CHARLOTTE, NC — It’s early Thursday afternoon at the Quail Hollow practice range, and Tom Kim is doing some jumping jacks.
It’s not clear Why he does jumping jacks. It’s warmed up for the better part of an hour now, and energy hasn’t been an issue. Kim, the self-proclaimed “jokester” of the international team, has been bouncing off the walls since hitting the practice field, exchanging enthusiastic laughs and handshakes with all who listen. Assistant captain KJ Choi stopped by in order to imbibe some final words of wisdom. He walked away from Kim laughing. Then came assistant captain Camilo Villegas. Same result.
Apart from the jumping jacks, the warm-up is impeccable. Kim has a beautiful and simple swing. Its blade slices the ground with grace and enthusiasm. Its buttery cups could be served on sourdough.
You don’t have to watch Tom Kim play golf for more than a few minutes to realize that he is destined to become a superstar in today’s world of professional golf. His skills are too prodigious, his energy too contagious.
“Do you already SENSE it? He half shouts at his new caddie, Joe Skovron, who can barely hold back a laugh.
In a few minutes, Kim will start the third game of the Presidents Cup alongside fellow Korean, KH Lee. Among casual golf fans, the Presidents Cup is Kim’s first opportunity to write down her legacy. The youngest of eight rookies competing for Internationals against a heavily favored USA team, Kim could push his way into golf consciousness this week. It’s a huge opportunity and nobody, not even Kim himself, knows how he will react. Very soon now he will have an answer.
But first, he does 15 more jumping jacks.
The arrival of Tom Kim is still a shock.
Not just at the Presidents Cup, where the daring 20-year-old quickly found himself a fixture in the international team. On the PGA Tour.
Most fans can’t remember the first time they met Tom Kim. It’s hard to blame them. When Kim walked into the press conference that marked his unofficial arrival in professional golf, he was far from the source of the plot.
“We are making the Asian Tour a powerful new force on the global golf stage,” Greg Norman, CEO of LIV Golf Investments, said today, announcing a $300 million investment in the tour on behalf of the Fund. of Saudi public investment. Later, it would become clear that LIV’s interest in the tour was primarily driven by her hopes of creating a rival golf league, using the guaranteed Asian Tour world ranking points presented to mitigate risk for the best. golf players.
Tom – a name he adopted from his “Joohyung” after the children’s character “Thomas the Tank Engine” – sat directly to Norman’s left during the press conference, but he didn’t didn’t have much to say.
“I think I was there because I just won the Order of Merit on the Asian tour,” he says now. “It was kind of a position I had to fill.”
As the multicultural and deeply talented face of the Asian tour, many thought Kim was the rival league’s top target. He won’t say if he received an offer from Norman, but his presence in Quail Hollow fills many voids.
“I always knew I wanted to play on the PGA Tour. That was my main goal,” Kim said Tuesday. “To be honest, [at the time of the press conference] I had no status, whether it was the Korn Ferry Tour or the PGA Tour. It’s a crazy U-turn for me.
A half-turn that brought him to the Presidents Cup after less than six months on the PGA Tour. Of course, part of that is down to an international squad plagued by defections to LIV, including players like the world number one. 1 Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann in the days leading up to the rosters being finalized. But Kim himself deserves some credit after a rookie season that saw him finish in the top 25 at the US Open, a third-place finish at the Scottish Open and, most notably, a late win. season at the Wyndham Championship. Just weeks after Kim was granted full status for the 2023 Tour season in Greensboro, he blasted his way into a Presidents Cup where, at age 20, he became the youngest player in either the other of the formations.
“For a guy like Tom Kim to hang out with Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama in the squad room last night, I mean, I wish you could have seen the kid’s face,” he said. said international team captain Trevor Immelman. “It was just pure joy, excitement and anticipation for the week.”
“I can’t put into words, really, how pumped I am,” he said Tuesday, a bewildered smile forming on his face. “I’ve always dreamed of throwing crazy punches because it’s match play. So I’m really looking forward to it.”
It’s hard to pinpoint when Tom the Tank Engine took over Presidents Cup week, but there’s no doubt that it happened.
The 20-year-old is a hot topic in Charlotte, both among his team members and those outside of it. Like Tuesday morning, when Immelman was asked to pick a starting five basketball for the Internationals.
“I like little Tom Kim as a point guard,” Immelman said with a laugh. “He also has a quick mouth on him, so he’s perfect for a playmaker.”
Soon, Kim’s early days with the international team had become legendary. He showed up to play Charlotte with a grip of a Carolina Blue putter, a fitting nod to the region’s favorite color. After just two days together, seven of the Internationals’ 12 players voted him the team’s biggest eater (including a resounding vote from Tom himself). Later, a wide-eyed Kim admitted he respects Jordan Spieth way too much to disparage him during the competition, but Masters champion Scottie Scheffler is fair game because “he gives me a hard time”. On Thursday afternoon, Kim was the only member of the international team to wave to the crowd to make more noise after his introduction on the first tee (which responded with a few polite boos). Even, it turns out, Kim’s math skills earned her a few laughs.
“We’re on 12 today, and he’s making a mistake doing some simple math there,” said assistant captain Camilo Villegas. “So I looked at the kid and I said, ‘Tom, is that college math?’ He looks at me and says, ‘Man, I didn’t even graduate from high school.'”
Kim, for her part, has no defense. He turned pro at 15, and he’s been an idiot for much longer than that. It is, he says, what he has always been.
Success came quickly for Kim, but ego didn’t follow. His personality remains blissfully oblivious to the enormity of life ahead of him – as it should be, for a player still 10 months from his first legal drink. It’s as if he doesn’t yet realize what everyone around him at the Presidents Cup has already accepted as fact: soon he won’t be a stranger to anyone.
“Ohhh, I don’t know about that,” he says when asked if he feels like he’s being noticed more. “But that would be really cool. I still have a long way to go.
For the first time this week, Tom Kim is alone.
It’s Wednesday afternoon at the Presidents Cup, and he’s not only the last golfer standing on the practice green, he’s the last golfer a few hundred yards in any direction. After a round in the morning and a series of course times in the afternoon, he hit the putting zone with a head of steam. He’s been here ever since.
The current problem is his putt, which seems to have broken down. Kim does a “circular drill” – in which a player draws a five-foot circle around a hole with golf balls and putts until he’s done them all in a row. Most players use this drill to practice all three feet and complete it in seconds. Kim has been there for almost half an hour.
Kim, it should be noted, is largely responsible for this endeavor. He chose to practice his putts to a hole cut in the middle of a fierce slope…from six feet. His putts slide as far as they go, heading for the hole at different speeds and directions, depending on his location.
Impressively, Tom makes the majority of his putts, but he doesn’t make them all, and that makes him irritated.
“You’re kidding!” He moaned as one of his lips turned to the left, sinking his head into his hands and pushing his hat over his head. Kim makes the game effortless. It’s not.
Skovron, his new caddy, stops him.
“Not on a note like this,” he says. “I think doing half of that would be pretty good.”
Kim is taking coaching well. He settles down, takes a deep breath, and practices the putt once more. This time it fits. A handful of cheers and hoots comes from the green. Kim looks up, flashing a quick smile. He realizes, for the first time, that there is a crowd that has gathered to watch him.