Sim revels in strong Nationwide play

Golfer faring well in Raleigh event

Staff WriterMay 29, 2009 

— Michael Sim hasn't spent much time investigating why he's playing such spectacular golf.

"I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing," said Sim, a 24-year-old Nationwide Tour golfer who over the past four months has found the swing, distance, touch, consistency and luck some golfers search for their entire careers and never locate.

"It's definitely the best golf I've played in my career," Sim said on Thursday after shooting a 5-under-par 66 on the first day of play at the Rex Hospital Open.

Sim, tied with four others, sits two shots back of clubhouse leaders Josh Broadaway, Jeff Gallagher and Bradley Iles, who shot 64s in navigating the rain-soaked course at TPC Wakefield Plantation.

A 1-hour, 45-minute rain delay lengthened afternoon rounds, and later inclement weather forced play to be suspended.

Four players are tied for fourth at 6-under.

Those leaders and the rest of the 156-player field will have to brace for possible rainstorms today and wet conditions.

Brimming with confidence, Sim enters the Open as one of the hottest golfers in the world and the current money leader on the Nationwide Tour.

In his past three starts, he has won two tournaments and finished second in a third. In seven starts this year, he has made six cuts and finished in the top 10 five times, earning $367,417.

Since March, he has moved from No. 229 to No. 94 in the World Golf Rankings, and he is believed to be the first full-time Nationwide Tour player to break the top 100.

With one more Nationwide Tour victory, Sim will earn an immediate berth on the PGA Tour. It's a rare feat players call a battlefield promotion.

Though other players aren't rooting Sim on, they are aware of his accomplishments. They respect his efforts, considering the odds of winning three events in a 29-tournament season.

"There is an absolute respect for winning tournaments," said Patrick Sheehan, who defeated Sim in a playoff at the Athens (Ga.) Regional Foundation Classic in April. He needed a 22-foot putt to hold off Sim.

Sheehan, who has conditional PGA Tour status, understands the pressure Sim is facing as he tries to move to the next level where the stakes are higher and paydays larger.

"You don't want to get ahead of yourself thinking about rounds in front of you," Sheehan said. "Hopefully, he's not thinking about it."

On the Nationwide Tour, the top 25 players at the end of the season earn their PGA Tour cards. With his start, Sim is in good position to make that list.

Still, it's hard not to think about winning and moving on faster.

"It's awfully hard to put it aside because I am close," he said. "I've tried to not think about it. It would be really nice to get another win and play the next five months on the PGA Tour."

Sim's past may be what keeps him from focusing on the future. In 2006, he earned his way on to the PGA Tour after finishing 22nd on the Nationwide Tour.

Yet before he could showcase his silky iron game, a stress fracture in his spine derailed his dreams for nearly two seasons. He made 17 starts in 2007 and struggled through seven starts in 2008.

The injury proved to be temporary. Soon, after retreating to his Perth, Australia, residence, he was back showing off his draw and fade shot-making skills.

"That's a big part of growing up in Australia," he said. "It's always windy down there, and the greens are always firm."

This week, Sim has found the wet, slow conditions different from home, but regardless he wants to continue his splendid play. To care for his back, which he said hasn't bothered him this year, he maintains a strict stretching routine that focuses on maintaining flexibility and building abdominal strength.

On Thursday, he made five birdies and 13 pars, moving along the 7,257-yard course with few hiccups.

"Best thing he can do is stay out of his own way," Sheehan said.

Sim's recognizes good advice. That's why he's not searching for answers for his recent success.

robinson@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4781

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