Before Tom Kim was the PGA TOUR’s youngest two-time winner in the past 90 years. Before his ‘hello world’ moment as the breakout star of the Presidents Cup. Before he befriended the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Scottie Scheffler and Tiger Woods … Kim was just a 20-year-old searching for status.
Twelve months ago, Kim showed up to the Renaissance Club as a rather anonymous invitee from the Korean Tour. But in a field that featured 14 of the top 15 players in the world, he finished alone in third place to set his TOUR success in motion.
He didn’t gain Special Temporary Membership from that finish alone — it came a week later after he made the cut at The Open Championship — but Kim’s rapid ascension to stardom began, in earnest, at The Renaissance Club a year ago.
What’s transpired since?
“A lot of things,” said Kim, the first player since Woods to win twice on TOUR before turning 21. “Great things.”
His meteoric rise may have seemed startling, but it should not have been unexpected if you knew Kim’s history. Being a phenom is nothing new. Kim was dominant everywhere he went as a junior, first in the Philippines as a 13-year-old, then in Thailand as a newly turned 15-year-old professional. Soon after he was on the Asian Tour and Korean Tour.
He was victorious at every stop, winning six times worldwide before arriving on the PGA TOUR. The first came just days after he turned 17. He led the Genesis Points List on the Korean Tour and the Asian Tour Order of Merit in 2021 and he was slowly building toward stardom before arriving in Scotland. He preceded the Genesis Scottish Open with top-25s at the AT&T Byron Nelson (T17) and U.S. Open (23rd).
His work ethic, tenacity and youthful exuberance made his arrival on the PGA TOUR feel inevitable. Yet plenty of golfing phenoms have found their way onto the TOUR with success seeming guaranteed only to flame out.
Beating that star-studded field at Renaissance announced his arrival to a larger audience.
A win came just weeks after that standout performance in Scotland, a five-shot victory at the season-ending Wyndham Championship. That got Kim into the Playoffs, where he finished 35th in the FedExCup. He picked up caddie Joe Skovron, longtime looper for Rickie Fowler. Then he was named to the International Team for the Presidents Cup. He went 2-0 on Saturday, standing out for his emotional celebrations as much as his play. A roped 2-iron on the 18th fairway of the afternoon Four-Ball was his signature moment. It left Kim with a 10-foot birdie putt that he sunk to down the Americans’ best team of Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, 1 up.
He won his first start of this PGA TOUR season, too, the Shriner’s Children’s Open, a place where Woods also won as a 20-year-old.
Along the way he inked a sponsorship deal with Nike. He was profiled in GQ magazine and played a practice round at the Masters with McIlroy, Woods and Fred Couples. He captured the hearts of the golf world with comedic moments, falling in the mud during the PGA Championship and splitting his pants at the Presidents Cup.
It was all overwhelming even for Kim, who was his family’s primary source of income as a teenager when his parents stopped working to support his golf career. He prepped and expected to be in this position. Still, it’s a different beast once you are there.
“It’s really easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself when you when you win twice, all of a sudden, you’re like, okay, how do I keep playing the same way? And if it doesn’t, if it’s not like that, you get very frustrated,” he said.
That dose of vexation came this spring. After five finishes of 11th or better in his first seven starts of the year, Kim failed to register a top-30 over the next five, all of which were Designated events. A cold putter has hampered him at times this season. He ranks 129th in Strokes Gained: Putting after slotting in above average in the category during his abbreviated 2021-22 season.
Questions about whether Kim has enough distance to consistently compete left the newly turned 21-year-old chasing speed. His ball speed off the tee jumped about 6 miles per hour, but it also contributed to the mid-season erraticism.
“Gaining so much speed in a quick amount of time … It changes a lot in the timing of (the swing),” he says.
The rest of the season has been a mixed bag. Kim rebounded with a T16 at the Masters, his best major appearance to date. That was later topped with a T8 at last month’s U.S. Open. But he missed the cut at the PGA Championship, the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday and the Rocket Mortgage Classic, a tournament where he finished seventh last year.
The lull in play has likely felt longer to Kim than in actuality. Kim still ranks 21st in the FedExCup despite the recent inconsistency and he remains in the top 10 in SG: Approach and driving accuracy, the two stalwarts of his game.
But when internal expectations rise to that of a superstar, popping in for a top-10 on occasion isn’t satisfactory. Managing his mental remains a work in progress.
“There have been times where I haven’t felt as sure of myself, where there have been missed cuts,” Kim says. “I think as I continue to learn and grow out here it’s been important to keep in mind that the highs are high but the lows are low, and finding that balance is just so important to achieving the week-to-week improvement that we’re all seeking.”
Returning to The Renaissance Club should conjure fond memories. Kim has spent most of the season playing events and venues for the first time. This week offers the first opportunity to rely on past knowledge. He shot a final-round 67 to jump from T9 to third, two shots back of winner Xander Schauffele. He will appear in his second Open Championship next week and is scheduled to defend his Wyndham Championship title next month.
Kim called the Genesis Scottish Open a “jumpstart” to his PGA TOUR career. This time around it could prove the reboot Kim needs to get back on his star trajectory.
Source : PGA Tour