The woods in Mi Hyun Kim's golf bag wear floppy Disney and Muppet head covers. A half dozen cartoon characters wear silly stares as she approaches each shot, but you will find nothing cartoonish about the way she plays the game.
The 24-year-old pro from Korea smoked the Highland Meadows course by shooting a 62 yesterday, 9-under par and just one shot off the tournament record. Se Ri Pak had a 61 in 1998 when she won her first Farr title.
Kim was the LPGA Tour's rookie of the year in 1999 when she won twice and had 12 top-10 finishes. Yesterday, she took a quantum leap up the leaderboard after starting the day at 1-over and 13 shots behind Pak. By the time Pak went to the first tee to start her day, Kim had nailed a 15-foot birdie putt on No.18 to complete what would be the day's best round.
She started her day with her only bogey, then made four birdies on the front to go out in 31. Her back nine featured six birdies on the final seven holes for a 6-under 31.
Kim said her inspiration for the near-record round came as she watched television after Saturday's round, and saw Tiger Woods yo-yo through his 18 holes at the PGA's Western Open.
“Yesterday I watched Tiger on TV and he would make bogey then an eagle, a bogey then birdie, but he didn't give up on his round,” Kim said. “At that time I decided I shouldn't give up the game out here today.”
Kim, who finished tied for seventh in her only previous Farr appearance in 1999, said she had used a somewhat reserved approach to playing the Highland Meadows layout until yesterday's round.
“Since this is just my second time, I'm not very familiar with this course and I don't have a lot of confidence out there,” she said. “Before this tournament, if I didn't play very well in the first three rounds, I would give up. But today, since I was not close to the leaders, I just decided to play aggressive.”
Defending Farr champion Annika Sorenstam was Kim's playing partner for the final round, and the top money winner on the tour this year was impressed with the way Kim attacked the course.
“She played extremely well on the front and made some great putts, and I think that got her going,” Sorenstam said. “It was fun to see.”
Kim finished in a five-way tie for ninth place, earning $19,625. She is now 11th on this year's money list with $434,800.
Kim said she was aware that Pak's course record was within range as she moved through the final holes.
“I knew I was close to the course record, but I tried not to think about it too much,” she said. “I was just out there enjoying every shot. I made some birdies on putts that were quite short, and some others that were quite long, but I can't remember them all.”
That's the problem every golfer wants - not being to remember all the birdies.
CLASS ACT: LPGA legend Nancy Lopez was in the first group to tee off at Highland Meadows yesterday morning, and she was 18 shots behind the leader. But her score and her absence from the leaderboard did not diminish the size of the gallery tracking every move Lopez made.
“I'd like to be playing a little later in the day, playing for the lead, but it is pretty special to see all of this support when you're back in the field,” Lopez said. “I'm getting a little older these days, and not up there as much as I'd like to be, but the recognition from the fans never seems to waver.”
Lopez was in decent position after shooting 72-71 in the first two rounds, but a 76 on Saturday put her at 6-over and out of the hunt. She drew the 9:03 tee time with unknown Nan Kyong Ha of South Korea, but still had plenty of fans.
“I'm not surprised, because the people here have always been so terrific to me,” Lopez said. “Ever since I first came out here, I've tried to be the best representative of the LPGA I can be, and promote the tour everywhere. I like seeing the people, talking with them, and signing autographs. That contact, that closeness is very important. We should never be turning people away - that's not the LPGA way.”
AMATEUR TRADITION: Aree Song Wongluekiet's final-round 70, 1-under par, closed the most recent chapter on the Farr Classic's commitment to spotlighting top amateur golfers.
The tradition began in 1984, the tournament's first year, when current LPGA Tour star Meg Mallon played in the Farr as an amateur. Since then, the roll call has included future pros Vicki Goetze, Grace Park, Beth Bauer, Emilee Klein, Kellee Booth and Amy Langhals, among others.
