CHARLOTT, North Carolina (AP) — Tom Kim can be forgiven for his mistake on Wednesday. The President’s Cup is new for the 20-year-old South Korean, as are seven other players from the international team who have a tough task ahead of them at Quayle Hollow.
Only it was more of a math error than a rookie mistake.
“Today we have 12 hours and he made a mistake doing simple math,” said Camilo Villegas of Colombia, one of the assistant captains of the international team. “So I look at the guy and I’m like, ‘Tom, is that college math?’ He looks at me and says, “Dude, I didn’t even finish high school.”
When it comes to new faces at the Presidents’ Cup starting Thursday, Kim ticks every corner. Only looks are deceiving.
Yes, at the age of 20, he is the youngest player to play for an international team since Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa was 18 in 2009 at Harding Park. Kim has also won more tournaments this year than anyone on his team. And it brings as much personality as it does games.
He loves to laugh and talk nonsense. The team has players from seven countries speaking four languages. It’s not a problem. Kim speaks three languages.
Earlier this week, captain Trevor Immelman was asked who his starting five would be if they played basketball. He named Kim as his point guard due to his size and “quick tongue”.
Kim’s real name is Joohyun. As a child, he was so fascinated by the engine Thomas that he wanted his name to be that, and it was eventually shortened to Tom.
Born in South Korea, his family moved to Australia when he was a child. He started golfing at the age of 6, and when the cost of living became too high, his parents decided to move to the Philippines. Golf Kim prospered even more.
What about school mathematics? As he said in a first-person report for Golf Digest, “The college scouts didn’t follow me and my goal was always to turn pro, so I decided to do it early.” He was 15.
Kim has gone his way through developmental tours in Asia. His path was slowed down by the COVID-19 pandemic, and he spent the last two years on a Korean tour, winning twice.
Last year he finished at No. 131 in the world and then quickly made himself known. At the start of the year, he won the Singapore International (and finished second at the Singapore Open a week later). He received a sponsorship exemption at the Scottish Open – the title sponsor is the Korean Genesis – and finished third.
This propelled him to the PGA Tour card and he achieved it a few weeks later by winning the Wyndham Championship where he started the tournament with a quad ghost eight.
There is very little that is boring in Tank Thomas.
Kim was invited to Saudi Arabia in February and shared a table at a press conference with LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman to talk about the Saudi Arabian money going towards the Asia Tour. But the kid left no doubt where he always wanted to play.
He was overjoyed to receive his PGA Tour card, and he’s even more excited about the Presidents’ Cup, the chance to inflict the mighty American team’s first defeat since 1998, before Kim was even born.
“I dreamed about it as a child. It is an absolute honor for me to be able to represent an international team. So I’m very excited,” he said. “I can’t wait for Thursday. I’ve always dreamed of doing crazy punching because it’s a match game. So I’m really looking forward to it.”
He won’t have to wait long. Kim plays South Korea’s K.H. Lee in the third of five matches Thursday at the fourball opener. They will face two-time world champion Collin Morikawa and big player Cameron Young, who has finished runner-up five times in his rookie season on the PGA Tour.
The Americans have all 12 players in the top 25 in the world and are on their way to their ninth consecutive win playing in front of a home crowd at Quayle Hollow. They are very popular.
Kim is one of four South Koreans on the team, a record for a country in golf better known for its top champions and #1 female-produced players. Kim joins Lee, Sungjae Im and Siu Kim. International team assistant KJ Choi couldn’t help but be proud.
Choi is intrigued by Kim, describing him with words like “very funny”, “cute” and “talking a lot”.
“The first 15 years for young players, Koreans, did not bode well. But now there are more than seven, nine, ten,” Choi said. “I have been leaving for America since I was 30, very difficult English. But the young guy is already abroad and has experience in English. Therefore, there is more friendship, more comfortable in the play, everything.
It remains only to see how it translates. Tom Kim is full of laughter and devoid of fear. Tank Thomas is gaining momentum and the stage has never been bigger for him.
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