30 Presidents Cup observations: Is Tom Kim … the next Rory McIlroy? And more
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Every pro knows Sam Reeves. And Sam Reeves knows every pro.
Jordan Spieth smiles in his direction. Billy Horschel shouts his way as he walks across the Quail Hollow range.
On and on from the Americans at the Presidents Cup. Of course, had he been closer to the International gang, it would have been much the same; Adam Scott, in an earlier profile of Reeves by Michael Bamberger for GOLF.com, said he “learned how to be a human being from Sam.” Think about whom you can say that about in your life.
Fred Couples, an assistant U.S. captain, now walks by, he spots GOLF’s Dylan Dethier, says, “You have to talk to this guy,” and he and Reeves walk over to us. It’s at this point, where you should take a minute and read the Bamberger piece; Reeves has lived a life. Now in his mid-80s, he made his money in the cotton business, according to the story; his house guests, at his home alongside Cypress Point, have included Peyton Manning and Tom Brady; and he was the best man in Butch Harmon’s wedding. So, yes, Freddie, please bring your friend over.
For a half-hour, as Spieth, Patrick Cantlay and Justin Thomas hit, we talked. Brady came up; Reeves had pictures and video of him in his phone. The conversation then turned to Tom Kim. It was Sunday, and about 18 hours earlier, Kim had given us a moment with his winning putt/fist-pump/hat flip on the 18th. Reeves added this, twice:
He’s Rory McIlroy revisited.
Scott had told Reeves the charisma is no act; Kim’s just like that. The swing is right, too. Reeves pointed out that McIlroy’s American-soil tournament breakthrough also came at Quail Hollow, at the Quail Hollow Championship in 2010. Maybe the hyperbole is getting lost in the moment. Maybe it isn’t. But this week, we may have just seen the birth of a global golf superstar.
With that, here are 29 other observations from the week that was in Charlotte, which ended in a Team USA 17.5-12.5 win. (They played for 30 points, so that seems right.) We’re doing our business today at Suffolk Punch, a wonderful restaurant and brewery that opened at 7:30 a.m. (!), and we’re feeling good.
2. Let’s stay with Kim, and why observers like Reeves are speaking so reverently of him. We’ll start with how he’s making his money, his golf. But not the putt on 18 on Saturday; the short before it. This is a take, but you can maybe nerve in a 10-footer — and it’s harder to hit to 10 feet, from 233 yards out, where the heart is really moving. I’ll remember that shot. But I think more daggers are on the way.
3. Then there’s just Tom, the 20-year-old. There are the fist-pumps and the shouts and the waves to the crowd and his caddie picking up his ball and his caddie picking up his putter. (This week, the bagman was Joe Skovron, Rickie Fowler’s old looper.) And we love it all. Here’s my hope: It never dies. It stays authentic. That’s almost as hard as hitting the shots described in observation No. 2. To have some fun with words, golfers can be like diet sodas, and Tom Kim is a shot of whiskey. And we don’t want the bartender to cut us off.
4. One more Kim note. On 18 on Sunday, after his singles loss to Max Homa, another hero this week, several folks got in his ear. Horschel, who didn’t play Kim in any match, was one of the first to greet him on 18 green, and he leaned in for a good minute. Trevor Immelman, the International captain and another hero, told him this, which was captured by the PGA Tour’s social media team: “You’re a freaking champion. You’re a champion. You believe in yourself. You’re good. We’re getting there.” It’s very telling that other pros want him to succeed.
5. Speaking of Horschel, I followed him Friday, in his first-ever round in a team event, after being passed over multiple times in a 13-year career. I’ll remember this most. On 14, after his tee shot on the par-3 went short and right, he one-handed his follow-through and was laboring, before Davis Love III, the U.S. captain, left-hand slapped him on the rear. Two shots later, he made a 17-footer to halve the hole, and four holes later, he and partner Homa won their match.
6. Speaking of Homa, he’s ascending. Four wins since last February, including last week, at the Fortinet Championship. A 4-0 mark this week, which included his own moment, or moments — a putt and a fist-pump on the 17th green on Friday, and the same combo a hole later. Where does he go from here? What’s the ceiling? Is this a heater? Or is the start of a five-, 10-year run? For him, the Masters can’t come soon enough.
7. Speaking of Masters champs, Immelman lost, but won the week. He was invested. This quote, from his press conference on Sunday night, will stick with me.
Though you are obviously reading this and not listening, imagine each syllable being emphasized, and all of it coming to a crescendo at “joke.”
“This week, you know, we were in a tough spot on Friday,” Immelman said. “We showed a lot of guts to fight back. At some point, I don’t know about you guys, but at some point this afternoon, I thought there was still a chance.