“Our board looks at our two sponsor exemptions as a way to showcase some of the best amateur golfers in the country, “ tournament director Judd Silverman said. “The Wongluekiet twins (Aree's sister, Naree, did not make the cut) are the youngest players we've ever invited, but since it was summer and school was out, we felt their record justified this.”
Aree said she wished she would have putted a little better, but that she enjoyed the large crowds at Highland Meadows and the opportunity to play in the Farr.
“It means a lot,” she said. “We can only get four (sponsor exemptions) a year and every time I get a chance like this I'm really honored that somebody wants me to play. I'm only an amateur, so I'm really grateful.”
Aree finished at 1-over-par 285.
EAGLE FLIES: Luciana Bemvenuti stood over her final shot for quite awhile yesterday, but made it worth the wait by knocking her 102-yard approach to the par-5, 18th green shot into the cup for an eagle.
“I was waiting for the wind to die down,” she said after closing with a 1-under 70 for a 285 total. “It was pretty much the exact yardage for my pitching wedge, but the wind was in my face and I didn't know if I could get it all the way back to the pin. So I waited to see if it would let up a little.”
It did, and Bemvenuti hit a shot that landed 15 feet below the hole, took a large hop to a couple inches right of the cup, then spun and nose-dived into the jar, drawing a huge roar from the gallery.
“Oh, absolutely, that's a thrill,” she said. “It would be nice to say we made shots like that all the time, but if I do it once a year I'm excited.”
DUNN DEAL: Moira Dunn enjoyed her best finish of the season, shooting a 3-under 68 yesterday to tie for fifth.
Dunn earned $33,463 after forging a tie with Laura Diaz, Meg Mallon and Kris Tschetter at 10-under 274.
“I had four birdies and a bogey - I can't complain too much,” Dunn said. “I kind of knew I was going to have to shoot low today to be in contention. I got it going OK, but I never got it going great.”
Dunn had earned $59,263 in 15 events entering the Farr Classic, which ranked her 81st on the money list.
Her best finish prior to yesterday was a tie for 20th at the LPGA Corning Classic. She also had tied for 25th at last weekend's ShopRite LPGA Classic.
“I hit it good last week and I hit it good this week,” she said. “I'm taking next week off. Hopefully, I play good again in two weeks.”
TOP 10: Laura Diaz remained 10th on the money list with $470,987 after shooting a final-round 4-under 67 to finish in a four-way tie for fifth.
Diaz earned $33,463. She has five top-10 finishes in 18 events this year.
“I shot 4-under today and had one bogey,” Diaz said. “It was a good day, and a good week.”
FINAL STATS: The par-5, 513-yard 17th hole at Highland Meadows ranked the easiest through four rounds, playing to a 4.751 average.
There were 30 birdies at No.17 yesterday to go along with 43 pars and four bogeys. For the tournament, there was one eagle, 142 birdies, 265 pars and 34 bogeys.
Meanwhile, the par-4, 347-yard first hole ranked the toughest hole through four rounds, playing to a 4.217 average.
There were only nine birdies yesterday, 57 pars and 11 bogeys. For the tournament, there were 50 birdies, 265 pars, 112 bogeys, 11 double bogeys and four others at No1.
LAST ROUND: The Farr Classic will soon lose its No.2 administrator, tournament coordinator Kris Euliano. She will be married in December and will move to West Palm Beach, Fla., with new husband Bob Rodgers, who runs a golf-related business.
Euliano joined the Farr Classic as an intern in 1990, was hired to a full-time slot in '92 and has been in her current position for seven years. She oversees all operations, including volunteer committees, special events and finances.
“I've fallen in love with this tournament and today is going to be extremely hard,” she said yesterday morning. “I think I've cried, literally, every morning this week when I reached the course. I have something exciting to look forward to, but this tournament is all I've ever known, professionally.”
Tournament director Judd Silverman praised Euliano's “bright mind, creativity and dedication. Kris has played a tremendous role in the growth and success of this event and has been a great friend to everyone associated with our tournament.”
Blade sports writers Matt Markey, Dave Hackenberg and Ron Musselman contributed to this report.