birdie chance].”
With the usual match-play concessions, Kim posted a 7-under total of 137 (68-69) on the 7,184-yard, par-72 layout, while Bai registered 4-under 140 (67-73).
WHAT THE CHAMPION RECEIVES
* A gold medal.
* Custody of the U.S. Junior Amateur Trophy for one year.
* Exemptions into all future U.S. Junior Amateurs, if age-eligible.
* Exemption into the 2024 U.S. Open Championship at Pinehurst
* Exemption into the 2023 U.S. Amateur Championship at Cherry Hills
* Exemption into the 2024 U.S. Amateur Championship at Hazeltine National