The Asian Tour prodigy, already ranked inside the top 150 players in the world at just 17, belied his lack of professional experience with a round of 64 at Millbrook Resort which included an eagle and six birdies.
There were 156 professionals and 156 amateurs contest the 101st New Zealand Open played at Millbrook Resort and The Hills at Arrowtown.
“The wind was swirling all day and it was tough. But I managed myself really well and gave myself lots of good chances and made some good putts too,” Kim said.
“I’ve been very fortunate to play well and I’ve also been working very hard. It’s nice to know that I can still post a good round after a month’s break.”
Kim was looking forward to testing himself across the road at The Hills in round two.
“I just have to play without any expectations and play the way I did today. A lot will also have to depend on the wind too. I’m really enjoying myself as a professional golfer. Being only 17, traveling and playing in tournaments like the New Zealand Open, it’s really a huge honour.”
Australians Wade Ormsby, Ben Eccles and Brad Kennedy trail Kim by one shot in a share of second place.
An eagle on 17 at The Hills was the highlight of Kennedy’s round of 66, which included three bogeys in the breeze.
The experienced Kennedy, a New Zealand Open winner at Clearwater in 2011 and a runner-up at Millbrook in 2017, opted to forgo a practice round after flight delays and cancellations coming from Australia.
“It was a totally different breeze to what we are used to…a totally different golf course. Luckily I didn’t have a practice round this week so I just went on what I knew and it was a whole new experience,” he said.
“Sometimes there was four or five clubs difference between a couple of rounds last year and this year. It was fun, I even got a chance to get home in two on 17, so that was fun.”
Eccles was making the most of his opportunity after only being added to the New Zealand Open field earlier this week.
“I said to my best mate who’s caddying for me that I just want to enjoy the week whether I get in or not and we got in yesterday morning, so it’s a big bonus, and to play like I did today was just awesome.”
Ormsby was relieved to have survived the worst of the day’s conditions.
“I felt like we could have gotten the wrong side of the draw there pretty quickly so it was just a matter of hanging on early. I made some great up and downs on two and three and it was just a matter of hanging on.”
Fellow Aussies Lucas Herbert and Terry Pilkadaris and Japanese players Tatsuya Kodai and amateur Kazuki Higa share fifth place, a further shot back, while Harry Bateman is the leading New Zealander in ninth, alongside Australian Nick Flanagan.
Ryan Fox mounted an early challenge with a 31 on the back nine at The Hills, but got worn down by the wind as he battled the conditions and jet lag from a long-haul flight from Mexico.
Grinding his way to a two-under 70, the top Kiwi pro remains in contention with a probable three rounds at Millbrook Resort ahead of him.
“I don’t think I’ve had a day like that for a long time,” Fox said.
“I think we started with a pretty strong nor’easterly and when we were standing on the 15th tee it changed to a nor’westerly. When we were putting out on 14 a sign board blew over on 11. It was just a strange day.”
“I felt like I played pretty good all day. I had three bogeys in a row on the front nine and didn’t really feel like I’d done much wrong. I think I maybe started to fade a little bit mentally towards the end, which is a little bit understandable. It’s a solid start in those conditions.”
Defending champion Zach Murray also made a fast start, with three birdies in his first four holes at Millbrook Resort, before signing for a 68 which had him part of a quintet sharing 11th place.
A strategic approach by Bateman saw him finish the opening round as the leading New Zealander after carding a 67 at Millbrook Resort.
“I didn’t really put myself in trouble at any point and just lag putted really well,” he said.
The tournament continues tomorrow at Millbrook Resort and The Hills before the cut with the top 60 professionals and ties playing the final two rounds at Millbrook Resort.