Ss if a victory in the Wyndham Championship after making a quadruple bogey on the first hole and staring down Patrick Cantlay last Sunday to win the Shriners Children’s Open for his second PGA Tour win in his past four starts weren’t enough to make the case for 20-year-old Tom Kim suddenly being one of the best players in the game, there is the image that has stayed with International team captain Trevor Immelman from the Presidents Cup last month.
Desperately needing a win with his partner K.H. Lee in a Saturday afternoon four-ball match against Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, Immelman watched his team’s energetic and emotional leader settle into a 2-iron shot to the 18th green understanding any realistic possibility of his team having a chance to win on Sunday may ride on what happened over the next five minutes.
“He’s about 240 yards out. He’s probably 60 yards behind his opponents. He’s over the ball. I look back, I see the who’s who of American golf in golf carts behind him,” Immelman said.
“I see (Justin) Thomas, I see (Jordan) Spieth, I see (Tony) Finau, I see (Max) Homa, I see (Collin) Morikawa, all of them sitting on carts 15 yards from him. And this kid pures a 2-iron to 10 feet and makes the putt. To me, that’s impressive stuff.”
So was Kim’s reaction, dropping his putter, throwing off his cap and fist-pumping his way to his teammates.
“That made my heart warm right there,” Immelman said.
When Kim arrived at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, North Carolina, in August for the Wyndham Championship, he was a relative unknown outside PGA Tour locker rooms and practice tees where the word already had begun to circulate about how Joohyung Kim, who goes by Tom because of his childhood fascination with Thomas the Tank Engine, was rocketing into relevance.
Barely two months later, Kim is ranked 15th in the world, and if you want to make the case that there aren’t five better players in the world at the moment, you probably wouldn’t be wrong.
Think of it this way:
If you’re picking players for a team, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm would go before Kim. Maybe Schauffele. Maybe Scottie Scheffler, but his game hasn’t been quite as sharp as it was in early summer. Maybe Cam Smith or Justin Thomas.
“He has an ability to be a global superstar, this kid. I know he has the game. We’ve seen he has the game. But what I’ve learned about personality and his heart and what he stands for … man, I am a huge fan.” – Trevor Immelman
The fact that Kim is in such a discussion speaks to what he’s done and, perhaps more importantly, what he may do going forward.
What separates Kim isn’t just how he plays but it’s who he is. Cantlay, for example, is a brilliant mechanic and true to himself, which means playing golf in what often resembles emotional isolation. Cantlay is easy to appreciate but doesn’t naturally draw fans his way.
Kim has a charisma that is contagious. He almost bounces when he plays, and his Presidents Cup teammates spoke about how he fueled the team room, a rare accomplishment for someone so young and playing his first international team competition. He brings the people to him, and not just when he’s waving on the cheers on the first tee at the Presidents Cup.
“This young kid has burst onto the scene in the last six months, and he’s been such a tremendous gift to our sport. He has an ability to be a global superstar, this kid. I know he has the game. We’ve seen he has the game. But what I’ve learned about personality and his heart and what he stands for this week, man, I am a huge fan,” said Immelman, who said he thinks Kim is destined to be No. 1 in the world sooner rather than later.
Not yet old enough to legally buy a beer in the United States, Kim has amassed his first two tour wins at a younger age than Tiger Woods accomplished. Only Ralph Guldahl won two PGA Tour events at a younger age than Kim.
That’s not to suggest Kim is headed to a Woods-like career, but it speaks to his seemingly instant arrival. Though Cameron Young and Will Zalatoris blossomed into stars this year with their power-based games, Kim has built success around a well-rounded game that shows no real weakness.
It’s a small sample size only three weeks into the new season, but Kim leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained overall, is second in strokes gained tee to green and seventh in strokes gained putting. That’s a recipe for winning.
“It’s really amazing. A few months ago, I didn’t have any status in the U.S., and now being a two-time winner on tour, having that place with Tiger, it’s an unbelievable feeling for me. It’s an honor for me, and it’s definitely a dream come true,” Kim said after his victory in Las Vegas.
Kim grew up idolizing Woods and, as if to tamp down any potential discussion about whether he might be interested in joining LIV Golf, he has stressed his goal of playing on the PGA Tour and trying to win major championships.
“I feel like the PGA Tour is the only place for that,” he said. “I don’t see golf anywhere else other than the PGA Tour.”
Kim seems to possess a maturity beyond his years. When asked recently about how his life has changed, he dismissed the notion.
“I’ve got lots of work to do on my game. I’m not going to lie. There’s some weaknesses that I need to get better at, and I need to keep the strengths that I have. Hopefully I can have a long career, and I’ve got to work really hard. I can’t get satisfied at all,” Kim said.
What he has achieved in such a short time hasn’t been lost on Kim.
“I’m playing on the PGA Tour as a 20-year-old,” he said. “I’m a 5-year-old at Disneyland, for sure.”
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