How Tom Kim stole the show at the Presidents Cup (and what’s in store next)
Remember when we thought a pandemic season two years ago was crazy? Man, 2022 had it all. The return of Tiger Woods, the formation of a controversial golf league(!), the disappearance (and reappearance) of one of golf’s most beloved figures and so, so much more. But now let’s take a breath. Here, we’ll look back (and look ahead) at the 10 most memorable moments of 2022.
No. 9: A fresh face steals the show at the Presidents Cup
You remember the 2-iron. But Trevor Immelman also has a story about a 4.
He’d heard something about this Tom Kim dude. Winner of the order of merit for the 2020-21 season on the Asian Tour. Sat to the left of Greg Norman — yep — when it was announced in February that LIV Golf Investments — yep — would be pumping $300 mil into that tour. Calls himself Tom; his first name is actually Joohyung, but he liked Thomas & Friends as a kid, and there you go. A few days after the Asian Tour-LIV announcement, the then-19-year-old played with Dustin Johnson at the Saudi International, and Claude Harmon III, DJ’s coach, texted Immmelman, this year’s Presidents Cup International captain, that this kid needed to be on his radar.
So at the Open Championship in July, Immelman had himself a look.
“And he’s in the fairway, Tom,” Immelman said in October on Harmon’s podcast, Son of a Butch. “And the hole location is back right. Wind is whipping loudly. And he just pures this high-cut 4-iron into the middle of the green. And I was like, man, you know, first shot I ever see from this kid, and it’s just pure, right where he’s looking.
“And walked with him for a few holes and immediately you can feel there’s something a little different about him. He has a presence. He has self belief while still being humble. And he has this mentality where he doesn’t shy away from the limelight. You know, he wants the ball when it matters most. And you don’t see that all that often. You see a lot of great athletes that make an incredible living, but they just like to be able to cruise under the fray and do well and have top 10s and finish on podium and never really put themselves out there, and it’s not really a knock on them.
“It’s more about putting yourself out there is damn difficult. And it’s demanding. And there’s a lot that comes with it. And it’s a strain mentally. And there’s a lot of anxiety that comes with that. And so it’s not necessarily a knock on that athlete, but I’m just saying when you find the ones that ask for that and want that and demand that, those ones are special. Those ones are really special. And when you match that with supreme talent is when you find the magic, and this kid has that, this kid has that.”
From there, Immelman didn’t pick Kim for his team.
At about that point, the choice was a no-doubter. After the Open, Kim won the Wyndham Championship to secure his PGA Tour card, and a few weeks after the Presidents Cup, played in last September, Kim won again, at the Shriners Children’s Open, and he heads into 2023 as the latest next big thing. But as we look back at the top stories of this year, it’s the moment that gave him that mantle that we’ll remember most.
Back to the 2-iron.
Kim’s Internationals were down, but rallying on the third day at the Presidents Cup. They’d lost both the first day and second day 4-1, but split Saturday morning, and now Kim and partner Si Woo Kim were even in four-ball with Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schaeuffle, the American juggernaut, on 18 at Quail Hollow. And, from 220-plus out, Tom Kim sailed one in to about 10 feet, he made the putt and he danced around after the match-winner as if were not only playing for the Presidents Cup, but the World and Stanley versions, too.
But Immelman tells it all much, much better.
“So I was kind of running around — it’s very difficult as captain to know where you need to be,” Immelman began on the podcast. “And you’re just going by instinct and you’re going by guts and you’re listening to the radio — you’re starting to understand. And they got to 17 all square and I joined him and Si Woo on the fairway on 17. And I went up and I gave him a pat on the shoulder, and I was like, come on, we need this point. He was like, I got it, I got it, I got it. They tie 17.
“They hit their tee shots down 18. He hits a straight one, but as we’re walking off the tee, he’s like, I whiffed that; I’m going to be so far back. So we’re walking over the hill — now both teams are starting to follow because everybody realizes this is the pivotal moment. It was one of the most intense moments I’ve ever felt on a golf course. The energy was like, it was hitting you hard. We get to his ball, and the guy’s got like 237 or something like that. And he’s got 220, 222 to cover that front left bunker. And Si Woo’s out in the right trees, and we’re trying to figure out who should play first in the better ball format. You know, does Tom want pressure on him, knowing where Si Woo’s ball is, or does he want Si Woo as a little bit of insurance?
