Tom Kim falls in swamp, explains muddy disaster: ‘Oh no… everybody knows?!’
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Tom Kim walked off the back of Oak Hill’s ninth green looking cold.
He could see the cameras waiting. He shook his head, still in denial.
“I hope there’s no pictures of that,” he said.
He was wrong. Like, really wrong. ESPN’s PGA Championship coverage had been heading to commercial when Kim popped onto TV screens a muddy, mysterious mess, emerging from a swamp with a slick of sludge covering his body. The first day of the year’s second major had yielded plenty of intrigue, but this was a new high point. Screenshots and videos of Kim’s adventure spread instantly across the internet.
After Kim signed his scorecard he emerged from the tent and was met by a media official, who was requesting comment for a small phalanx of eager reporters. He shook his head; he was all set, thanks. What was there to talk about? He’d shot three-over 73. He was chilly. And he wasn’t interested in explaining why his pants were rolled up to his knees. But multiple bystanders quickly made it clear that this was, like, a thing.
Reality began to set in, and so Kim reluctantly headed over to the ESPN interview setup to speak with Michael Eaves, cautiously pulling out his phone as he went.
“Oh, no,” he said, reacting in real time. “Everybody knows?!”
And then he explained what had happened.
Less than an hour before, Kim had blocked his tee shot at the par-4 sixth, sending it right of the fairway and into the adjacent marsh. It seemed likely his ball had found a watery grave, but when he approached the landing area he was given some hope. Spotters told Kim that his ball had crossed the water and had landed in the mud in the center of the marsh. It seemed like a long shot — but if it was alive, perhaps it was playable?
The spotters had seen two balls in the muck, though they suspected they’d been there a while. Kim’s caddie, Joe Skovron, tried to dissuade him. It wasn’t worth it. Kim considered that advice but ultimately dismissed it. Like any golfer searching for his ball, he was feeling optimistic. What if…
It didn’t go well.
“As soon as I went in — it was kinda sketch,” Kim told ESPN.
There was no ball. There was no hope. And suddenly Kim felt one foot slip, then the next, and fell deeper and deeper into the muck. He was suddenly scrambling. He called out to Skovron for help. But what was he supposed to do?
“I said, ‘Are you sure you can’t move?'” Skovron recounted post-round on his way to the parking lot. “Then I would have gotten stuck, too, and we’d have had a disaster. There was no way, I couldn’t go in there. I took a couple steps and that was about as far as I could go. The next step I was going to be down there.
“I was like, uh oh, he’d better be able to get out. And he got out.”
“I had to use every part of my body to get out,” Kim explained. “I’ve had better days.”
What happens when you suddenly get mucky in the middle of a major championship? It’s not a question we’ve seen answered particularly often. But Kim was walking past a stream, which gave him an idea.
“I was wet enough I thought I might as well go in the water and wash myself off, so that’s what I did,” he added.
He bathed on live television. That helped take some of the mud off. It didn’t help with the cold, though, so he ditched his shirt for a sweater tucked in his golf bag. (They hadn’t bothered packing extra socks.)
But there was good news. Kim took his drop and got down in three shots from 252 yards away, a thoroughly epic bogey. His yardage book had somehow survived, too. He gave himself a look at birdie at No. 7 but settled for par, then followed that with two more. His 73 left him T63 on a difficult day at Oak Hill. He was proud of the effort.
“I hung in there, especially after what happened there,” he said. Then he made an appeal to the crowd.
“I hope everyone at home understands it’s a major championship, I’m trying to play the best that I can and every shot matters. I definitely went full in and went through all of that. It didn’t really help.” He tried to end on a positive note.
“It was a great experience.”
If Kim was surprised, his caddie sure wasn’t. Skovron spent a decade looping for Rickie Fowler, after all. He’s experienced the speed and reach of the internet.
“I figured it went viral,” Skovron said. “Of course. There’s cameras everywhere.”
He gave a shiver as he strolled off into the night. It had gotten chilly, swamp adventure or not.
“Played alright after,” he yelled back.