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Rancho Santa Fe Sports

Jay Paris: Kim makes the turn from amateur to pro

The greeting was unusual, this early in the golf year.

Michael Kim crossed paths Tuesday with Nicholas Thompson on the Torrey Pines driving range, but they didn’t inquire about each others’ families.

Instead, Thompson wanted to know.

“Did you turn?’’ Thompson ask.

Kim’s smile, which still shows braces, gave the answer.

“Good luck,’’ Thompson replied.

For Kim, 20, it’s good bye to the University of California and hello to cashing checks.

The former Torrey Pines High standout ditched his amateur status in December after playing well enough at the Q School to earn partial status on the pro tours. He makes his debut at this week’s Farmers Insurance Open on a sponsor’s exemption.

Kim is new to the payouts but not this layout. Some 100 times Kim has toured the Torrey Pines North and South courses, often following big events.

“After the U.S. Open or even the Farmers, just playing the golf course right after and then, you know, hitting the putts that Tiger (Woods) did to win the tournament,’’ Kim said.

Did he sink them?

“I made a couple but not all,’’ Kim said, and there flashed that grin again.

That Kim bolted from Cal isn’t shocking. Not after collecting the College Player of the Year award with a school-record four individual medalist titles and two runner-ups. He led the Bears to 12 wins in 14 stroke-play events, then he really got hot.

At last summer’s U.S. Open, Kim rose to No. 3 in the third round before finishing tied for 17th as the low amateur. He later tied for 39th at the Greenbrier Classic.

“Right after Q School ended, I thought real hard about it and it just seemed like it was the right time to move on,’’ Kim said. “I felt like I’ve accomplished as much as I can throughout my amateur and college career. That phone call I had to make to both my coaches and the guys on the team was probably the hardest phone call I’ve ever had to make.’’

When Cal golf coach Steve Desimone heard the ring and saw the caller ID, he realized what was next: his rising star was headed to another galaxy.

‘‘We knew this was a possibility as last year unfolded,’’ Desimone told The San Francisco Chronicle. ‘‘At some point, Michael was going to make this move. We wish him all the best – he was a great Golden Bear and always will be.’’

Now Kim just has to be great, starting now. The FIO field features 20 of world’s top 50 golfers, including the No. 1-ranked and seven-time champion Woods, and Rancho Santa Fe’s Phil Mickelson (No. 4), a three-time winner.

Kim doesn’t expect to push those two. If he’s still swinging come the weekend, that’s a slice of golf heaven for this local kid done good.

“I’ve noticed I play my best when I don’t have too many expectations on myself and just feel relaxed out there,’’ Kim said. “Hopefully I make the cut, but that’s about it. I’m just going out there to have fun and be relaxed.’’

Being long would be a surprise. At 5-foot-11, 150 pounds, Kim’s short game is where he scores. Which means he’ll be challenged, especially on the South’s lengthy holes.

“I’m not the longest guy out there,’’ Kim said. “(Nos.) 11, 12, 4, 7 here, they’re all pretty long holes, but I just feel really comfortable out there knowing I’ve played probably this golf course more than anybody out here.

“It is long and I’ll probably have hybrids and maybe 3‑wood into some of the greens. I’ve played that way my entire career, even in college. It’s probably not the best golf course for me, but I still feel really comfortable out there.’’

But Kim can get cozy in his Carmel Valley bed, with his head hitting the pillow after realizing he’s living his dreams with his eyes open.

“They say the U.S. Open is the toughest tournament to win or the toughest tournament or golf course,’’ he said. “I know it’s probably not going to be a much bigger stage than that or a bigger tournament. I’m just trying to stay relaxed and take it as any other tournament that I’ve played in. I’m sure I’ll be nervous on that first tee, but it will be a good nervous thing.

“To be out here with like guys like Tiger and Phil is pretty surreal.’’

 Jay Paris can be heard talking Chargers football on 1090 AM on Monday and Friday mornings. He’s also the Thursday morning co-host of “Hacksaw and Company.” He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @jparis_sports.