Anthony Kim plotting return to pro golf after decade-long disappearance

Anthony Kim is plotting his return.

Anthony Kim is plotting his return to professional golf after more than a decade away.

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For more than a decade he’s been golf’s Yeti, golf’s most famous recluse, golf’s man of mystery, golf’s greatest “what-if”. As the years have ticked by, stories from his abridged career have been told and retold with increasing levels of admiration and exaggeration. His cult hero status has continued to grow, even as hopes of his competitive future have dwindled.

But now Anthony Kim is planning his return to professional golf.

Kim has spent the last few months in discussions with the PGA Tour, LIV and potential sponsors as he plots a way back, multiple sources familiar with those discussions told GOLF. He’s been playing more golf. He’s been ramping up workouts. He’s confident in his game. That part, people say, definitely hasn’t changed. Now, it’s just a matter of where he makes his return.

When we last saw Kim in competition, he was 26 years old playing the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship. He withdrew from that event after the opening round, citing injury. It was his third consecutive WD. He disappeared shortly thereafter; he’s hardly been heard from since.

A central issue in negotiations has been an insurance policy from Kim’s playing days, now worth an estimated $10 million, that would be voided if he returned to competition. His decision to try the PGA Tour versus signing a deal with LIV also comes at a tense moment in negotiations between the leagues as they battle for players, attention and leverage as their respective 2024 seasons get underway — all while talks around a potential deal churn on in the background.

Should Kim go the PGA Tour route, he could in theory resume play immediately. He would have access to some lesser events on his “past champion” status, but outside of signature events he would have no problem finding sponsor exemptions everywhere else, knowing the juice he’d add to the field. While Kim’s insurance payout couldn’t be handled directly in a lump sum payment from the PGA Tour — that’s not how the league is set up — there would be no shortage of ways to monetize his appearances by tapping into sponsor relationships, making appearances, growing a social following or earning a spot in the Player Impact Program (PIP), collectively tapping into Kim’s cachet to make it worth his while. Should Kim restart his Tour membership he’d be able to accept unlimited exemptions this year.

When asked about the potential for a Kim return, a PGA Tour spokesperson declined to comment.

Sources familiar with the LIV negotiations said that the league had not initially expressed much interest nor willingness to pay for Kim to join the league. But as word of Kim’s potential return spread, key figures including Dustin Johnson spoke out about Kim’s potential value. A call from LIV CEO Greg Norman directly to Kim followed and then negotiations began in earnest, including a one-year offer that would cover Kim’s insurance policy — again, in the area of $10 million — while allowing him to earn prize money and sponsor deals on top of that. A LIV spokesperson declined to comment.

Should Kim sign with LIV, he may not actually join a team — at least not in the first year of his deal. While he’s been floated as a possibility to join Jon Rahm’s team, LIV is expected to play this year with 54-player fields consisting of 13 teams of four (52 players total) plus two “wild card” spots reserved for individuals. Kim also seems unlikely to tee it up as early as next week’s debut in Mayakoba but could potentially play as a wild card going forward; LIV’s Miami event in early April was circled as one potential launching spot. The vision floated to Kim is that, should the first year go well, he could be signed to a team for 2025 or potentially launch his own.

There are clear cases to be made for either side. The PGA Tour boasts greater reach and greater contextual and historical significance than LIV, the Saudi-funded disruptor entering just its second full season. The Tour was where Kim’s star was born, after all, and even as LIV continues to collect top talent, the PGA Tour remains the world’s deepest, most competitive circuit. TV ratings on Tour have also dwarfed those of its competitor, and sponsorship deals are more readily available as a result.

LIV, on the other hand, would mark a softer landing spot. With big-time guaranteed money, Kim would earn six-figure payouts every week even if he finished in last place. There are no cuts, guaranteeing him competitive reps without the threat of missing the weekend. And LIV’s contracts make it easier to give him up-front money.

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There’s a third option, of course: If he doesn’t see a path (or deal) he likes, Kim could remain in the shadows. He may have missed the window for a LIV mega-contract. And it’s possible he won’t feel certain enough in the PGA Tour’s ability to deliver guaranteed value. His golfing future could remain what if. But for the first time in a long time, he’d prefer to return.

Whatever route Kim takes, his reappearance would be met with significant intrigue from golf fans across the globe.

During the peak of his playing career, Kim achieved cult-hero status as a flashy, hard-hitting, hard-partying fresh face for a sport that desperately needed one. He was undeniably talented, too: In 2008 he won his first PGA Tour event at age 22, then won his second just a couple months later. He made his Ryder Cup debut that year, too, palling around with Michael Jordan at Valhalla and capping off the week with a 5-and-4 drubbing of Sergio Garcia in Sunday singles. He climbed as high as No. 6 in the world. The following spring, at Augusta National, he set a Masters record for birdies in a single round — he made 11 in a second-round 65 — and seemed poised for superstardom. His brashness made him polarizing, but he leaned into that persona, happy to serve as a disrupting force to the Tour’s typical tranquility.

As time went on his star continued to rise. In 2010 he went on Jay Leno with Jessica Alba and offered a putting lesson. He dished out a couple assists at the NBA’s Celebrity All-Star Game. He won the Shell Houston Open a couple months after that and then finished T3 at the Masters, returning to the top 10 in the world. But later that year he began to struggle. In the months and years that followed he began accruing injuries more quickly than trophies. His 2011 season still featured flashes of brilliance, including a T6 at the Farmers and a T5 at the Open Championship, but there were clear signs of slipping. His 2012 season featured 10 starts, four WDs, four more MCs and a top finish of T42. His final event was the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow — the site of his debut win. He was just 26.

Kim’s legend arguably grew after his disappearance. Golf isn’t accustomed to its stars vanishing, after all. Careers span decades. Initially there was no sense that Kim would be gone forever. His last on-the-record interview came with the AP‘s Doug Ferguson in 2015, at which point Kim referred to golf as “a fond memory of mine.” He said at that point that he was getting monthly payments from an insurance policy he’d taken out in case of injury. But he still didn’t rule out a return.

“Ask me in two years,” he told Ferguson.

But in the years that followed, Kim showed no signs of return. He hardly showed up at all. One golf fan ran into him at a coffee shop in West Hollywood, Calif., in April 2019. In the summer of 2020 a shot emerged of Kim at an outdoor gathering, White Claw in hand. There was the release of a mysterious swing video, date and time unknown, that sent fans into a tizzy. You get the idea. His longtime swing coach Adam Schriber posted a photo with Kim around New Year’s in 2021, with a cryptic caption: “2021 is going to be special.”

By that point, though, golf fans weren’t sure what to hope for. Everyone wanted to see him again. But would he really return to play after more than a decade away?

It appears that 2024 will be special instead. There was no indication of how serious Kim was about a return until this fall, when he began putting out feelers. Talks have progressed since then. With LIV’s season beginning the first week of February, a decision looms.

LIV’s other roster moves are down to the wire, too. While Jon Rahm’s December signing caused a massive splash, official roster announcements have been slow to follow. Entering this week his roster had at least one spot open, as did the roster of the Cleeks. Speculation and fierce negotiation have followed as other players make their own calculations about the PGA Tour versus LIV.

Which door Kim walks through remains to be seen. But the fact that he’s knocking will have golf fans clamoring to see where he plays next — and what he looks like when he does.

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