Tour Confidential: Anthony Kim’s potential return, Dunlap’s decision, LPGA star power
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Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us at @golf_com. This week we discuss our reporting of Anthony Kim’s potential return, Nick Dunlap’s decision to turn pro and the success of LPGA’s top stars.
1. Our Dylan Dethier broke the news that Anthony Kim — yes, that Anthony Kim — is plotting a return to pro golf after his decade-long disappearance and that the three-time Tour winner has been in discussions with both the PGA Tour and LIV Golf. We covered lots of the lingering questions here, but what Tour makes the most sense for Kim? And what do you think he’ll decide to do: join the PGA Tour, LIV Golf, or, option 3, stay out of the pro game entirely?
Alan Bastable, executive editor (@alan_bastable): Depends what his goals are. If it’s a quick payday and guaranteed on-course earnings, it’s not much of a discussion. It’s LIV. But if Kim has a grander vision of picking up where he left off, keeping a domestic travel schedule and brokering partnerships with blue-chip brands that require PGA Tour exposure, then he’ll try to reboot his career through sponsor’s exemptions on the PGA Tour. LIV feels like a more likely path for him, but trying to predict the moves of one of golf’s great enigmas is a fool’s errand.
Jessica Marksbury, senior editor (@jess_marksbury): If I take a purely cynical view, it’s hard to see an upside to returning to the PGA Tour for Kim. He’d have some status and could feasibly play a pretty hefty schedule since he’s a dream sponsor invite. But what if he immediately fizzles? There’s no guaranteed money there, and interest will wane. LIV, on the other hand, has plenty to offer up-front, and, seemingly, less stress from a performance standpoint. But if it’s history and major berths he’s ultimately seeking, LIV obviously isn’t going to help him there. Regardless of what he decides, I’m most interested in hearing from him! What’s been going on? And why return now? It’s all been so mysterious that when he does eventually speak, he’ll have a rapt audience.
Josh Sens, senior writer (@joshsens): Let’s see: the potential for a huge upfront money. Guaranteed paycheck at team events, no matter how he plays. If Kim comes back, it will be LIV.
2. Regardless of what tour he decides to play, if any, do you think Kim still has the star power to captivate audiences and generate new viewers? He was electric when he was on, but he also hasn’t played since 2012 and is now 38. And, squeaky wheel here: What happens if Kim returns and simply doesn’t perform the way we’re used to seeing, or that he’s expecting from himself?
Bastable: That’s a probable outcome! How many athletes have returned from this kind of layoff — 12 years! — and excelled at such a high level? I’m no sports historian but I can’t think of one. Sure, maybe Kim has been keeping his game sharp with money games with his pals, but there’s a yawning gap between $100 Nassaus and playing for seven-figures on the game’s top tours. Ask Tiger Woods. After long spells on the bench, you can’t just flip a switch. For AK, simply making cuts would be a massive achievement. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but if Kim does resurface, I think his legion of fans needs to be prepared for the very real possibility that he flames out.
Sens: Cuts? That’s assuming he’s playing in any events with those. He definitely has the wattage to move the needle at the outset. His return, if it happens, will be a golf-world spectacle. But people are impatient and attention spans are short. So if he can’t contend – and, as Alan points out, that won’t be easy– he’ll get chewed up and spat out by the news cycle and recede into memory, most likely with a fat signing bonus in the bank.
Marksbury: That’s the scary part of it all! A couple of blow-up rounds, and interest will take a cliff-dive. Which leads me to ask again … why?? After all this time off, with all the speculation about a big insurance payout and what appears to be a decade-plus of quiet life away from pro golf, is his burning competitive desire really that great? Seems like a lot to put on the line from someone who has seemed so determined to stay out of the public eye.
3. Just days after he became the first amateur to win on the PGA Tour since Phil Mickelson did in 1991, Nick Dunlap, an Alabama sophomore, announced he’s turning pro and will make his first professional start at next week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. What do you expect from him the rest of the season? Can he win again?
Bastable: Dunlap appears to have all the tools, including, perhaps most important, maturity, confidence and unflappability. But one quick win does not necessarily portend a Hall of Fame career. Let’s let him enjoy his rookie season without burdening him with crushing expectations.
Sens: Dunlap is impressive. But talent pools are deep and winning is tough. A realistic over/under line Vegas might set for him for the remainder of 2024 is .5 wins, and I still think I’d take the under.
Marksbury: Dunlap appears to be the real deal and has all the pedigree you can ask for in a newly-minted pro — and then some! But winning is so, so hard. Can’t bet on it happening twice, even if it might!
4. Rose Zhang and Lexi Thompson will play alongside Rory McIlroy and Max Homa in the latest iteration of The Match (Feb. 26 in West Palm Beach, Fla.) in what will be the first time women have been included in the made-for-TV production. What’s your interest level in watching this one compared to the other iterations that have included PGA Tour pros, NBA stars or NFL QBs?
Marksbury: This will be interesting! My favorite part of the previous iterations of The Match has been the banter rather than the golf. I’m not sure what to expect here, other than the humor Max Homa is sure to bring. But Rose and Lexi are two of the biggest stars in the women’s game, so I’m thrilled for their inclusion on what has become a major platform, for sure.
Bastable: Yeah, agreed, Jess. This is destined to be the most interesting Match since Tiger vs. Phil. Every time the world’s best female players square off against the men — be it at the Grant Thornton late last year, or Lexi battling to make the cut at the PGA Tour event in Vegas, in October — it makes for compelling theater. Moving the event to a muni was also an inspired move. The Gil Hanse-fied Park is no bargain for out-of-towners, but for locals, it’s one of the best deals in golf. I’m excited to see it under the lights.
Sens: Give me Zhang and Thompson any day. Those other celeb confections are crapshoots that depend on chemistry and clever smack-talk, and let’s be honest, most have been sorely lacking in both departments. Here, we’ll get to watch two of the top women in the game who have very different swings and styles. That contrast alone should be interesting, all the more when set immediately alongside the men. And with Homa in the mix, there’s even the chance someone might say something funny.
5. One week after Lydia Ko won for the first time since November 2022, Nelly Korda won the LPGA Drive On Championship for her first victory since November 2022, beating Ko on the second playoff hole. That’s two events into the 2024 season for the LPGA, and two wins by two of its biggest stars. How important is that for the success of the LPGA? And who will have the better 2024: Korda or Ko?
Bastable: Star power is essential for the success of all sports, and the LPGA is no exception. Having Korda and Ko in the discussion this early in the season is huge. With all the angst and bickering weighing down the men’s game, here’s hoping the 2024 LPGA season is a banner one. Golf could use it.
Marksbury: YES, this has been an awesome start to the year for women’s golf. Household names performing well is what is going to create huge gains in attention and eyeballs, which is what the LPGA needs most. But if I have to pick one of those two names to have a banner year, it’s Lydia. She seems relaxed and settled, and I have no doubt she’ll chase down that final Hall-of-Fame win this year — and probably sooner rather than later.
Sens: Agreed. And the fact that Korda is an American star makes it all the more important for a circuit that plays most of its events in the U.S. And yes. Gotta give the edge to Lydia. She’s been so impressive in pulling herself out of several downspins. On the flip side, we have not seen nearly as much sustained good play from Nelly since she first slipped into her slump. Those putting woes have been hard to shake.