“And we get word from Si Woo that he’s got a shot and he thinks he can get it up near the green. And it’s taking a little while, and Tom just says to me, tell him I’m going to go. Like he couldn’t wait anymore. He says tell him I’m going to go. So I radioed down to Camilo [Villegas, assistant captain], I said, Tom’s going. So Si Woo stands back for a little while, and the kid pulls the 2-iron out, and Joe [Skovron, Kim’s caddie] says to him, perfect club, normal 2-iron. And he gets over the ball, and I look back, and I see three carts of Americans 15 yards from him, like just off the line, like they’re right there. You could feel them. It’s the who’s who of American golf. It’s [Justin] Thomas, it’s [Jordan] Spieth, it’s [Max] Homa, it’s [Tony] Finau. It’s all their wives. It’s the caddies. I mean, you got three golf carts packed with the best players in the world. And they are like steps from this kid.”
“And then you got all the American vice captains, who’ve all major championships and all that,” Harmon said.
“And he slots this 2-iron, dude. As it took off, that ball was never going to be outside of 15 feet. And that goes back to what I was saying earlier. Some people really want that moment. And others are looking for ways to shy away from it. And after he hits the shot, I walk up to him, I put my arm around him, and I’m like, that was incredible, that was incredible.
“But I wanted him to stay focused because the energy all of a sudden was, we got a shot at this now. And I just said to him, make that putt; stay focused and make that putt. And then afterwards … the amount of times we said to him during the week, do you want that putt to win the Cup — because afterwards when the media asked him about it, he said I wanted to make that putt more than anything in the world. And it just goes to show somehow we got to him with all that during the week. But the kid is an absolute stud. I am extremely excited to see what his future holds.”
Tom Kim stole the show at the Presidents Cup; what can we expect in 2023?
So then what does the future hold?
Immelman, a former Masters winner, had a word on that, too.
Kim has it. The intangibles. If you don’t think so, just go back and re-read from the start.
But about that part about being 220 out …
“The thing that’s going to be interesting for me to see and the one hurdle that I believe he still has to overcome, is he doesn’t quite have the power,” Immelman said on the podcast. “So he was the second-shortest hitter on our team. Him and [Christiaan] Bezuidenhout were the two shortest hitters. And I thought it was a good sign that he acquitted himself so well on a big ballpark like Quail Hollow. He has a bit more of a knuckly ball flight and needs conditions to be firm. And will be extremely dangerous when you look at golf courses like Sedgefield, where he won the Wyndham, or Colonial or Sony, places like that.
“But it’s going to be interesting to see if over the next few years, he continues to generate a little speed to match everything else, to where he can bridge the gap. If you look at just that match, and who they were playing against, he was going in with 2-iron and then the next match that came through there, the [Sam] Burns–[Adam] Scott–[Cam] Davis–[Billy] Horschel match, Burns had 150 yards into that hole on 18, And Tom had 237. So it just goes to show, it really is tough to keep up. Because Sam Burns and Homa and Thomas and [Scottie] Scheffler, like those guys have all the skills, and they have the power to match that. That to me is the final hurdle for Tom. I know he’s only 20, but it will be very interesting to see if he can start to harness a little more power to where he can bridge that gap. And instead of having — I know he whiffed that tee shot; he told me so in his own words — but instead of having 237, can he be inside of 200? To where he has some kind of medium iron in there. Because it will be very difficult for him over the course of four days, be it at a major, a U.S. Open, a Masters when it’s not firm and fast, for him to keep up with the big guns.”
He’s 20, right? And bodies develop and all that.
But maybe we need another story. It won’t answer the questions about the physical stuff, but maybe it’s foretelling.
Ahead of his Shriners win, Kim was asked about the moment at the Presidents Cup.
Here’s his answer.
“I can remember every single moment of me walking up to that green and looking at that putt, seeing my whole team there,” Kim said. “I was just looking down and thinking to myself that man, I want this putt to go in more than anything in the world, because I’m just not playing for myself, I’m playing for everyone on that team.
“With where we were at on Saturday, knowing that one, two points is just a huge difference, and once I hit that putt — I was putting so well that all I needed to do was just have the right speed on it. As soon as I hit it, I knew it was going to go in.
“I wanted — the reason why I ran that way, threw my cap that way because I knew my team was behind me. I’ve watched it a lot of times.
“I still watch it sometimes because it gives me motivation.”