Seven-year-old Duk Koo Kim is accustomed to getting smiles when people meet him. That comes from being named after boxing legend Duk Koo Kim, a fighter who died in the ring in a championship fight, and whom Koreans still revere.
"From his conception, my son has been groomed for greatness as a golfer," said Kim's mother, Ha Ri-su Lee. "By giving him this honored name, we have demanded upon him that he be willing to die on the golf course. Anything less would be humiliation."
It's on the golf course that those smiles turn to looks of awe. Still six months from his eighth birthday, Duk Koo Kim is already being called the greatest golfer in Korean history.
Sports broadcaster Marv Albert was one of a handful of journalists flown to South Korea earlier this week to watch young Kim hit a variety of shots and play nine full holes at his home course. Albert, like all others in attendance, came away mesmerized.
"The speed he can generate is mind-boggling," said Albert. "Watching Duk Koo hit the ball was the most amazing thing I've seen in my life. And I've had charges filed against me for felonious back-biting, so that's saying something."
At roughly 4-foot-7 in height and tipping the scales at 79 pounds, Duk Koo Kim hardly looks the fiercely dedicated golfer he is. His smiling face and pleasing demeanor belie the 17-hour training sessions his mother often puts him through.
"Golf is everything, and most important thing in world," Kim in broken English. "Want to PlayStation?"
Kim shot his lifetime best round of 64 at the Anyang Benest Golf Club in Kunpo-Shi at the age of seven years, 103 days. But what really catapulted the youngster to attention was his performance in the 2005 Shinhan Korea Golf Championship.
Playing alongside Colin Montgomerie, Kim shot an astounding 66 that included four birdies and an eagle, leaving the gallery thrilled.
When he reached the tent to sign his card, however, it was discovered that Kim hadn't actually been entered in the tournament; his mother had snuck him on the course, and no one seemed to mind.
Many, including Montgomerie, call the story a hoax. "I think I would have noticed a little Korean kid stringing together birdies," said the Scot, who shot a 74 and was reportedly out driven by Kim on every hole.
Others swear they were in the gallery that day and saw Kim's performance.
"It was, like, wow, dude," said actor Matthew McConaughey. "Little dude was like, hitting the ball way the heck out there. It was sweet."
Having lost his father in a fluke pachinko accident while he was still in diapers (and already driving 175 yards), Duk Koo Kim has a strong relationship with his mother. Nonetheless, Ha Ri-su Lee has been accused by many of being an insane maniac.
The most frequently cited example of Lee's erratic behavior occurred when Tiger Woods called Kim to offer his encouragement and support. Lee immediately hung up on the world's No. 1 golfer.
"Tiger Woods? Why do we care about Tiger Woods," Lee said. "We have no time for stupid things like speak with Tiger Woods. We only practice, we only win. Golf is not about talk."
Others have alleged that Lee put her young son on a strict diet of steroids and human growth hormones.
According to South Korea Tonight, popular, cherubic actress Lee Young-Ae recently invited the young Kim to her home for a publicity photo shoot and took up his cause.
"He went swimming at my home and his back is just covered in acne," Young-Ae said. "Then he'd completely lose his temper over the type of pool toys we had. He was terrifying. I believe his only hope for salvation is for his mother to be killed by the government."
The South Korean government refused to comment regarding whether it plans to put Ha Ri-su Lee to death, but observers say any punishment is unlikely, as she is privately credited with her son's undeniable success.
"Sure, the 'roids give him about 100 extra yards off the tee," said Mark O'Meara. "But his golf IQ is just off the charts. I really think I could win a couple more majors if he'd let me be his mentor on the tour."
The PGA Tour has reportedly reached an agreement for the 7-year-old superstar to make his tour debut Sept. 21 at the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio. PGA officials have thus far declined to comment. Critics characterize the reported deal as rank exploitation, but some say bringing Kim on the tour will be good for the game.
"If the kid's as good as they say he is, we'll have him on TV every week," said an NBC official who requested anonymity. "We'd even consider giving him his own variety or talk show."
Kim is also being pursued by Nike for an endorsement deal. He and his mother are said to have already signed a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal with OshKosh B'Gosh.
Although Lee, who harbors a palpable and frequently profane hatred for the media, has been cagey about revealing too much about her son's career, the name Duk Koo Kim seems certain to explode upon the U.S. golf psyche. Whether the U.S. golf psyche is ready for him remains to be seen, but according to Young-Ae, the young Kim himself is ready for anything.
"He is a well-mannered, curious and happy little boy who makes friends with everyone he meets," she said. "His main flaw is his mother. She must die. And the back acne. That's just gross."
Name: Duk Koo Kim
Best score: 64
Longest drive: 347 yards
April 1, 2006
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