AUGUST 25 — The Tom Kim express finally ran out of steam after a whirlwind joy ride which lasted nearly two months and ending at his dream destination, the PGA Tour. But for the 20-year-old Korean phenom, this is just the beginning of an exciting journey ahead, with the Presidents Cup being his next port of calling.
Born in June, 2002 as Joohyung Kim, the ultra-talented youngster with an easy demeanour and carefree approach has literally taken the world by storm after first leaving his mark by winning multiple times in Korea and across Asia in countries such as Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
It somewhat mirrored his growing up years as his family of four moved around and lived in Australia, China, Philippines and Thailand as his father, Chang-ik Kim was a professional golfer before becoming a teacher of the game.
Kim is amongst the rare few of Koreans who holds an English name, which he picked up as a kid after watching Thomas the Tank Engine, a TV show based on a U.K. book series. He loved Toy Story too, especially the character Buzz Lightyear, but somehow, Buzz Kim didn’t sound as quite as good as Tom Kim.
“It's just a stubborn me. Like you're supposed to let your parents name yourself and I was like nope, I'm going to name myself Thomas. I loved the show as a kid... Apparently, I really loved the train,” explained Kim. “I was like, you know what, I'm going to name myself Thomas... And as years went on, people started calling me Tom. It was shorter, so I kind of went with Tom after that.”
With his precocious talent, Kim started making his own buzz on the global stage by finishing third in the Genesis Scottish Open in July, a co-sanctioned PGA Tour and DP World Tour tournament. With a T47 result at the following week’s The Open Championship at St Andrews to add to earlier top-25s at the AT&T Byron Nelson and US Open, he earned Special Temporary Membership on the PGA Tour.
Three tournaments later, he rolled on like a bullet train and made golf history by becoming the second youngest winner on the PGA Tour since World War II following his victory at the Wyndham Championship. He ironically opened with a quadruple bogey in the first round and closed with a stunning 61 for a five-stroke triumph to earn him instant fame and Tour membership. He qualified for the FedExCup Playoffs but missed out on the Tour Championship after running out of gas from a seven-week stretch of tournament play.
“It has always been a dream of mine to play the PGA Tour,” said Kim, who is now ranked 20th in the world. “Start of July, I was planning on trying to get my card through the Korn Ferry (Tour) Finals and now one month later, I'm a PGA Tour winner, so it's pretty crazy. When I was younger, I would see Tiger (Woods) win on the PGA Tour, not somewhere else, so for me that was always the goal. Hopefully I'll be here for a very long time.”
Kim’s father, who had a brief stint on the Korn Ferry Tour, put a club in his hands when he was five and his growth spurt was meteoric. He won amateur tournaments while in the Philippines and after turning professional in 2018, he triumphed twice in the Philippines before raking up seven other victories across the region.
“I spent a lot more time with golf than I did in any other sport because it was in the family a little bit more and we would spend time on the golf course. Just things like that where it kind of made the path more clear to be a golfer. I definitely don't regret it because, gosh, how many people are able to play the PGA Tour at age 20!” he said.
Spanish star Jon Rahm, who played with Kim earlier in the month, had a word of advice for the young Korean, who averages 301 yards off the tee which ranks him at around 80th position on Tour in driving distance. “To an extent, tee to green, he’s just repetitive, the same thing all the time. One here on the fairway, one on the green. He’s super accurate and a good putter,” said Rahm, who is ranked No. 6 in the world.
“If I have one advice for him, in this day and age, he’s going to have to pick up a little bit of ball speed. That low 60s is going to be hard to contend in some bigger golf courses, so if he can keep that accuracy and just get a little bit of distance, he could be someone who can contend anywhere, not that he can’t, but nowadays, distance is really, really necessary.”
Kim’s terrific rise has since earned him automatic qualification into the International Team where he will be the second youngest player after Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa to feature in the Presidents Cup which takes place at Quail Hollow, Charlotte from September 22 to 25. International Team captain Trevor Immelman first heard of Kim earlier in the year when well-known instructor Claude Harmon III texted and suggested he keep an eye on the young Korean. The South African made it a point to watch Kim up close during a practice round at The Open and liked what he saw.
“He (Harmon) had been out with one of his players who played a round with Tom. And Claude immediately texted me and was like, you’ve got to check this kid out. He's unbelievable,” said Immelman. “I can’t wait for him to bring his youthful energy to Quail Hollow Club.”
Kim’s wild ride in 2022 will see him face a power-packed US Team led by the likes of current World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, 2021 FedExCup champion Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Justin Thomas, and he cannot wait to represent his country and the International Team. “It's crazy. I can't really believe I'll be able to play in the Presidents Cup. It's something I've watched all the time, so it's going to be exciting, and hopefully I can be a good contribution,” he said.
“I'm a lot younger than all the guys on the team, so hopefully I can bring that young energy and just be a kid out there and have all the fun we have. As long as we come together as a team, we're going to have a chance. Just be a good energy out there for the team.”
* Chuah Choo Chiang is senior director, marketing and communications – Apac, for the PGA Tour and is based in Kuala Lumpur.
** This is the personal opinion of the columnist.