Korean Open qualifiers make history by qualifying for The Open
First Korean Open qualifiers progress to Royal Birkdale.
Homegrown stars Yikeun Chang and Giwhan Kim created history in the Kolon Korean Open on Sunday, becoming the first players to qualify for The 146th Open at Royal Birkdale via their national championship following a final day of high drama.
This year’s Kolon Korean Open was the first time that the chance to play in golf’s most international Major championship was on offer to the players in the starting field.
Chang and Kim finished the final round at Woo Jeong Hills Country Club tied for first place on seven-under-par, a total of 277, guaranteeing themselves a place in The Open before they contested a three-hole play-off. Chang prevailed, playing the 16th, 17th and 18th holes in one-over-par, two strokes ahead of Kim.
First played in 1958, the Korean Open has a storied history with past winners including this year’s Masters champion Sergio Garcia, who won in 2002, followed by the 1995 Champion Golfer of the Year John Daly a year later.
Kim held a two-shot advantage over the field heading into the final round, but when he dropped five shots in six holes around the turn, his chance appeared to have gone.
Chang – joint second at the start of the day – looked set to capitalise before enduring a rollercoaster finish which saw him complete the final seven holes in level-par despite not recording one par.
Two bogeys and a double bogey in the first four holes of that stretch seemed to have doomed his hopes, but he closed out regulation play with three straight birdies to set a target which Kim matched when he also bounced back from adversity to birdie the final two holes.
Chang was relieved after completing victory. He said, “I made a mistake at the 14th hole that led to a double bogey. However, I thought that there were many holes left and I tried to think as positively as possible. It’s great to get the win.”
The 23-year-old turned professional in January last year and by the end of the month had won the Asian Tour Qualifying School.
His rookie year was a struggle, but he had already given warning of his talent when, as an amateur, he was second after 54 holes of his first two starts in professional events, the 2014 China Masters and Korean Open, before sliding backwards on the final day.
Sunday’s win lifts him inside the world’s top 500 for the first time in his career and allows him to plan his Major championship debut at Royal Birkdale.
Fellow 23-year-old Kim also plays on the Asian Tour, although he has been unable to stay inside the top 60 of the season’s ranking since a career-best 18th in 2013.
He said, “Although I did not win the championship, I am content to compete without giving up until the end. When I get another chance next time I will end up winning.”
A first professional win may have narrowly eluded him, but he has the consolation of a debut appearance at The Open to look forward to in July.
The two join five other players from Korea in this year’s Championship, including Byeong Hun An, Si-Woo Kim, Younghan Song, Jeunghun Wang and Hyung-Tae Kim.