18 holes into Anthony Kim’s comeback, here’s what we learned

Anthony Kim hits an iron shot at 2024 LIV Golf Jeddah tournament

Anthony Kim in the first round of the LIV Jeddah event.

getty images

It didn’t take long for Anthony Kim to show rust. Or was it nerves? Most likely, it was some combination of the two. And could you blame him? It had been 4,320 days since he’d struck a shot in professional competition, and now here he was, on the 18th tee at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, in Saudi Arabia, readying to relaunch his playing-for-cash career in LIV Golf’s third event of the 2024 season.

Kim’s first swing actually was a beauty: a smashed drive (swing speed: 119 mph!) that flew nearly 300 yards down the fairway.

Then came the next shot.

If you were watching the CW or YouTube stream from the U.S. in the wee hours of Friday morning, it wasn’t clear in the moment what Kim, mid-iron in hand, had done with his second swing on the par-5. Even the onsite announcers seemed mystified.   

“Just a layup, right, Dom?” Jerry Foltz said to on-course reporter Dom Boulet.

“Yeah,” Foltz’s boothmate, David Feherty, interjected.

But when the broadcast cut to Kim preparing to play his third shot from the rough in front of a fairway bunker, it was clear Kim had not laid up — at least not intentionally.

“He topped it, apparently,” Boulet said.

“He topped it?!” Feherty said.

“Yep, I didn’t see it, but that’s what Graeme McDowell just told me.”

After another layup — intentional this time — a wedge approach and two putts, Kim had begun Phase II of his professional life with a messy bogey 6.

Cinderalla start? Nope, not exactly. But it was a start, and that was what this much-anticipated round was always going to be for Kim. A first step. If you’re just catching up, Kim — once among the game’s most promising and electric talents — is making his first professional start this week since the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship. Kim won three PGA Tour titles before the age of 25, but his career was derailed by injuries almost as quickly as it had taken off. His rehab for an Achilles tendon repair was supposed to keep him away from the game for up to 12 months. Instead, he disappeared for 12 years, offering few clues about his absence. As the years passed, his legend grew, as did speculation about whether we might ever see Kim compete again.

Then, a few weeks ago: cause for hope. Kim was reportedly talking to both the PGA Tour and LIV Golf about finding a path back to pro golf. With the PGA Tour would come familiarity and a domestic travel schedule. With LIV Golf, Kim would get neither of those things, but he would get a guaranteed payday. Kim also had a supporter in fellow maverick Greg Norman, the LIV Golf CEO.

Wildcard player Anthony Kim smiles during the practice round before the start of LIV Golf Jeddah at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club
Anthony Kim’s return feels as surreal as his disappearance
By: Alan Bastable

“It really started a couple years ago,” Norman said Friday on the LIV broadcast. “We reached out to AK early on, but it wasn’t the right time for him. … He didn’t want an agent, wanted to do it himself, wanted to speak with me and one other person.”

They arrived at an agreement that secured Kim starts in the 10 remaining regular-season events on LIV’s 2024 schedule, the first of which is this week in Jeddah, LIV’s home game.   

What ultimately brought Kim back? The money of course was a draw. But Norman said there was more.

“He’s been reinvigorated in life though his wife, Emily, through his daughter, Bella, and it’s brought something back to him,” Norman said. “I was walking with Emily down the first hole, and I said ‘What was it that really got him back?’ And she said, “It’s the game of golf.”

“And I said, the game of golf is one thing and hitting the ball, right? It’s the emotion that lets him go, Oh, I’m good at this. Oh, golf is a safe haven. Golf is going to give me something else. What that is is the happiness he hasn’t had in the last 12 years until he met Emily.”

Norman later added: “His interest in getting back in the game of golf was created because Emily wanted to learn how to play the game. So the two of them went out on the golf course. Emily said he’s a very, very good teacher, and she’s fallen in love with the game. So they started playing two, three, four times a week together. So this journey has been a journey of two not one, and now it’s three because of Bella. So now all of a sudden AK will find himself in a better place.”

On Friday, that place was a sandy golf course more than 8,000 miles from the sandy playgrounds on which Kim has been honing his game in Palm Springs, Calif. He wore a white LIV cap that pinned down his long black hair and also a white LIV polo hanging over baggy black shorts. Kim’s Nike deal expired long ago but that didn’t stop him from donning the Swoosh on his feet. Butterflies? Surely he had those, too.  

Anthony Kim during day one of the LIV Golf Invitational - Jeddah at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club
Anthony Kim on Friday. getty images

“This guy doesn’t give a rat’s derriere about anything,” Boulet said on the broadcast, “but he really did look nervous on that first tee.”

After his opening bogey on the home hole (LIV events have a shotgun start), Kim settled down with four pars. But then came the par-4 5th, where Kim faced an awkward second shot from a downhill lie in the rough to a tucked pin.

The result: a stunning hosel rocket that shot hard right and settled near the adjacent fairway.

To his credit, Kim bounced back on the next hole, holing a 20-footer on the par-4 for his sole birdie of the day. But he quickly gave that shot back with a string of three bogeys in the next three holes. The best word for Kim’s game: untidy. He pulled out of tee shots, was loose with his irons and struggled with his touch. His final tally: a seven-bogey, six-over 76 that has him in last place by two shots.   

“I would be lying to say that I didn’t have certain expectations,” Kim said after his round. “I thought I would shoot around par. It was unfortunate that I made so many unforced errors from the middle of the fairway. That’s generally my strength is my iron game. To make so many unforced errors is really disappointing.”

It also could have been worse. Kim didn’t shoot 83. He didn’t make a single double-bogey or worse. His speed and distance seem fine. And he now has that dreaded first round back behind him. This was never going to be easy. Re-​acclimatization takes time. Kim knows that, and so does his new boss.    

“I said to AK,” Norman said in his Friday booth visit, “when you walk on the range, for the last 12 years you’ve been hitting balls with amateurs — all respect to amateurs — and it’s been like pop, pop, pop. Get on that driving range here and get in the middle and listen to DJ hit, listen to Jon Rahm hit, listen to Brooks hit. The sound is different, and that sound is going to get you — ok, that’s flush, that’s not flush, that’s flush, that’s flush, that’s flush. I said, ‘That’ll ignite your senses again and get all those sensory overloads back into equilibrium.’”

That might take a week, or a month or a season. It also might never happen. We just don’t know, because AK’s comeback is a golfing experiment the likes of which the game has never seen. As Jon Rahm said in a short feature on LIV’s Friday broadcast: “People still want to see if there’s some of that old Anthony Kim in there, and if there is, he could still be one of the best players in the world. Only time will tell.”

Alan Bastable

Golf.com Editor

As GOLF.com’s executive editor, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and highly trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats — editing, writing, ideating, developing, daydreaming of one day breaking 80 — and feels privileged to work with such an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before grabbing the reins at GOLF.com, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and foursome of kids.