Young Local Wonder Makes PGA Debut at Kemper

Young Local Wonder Makes PGA Debut at Kemper

Charles Hong, 21, walked onto the ninth green of the Kemper Open, smiled and waved to the 20 local fans who walked 18-holes and seven miles with him during Friday's second round.

"The local crowd is unbelievable. They were here both days with me. I appreciate that. They stuck with me," said Hong, 21, who graduated from Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda in 2000.

Hong made his Professional Golf Association debut at the 200 Kemper Open, which is played at the Tournament Players Club at Avenel in Potomac on Thursday, May 30 through Sunday, June 2.

"It was unbelievable, I got here in the morning. Mark Calcavecchia was right in front of me. Greg Norman was standing behind me. I lost it for a while," said Hong, the 1998 Kemper Open junior shootout champion.

ALTHOUGH HONG did not make the cut after the first two days of the Kemper Open — of the 156 golfers who started the tournament, only the top 70 players and those tied with the 70th player make the cut and play the last two days — Hong birdied two of his final three holes to finish the second round with a 74, three-over par for the day.

"I'll take a 74 this time, next time I want to do better than 74," said Hong, who said he couldn't sleep the night before Thursdays' start to the tournament.

Before falling asleep, Hong stayed up playing video games for a while. He awoke for his 5:30 a.m., nine-hole practice round before his 8:45 tee time, which was delayed approximately 45 minutes because of early morning fog on the course.

Hong finished Friday on the front-nine of the Avenel course with and two birdies, six pars and one bogey. He was four-over par on the back- nine.

The day before Hong finished with a nine-over-par 80, which included two double bogeys on holes 16 and 17. "He got a lot of confidence going and got in the groove swinging," said caddie Tom Brewster, of Hong's finish to his first PGA event. Brewster introduced himself to Hong on Wednesday in the TPC at Avenel parking lot.

HONG FINISHED the two days with a 12-under-par 154; he was joined by previous Kemper Open champions Tom Lehman, Frank Lickliter II, and Tom Scherrer — as well as Fred Funk and Casey Martin — all of whom failed to make the cut.

"He hit some good shots early and then he got some back breaks. For his first PGA event — if you miss a few shots its going to be tough. Overall, he did very well," said Tripp Isenhour, a PGA TOUR player who was paired with Hong and PGA TOUR player Bart Bryant the first two days.

EVEN THOUGH Hong thinks he played "terribly" the first day, his three-over-par 74 second round:

* Tied Greg Norman's third round and Frank Langham's fourth round. Norman and Langham each earned $65,520 for finishing tied for 13th place with three other golfers.

* Tied Jay Williamson's fourth-round. Williamson earned $93,6000.

* Beat Andrew Magee's fourth round (75) and Bob May's fourth-round (76). Each earned $46,944.

"I played terrible but it's okay. This is amazing. I loved it," said Hong, after he finished the first round on Thursday. Hong did not earn any money since he didn't make the cut. "I've been here watching behind the ropes, now I was here."

HONG QUALIFIED to play in his first PGA TOUR event at the Kemper Open last week by setting a course record 7-under-par 65 at the Kemper Open qualifier at Little Bennett Golf Course in Clarksburg on Tuesday, May 28. He finished first out of the 94 people who attempted to qualify for the Kemper Open.

The Kemper Open reserves four spots for the qualifying tournament each year, which is basically open to golfers who pay a fee to the Mid-Atlantic Professional Golf Association although amateurs most likely need a certain handicap to participate, according to Brian Bishop, spokesperson for the Kemper Open.

On the first tee of the Kemper Open on Thursday, Hong was introduced by one of the course marshals. "From Bethesda, Maryland, let's all welcome Charles Hong."

Even after playing golf since he was eight years old in Korea, first-tee jitters didn't escape Hong, who moved to Bethesda for high school after coming to America in the seventh grade to develop his game at the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy in Orlando, Fla.

"I kind of lost it, I couldn't come back. It's so scary out there. The first shot was the scariest moment. I'm glad it went straight," said Hong, the Maryland state public school golf champion in 1996 and the state-runner up in 1997, 1998 and 1999.

Hong finished his high school career with his teammates by winning the 1999 public school golf championship by 55 strokes.

FINISHING STRONG at the Kemper Open was important to Hong, who currently lives in Orlando, Fla., but will reside in Bethesda with his parents for the summer.

On the second day, Hong birdied the seventh hole on a 25-foot putt.

"I never thought it would get there," said Hong, who then drove his tee shot on Hole Nine approximately four feet away from a hole-in-one.

"I wanted to mark something before I left," said Hong who birdied the hole to the cheers of his friends and past teammates at Whitman, his mother and father Song and Soon Hong, and a number of other local fans.