124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

The Loop

Masters decisions

BREMERTON, WASH.—Admittedly we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Still, with the field at the 81st U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship now down to eight (here is a glimpse at the quarterfinalists), and soon-to-be professional Anthony Kim the favorite, the question emerges: if the 21-year-old three-time All-American at Oklahoma should win this thing and receive the accompanying invitation to play in the Masters, does he stay amateur and accept it or continue with his idea of making his play-for-pay debut after next month’s U.S. Amateur?

The answer seems obviously, of course, at least to any golf-crazy fan who sees Augusta National as the holy land: Be a good boy, Anthony, head back to Norman, Okla., for your senior year of college. (Heaven forbid being a senior on a college campus!) While there, stay on the straight and narrow and you’re likely to be a player-of-the-year candidate and have other chances at other accolades that could help increase your stock even further.

Step back for a moment though and understand why Kim told me a few days ago when he announced he was going to turn pro, and why he told the local media here the same thing yesterday, that the decision is not so clear cut. It literally requires putting his life on hold for nine months, an eternity for a college student, particularly one who sees many of his friends out there right now heading to the pro ranks and feels he has as good a shot as any to earn a PGA Tour card this fall at Q school.

He’s not the only one who believes that as well; talk to college coaches and other golf cognoscenti and they suggest he’s the most talented player of any coming out of college this year and should have the easiest time making the jump to the pro level. Unlike many of today’s young players, Kim not only bombs the ball 320-plus yards off the tee but he has a pretty strong short game, giving him a more solid platform to gain his PGA Tour card.

A few years back, Brandt Snedeker faced the same situation when he won the 2003 PubLinks. Even worse for Snedeker was the fact he has already finished up school at Vanderbilt and had no place to go back to in the fall. He stayed amateur and reveled in the experience at the Masters, but you could argue that his momentum was halted by the decision to remain an amateur and that if he made the jump immediately after winning the APL he might be on the PGA Tour now rather than still on the Nationwide Tour.

The real issue, I believe, is that mentally Kim has checked out of college and the actual thought of returning to Norman would become difficult for everyone. Kim wouldn’t really want to be there and likely would be going through the motions. It’s not a knock on Kim here, it’s just that keeping someone truly interested in playing the Jerry Pate Collegiate—or practicing to play in the Jerry Pate Collegiate—when he thinks he should be teeing it up on the tour would be tough for anyone.

Having not asked Kim about this scenario just yet, here is what I could see happening if he were to win: Kim would remain an amateur this fall, but not return to college. He then enters PGA Tour Q school as an amateur and if he were to advance to the final stage and guarantee himself some type of status on the Nationwide Tour, he would turn pro and forego the Masters invite. At least then, there is a real justification for an RSVP in the negative to the folks at Augusta National; having a place to play year round might just be more important than having a place to play the first week in April.