“And when you consider that we were 8-2 down on Friday evening, this team is no joke, and I’m sick and tired of it being spoken of as a joke.
“We love this event, and we love our team, and we cannot wait to run this back and have another shot.”
8. A note on Immelman and the mood he created. Late Sunday afternoon, Jim “Bones” Mackay told me while walking to the cup presentation on 15 green that the U.S. team could hear the International’s music and celebration from their team room on Saturday night, after the INT’s won three afternoon points. The groups were about 75 yards away from each other.
9. The Suffolk Punch SPB Breakfast Bowl — with two farm eggs my way (scrambled is my way), Anson Mills cream cheese grits, smoked bacon, sausage patties, shredded cheddar and grilled sourdough bread — is one of the better breakfasts I’ve maybe ever had.
10. A half-hour before his singles match on Sunday, Cantlay 9-and-8’ed a Chipotle burrito on the range, then won. Incredible.
11. Speaking of food, you could smell the barbecue, from local shop Noble Smoke, as far as a par-5 away. Heavenly.
12. I consider myself somewhat of a K.H. Lee No. 1 sexiest golfer expert, so I had to ask the tough question earlier in the week.
If you’re not familiar with the conversation of K.H. Lee No. 1 sexiest golfer, here’s a brief recap. In 2018, during the Korn Ferry Tour’s Portland Open, Lee said on a video that he had “several goals in my life.” One you’ve heard before: “The first is to become the No. 1 golfer in the world.” Fair enough. But the second was a bit more, shall we say, risque.
“And the second is to become the No. 1 sexiest golfer in the world.”
OK then. There’s more. Like I said, I’ve been following this. About a year ago, the PGA Tour then helped their man, when, during the CJ Cup event, they labeled his placard on the range: “Sexiest Golfer,” had him nestle up next to it and shot a video that they shared on their social media channels. Good stuff all around, though Lee admitted in a story published by the Tour that he wasn’t sure he’d ever reach his goal. His reasoning was sound.
“Being sexy means to be a muscular guy,” he said. “It’s in my dream but not quite possible in reality. I want to be muscular, but I enjoy eating so much. For example, I try not to eat dinner if I have a big lunch, but when dinner time comes, I am usually hungry again. I will work out hard, but I will eat hard as well.”
But on Wednesday, during Lee’s media availability, I still had to ask.
Me: “K.H., there was a moment a few years ago, brought up again, about a year ago, with you wanting to be the No. 1 sexy golfer. Who is the No. 1 sexy golfer on your team?”
Lee: “Should I say me? I hope so. Adam Scott. We’ll go there. Adam is very sexy. And then Camilo [Villegas] is sexy, too. So top 10, me?”
I was stunned.
Me: “You’re top 10, not top 5?”
I’ll take it.
13. The course was closed to fans last Monday, which helped amplify a practice round between friends Thomas and Spieth. With no one around — it really was just me, the players, caddies Mackay and Michael Greller — the vibe was carefree, and I wrote about our four-plus hours together here. But another takeaway was Zach Johnson and a scene on 15 green, which is actually 18 during other tournament play. (They moved up the hole to make sure most matches would get to the tricky, creek-on-the-right-side par-4.) Having carted over at this point, Johnson put together a game, with some cash on the line, where, from 40 feet away, you had to walk with your eyes closed and try to drop your ball in the hole. If you’re wondering about the atmosphere he’ll create in the team room next year when he takes the U.S. captain’s chair for the Ryder Cup, this is it.
14. I followed Cameron Young on Thursday, his team-event debut. And on shot one on tee 1, before 2,500 sweaty fans, he bombed one over the trees on the right, and his tee was in his hand before his ball was on the ground. Killer. The internet tells me that he has that dog in him.
15. On a 90-plus-degree day, Young also looked like he wasn’t sweating. No beads on his neck. Arms. Nothing. Wow. And how?
16. Say what you will about the Saturday dramatics and some spirited back-and-forth on Sunday, but this was another American win, the 12th in 14 playings. Toss in that the Internationals have been gutted due to LIV Golf — players who have left the PGA Tour for the upstart, Saudi-backed series have been suspended, and the Presidents Cup is a Tour-backed venture — and the scene is tough. We’re now halfway through our story, so let’s look then to the future. First, here’s Immelman’s take:
“We have a system that we like and a plan and a strategy, and it feels like to me, you know, this was an important week for us just to just lay a couple more bricks in this house that we’re trying to build,” he said.
“We’re here for the long run in this event. We’re going to win this event. So we’ll keep building. We’ll keep fighting. At some point, we’re going to win.”
17. The odds are on staying the course; Friday, Saturday and Sunday were ticket sellouts, money was made and sponsors were likely happy, though we’d strongly argue moving singles away from King NFL.
