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17-year-old Si Woo Kim makes the grade at Mid-Atlantic Championship

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Sports,Golf,Kevin Dunleavy

17-year-old shoots a 65 to tie for Day One lead

Finishing tied for 20th at Q-School in December earned South Korea's Si Woo Kim his PGA Tour card. Just one problem: He's not old enough to use it.

Because Kim doesn't turn 18 until June 28, he is barred from automatic entry. The only way to get into tournaments is through sponsor's exemptions or Monday qualifiers.

Shooting a 66 at Northwest Golf Course was Kim's route to the Mid-Atlantic Championship. Thursday at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, Kim continued his hot play on a much more difficult course, shooting a 5-under 65 to tie for the lead with PGA Tour veteran Tim Petrovic.

Petrovic, 46, joked that when he was 17, the highlight of his year was playing in the Greater Hartford Open and getting his picture taken with two Masters champions -- Craig Stadler and Ben Crenshaw.

"That's what I was doing when I was 17," Petrovic said with a smile.

Before this week, Kim had received sponsor's exemptions to two PGA Tour events and Monday qualified for two other Web.com tournaments. But Thursday was the first time Kim ever broke 70 on either tour. Now, barring disaster on Friday, he will make his first cut as a professional.

On the course that played the second toughest on the Web.com Tour last year, Kim cruised his way around with six birdies and one bogey. He missed just one fairway, birdied both par-5s in routine fashion and finished with a stylish birdie, ripping an 8-iron tee-shot to the 201-yard downhill 9th green and then making the 6-foot putt.

"I was able to hit a lot of greens and attack pins," Kim said through Web.com Tour player and fellow South Korean Bio Kim, who served as interpreter. "I don't feel like I'm that great of a putter. I felt like I could have made a lot [more] putts."

Kim played in the morning, avoiding some of the oppressive humidity and 90-degree heat until a mid-afternoon shower cooled off the course, followed by a one-hour delay due to the threat of lightning.

Kim, a solidly-built 5-foot-9, 182-pounder, said Thursday that when he entered the PGA Tour Qualifying tournament last fall, he was unaware of the age restriction, only learning of it after the third round of the final stage.

"I probably would have tried it even if I found out there was an age issue," Kim said. "I don't think it's unfair. I was just a little disappointed to find it out later."

Call it the Ty Tryon rule. In 2001, the North Carolina teen became the youngest player in history to make the tour via Q-School. He signed a multi-million dollar endorsement deal with equipment manufacturer Callaway but failed miserably, making the cut in only five of 27 PGA events the next two years, becoming a cautionary tale before his 20th birthday.

It remains to be seen whether Kim is making the same mistake. After Q-School, he moved with his parents from Seoul to Fullerton, Calif., and essentially became a full-time golfer. He said he has yet to get his high school diploma.

Thursday at Avenel, however, Kim made the grade.

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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