Kim's fortunes on upswing
South Korean starts with a 64 in Thailand Open, credits new swing
South Korean Kim Hyung-tae credited a change of swing two weeks ago for a brilliant eight-under 64 and the clubhouse lead following his opening round in the U.S. $1 million Thailand Open at Suwan Golf & Country club yesterday.
Kim, whose best result on OneAsia was runner-up in the Luxehills Chengdu Open in 2010 following a play-off with China's Liang Wenchong, fired nine birdies and a bogey around the 7,077 yard (6,471 metre) course to ignite a season spent mostly scrambling on the Japan Tour.
"I wasn't happy with my swing, so I decided to make a few changes," Kim said after his round. "It was just a slight change to the plane, so now I am getting more of a draw that gives me more distance," he said.
Kim, whose ding-dong battle with Liang at Luxehills that day forged a friendship they have sustained, said the extra distance was allowing him to attack the pins with shorter irons, leaving him with more birdie opportunities.
"I didn't use a coach for the change," he said. "It was a feeling I had, and the first time I tried it on the course two weeks ago it worked well. This is the second time and it is still working well."
Kim spent two weeks at Liang's home in China earlier this year, "hanging out" and giving each other tips. "It would be great to play together with him," he said. "We practice together a lot in Japan. We are good friends and enjoy playing together."
Liang, winner of the Thailand Open two years ago when he went on to win the OneAsia Order of Merit, is well in the hunt after finishing a shot behind Kim yesterday with a 65.
"Kim Hyung-tae is my friend and we practised golf together at my home course at Zhongshan Spring Golf Club in February this year," Liang said. "I hope we can play in the same group again this week."
Kim, a regular on the Japan Tour when he is not playing Onesia events, proposed to his now-wife, Byun Hee-jin, during the presentation ceremony after winning a Korean event in 2006.
She regularly accompanies him on tour and was greenside on yesterday as her husband birdied the last, breaking into delighted applause as the ball rattled into the cup.
Fung and Chia dazzle
The Malaysian duo of Nicholas Fung and Danny Chia are riding high in the Thailand Open after sizzling in the first round.
Young gun Fung and his more experienced countryman Chia shot 66 and 67 respectively yesterday to sit comfortably in the top-10 after the morning session.
Fung has been in good form coming into the tournament and kept the momentum going with a bogey-free round. "I hit my irons so well today - I am really pleased," said the 22-year-old Fung, who was second in the Bii Maybank ADT Challenge in Indonesia last month. "I just missed one green and had 28 putts and that was reflected in my score."
Fung, who is in his third season on OneAsia, shot 65 in the final round of last year's Thailand Open to finish 24th and said familiarity with the course had helped boost his confidence.
"Because of how I played last year, I had a lot of confidence coming into the tournament," said Fung, who receives regular starts on OneAsia after finishing second in the Asean PGA Tour money-list last year.
He placed 62nd on the OneAsia Order of Merit last year with winnings of $26,323 and is looking for a top-50 finish this year to keep his card.
Chia is playing the Thailand Open on an invitation and Malaysia's leading player was pleased with his opening round despite dropping shots at the ninth and 18th.
The highlight was an eagle at the par-five second (his 11th hole of the day) where he drained a 40-foot putt.
Chia credited a recent upswing in his form to coaching lessons from Steven Giuliano at The Mines Resort & Golf Club in Kuala Lumpur.
Chia could be fined US$10,000 by the Asian Tour for playing the OneAsia Thailand Open this week, but has no regrets about his decision.
"We make a living from our own individual efforts, that is what professional means," he said.
"I would like to be loyal to the Asian Tour...but there has been no tournament on the Asian Tour for a month already and I was offered an invitation for this $1 million event. It is a bit hard to say no."