You won’t see a PGA Tour-LIV Golf team event, though I checked players’ temperatures on the subject early in the week. You also won’t see LIV players in the event, though Immelman at least inquired about one. The International team doesn’t require PGA Tour membership. So when Louis Oosthuizen resigned his and joined LIV, Immelman revealed that he did check to see whether he could pick the South African.
His telling of the explanation he received was vague. And he understandably paused before doing so.
“My understanding is that he made particular announcements and allowed himself to be used in different marketing campaigns and announcements once he was not given the release from the PGA Tour, and he did all of those things before he resigned his membership,” Immelman said Tuesday. “So there were still particular infractions there.”
Then there’s adding women.
Golf Digest wrote a nice piece making the case, and you can read it here. This weekend, I messaged LPGA pro Gemma Dryburgh for her thoughts, and she was very in.
“I definitely think the girls would be interested in it,” she wrote back. “I think it would be great for the event, too. I’d love to see it happen.”
18. The Sycamore Brewing Haziness IPA is one of the best juice bombers I’ve maybe ever had. And Harris Teeter grocery store here has one of the best brew selections I’ve maybe ever seen.
19. A word on the build-out on 1 at Quail Hollow. Good stuff. But this is about the volunteer on 1, about 100 yards from the tee, on the left side. On Tuesday, when the ropes were down, she asked every person with that look on their face and a phone in their hand if they wanted her to take a picture; she was doing the asking. Great stuff. She took mine, too.
20. Another volunteer shout-out. On Friday on 4 tee, a caddie gave one a used piece of gum to toss into a trash bin. Gross.
21. When I can, I watch and listen to the fans, and I easily laugh to most cracks, But the winners of the week was the group dressed in a Canadian flag spandex get-up that, shall we say, you shouldn’t look down at. Their mission, too, it seemed, was only to get the attention of Mike Weir, an assistant on the International side and, yes, a Canadian. It worked on Saturday, and he laughed.
22. Horschel’s hair was also a shouting point among the galleries. Understandably so. It was locked into place and majestic.
23. At the Presidents and Ryder Cups, the wives and girlfriends also walk the fairways. What do they talk about? I overheard Katherine Zhu, the fiancee of Collin Morikawa, talking with International Team WAGs about their trip to what was described as “Canadian Sea World.”
24. Baker Mayfield was out at Quail Hollow. On Friday, the Carolina Panthers quarterback was walking with Max Homa’s wife, Lacey. He obliged a boy for a selfie. Another fan asked him if he was going to beat the Saints. “That’s the plan,” he said. The Panthers won, 22-14.
25. Seth Curry, he of the jump-shooting and golf-playing Curry family, was out at Quail Hollow. On Sunday morning, he was at the range. Webb Simpson, an assistant captain, talked basketball with him; he asked how his team, the Brooklyn Nets, were looking, and whether he “ever had any desire to play for the Hornets,” Charlotte’s team. Smylie Kaufman, a pro on hand to do broadcast work, asked for jump-shot tips, and he gave Curry golf tips.
26. I was kinda shocked Michael Jordan wasn’t out at Quail Hollow. Love had introduced him to golf when both were at Chapel Hill back in the day.
27. On Sunday night, I wrote about the funniest moments from the Americans’ press conference, which you can find here, but maybe the best came from the Internationals. Before any questions were asked, Sweet Caroline was playing over a speaker, and Sungjae Im was singing the “Bah, bah, bah” part. Si Woo Kim and I laughed.
28. The Cookout big double burger tray, with cajun fries and chicken nuggets, is one of the best late-night, post-work meals I’ve maybe ever had.
29. Kevin Kisner, though, as he did earlier in the week, was at home in front of the mics. Though he was asked just one question after the victory, the exchange was a winner.
“I saved the best for last,” the reporter started. “This one’s for Kis. Being one of the more experienced players on the team, you know, can bring its advantages on the course. But do you feel it brings an advantage or disadvantage for tonight’s festivities with these younger guys?”
“It’s hard to hear,” Kisner said. “Can you speak up, please?”
“Yes,” the reporter said.
“I just need the last part,” Kisner said.
“OK. Do you think it brings, your experience, do you think it brings an advantage or disadvantage for tonight’s festivities with these younger guys?” the reporter asked again.
“My experience can ultimately win in this scenario,” Kisner said. “There is nothing that any of these can do that can hang with me tonight, I promise you.
“I have never seen a better display of golfers and a worse display of partiers, and I am the best partier on this board. Amen.
“That’s why they picked me. I got half a point, but I brought the fun.”
30. Here’s proof I was there.
If you’re interested, I also compiled takeaways, thoughts and observations this year from the Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open and Open Championship, and they can be found below: