By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.com
Max Homa’s face lit up when he was asked about Tom Kim, the PGA TOUR’s newest young star who captured the world’s hearts with his exuberant performance at the recent Presidents Cup.
Homa, who ironically was the man to silence some of Kim’s incredible fervor with a Sunday Singles victory over the 20-year-old that helped the U.S. Team beat Kim’s International Team 17-5-12.5, is one of the biggest fans of the Korean sensation.
“Tom is obviously a rock star. I think first and foremost, he’s an amazingly nice person. He’s got that fresh outlook on the game of golf, which is cool. He’s 20 years old, so that’s amazing to even be out here,” Homa said.
“It was cool to see him kind of burst on the scene there (at Quail Hollow) because I know he had been playing some really great golf prior, but that was a big stage, and he handled it awesome.”
Homa was referencing a couple of huge eagles on Saturday at Quail Hollow that turned things for Kim and his partners in wins against U.S. duos. His long-range putts on the drivable 11th hole saw him throwing his putter and bellowing before the ball even disappeared.
Then, as an encore, there was a 10-foot winning birdie putt on the 18th in the afternoon Four-ball match against the dominant pair of Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay that Kim himself has had put on repeat on YouTube at times since the tournament.
“I’ve watched it a lot of times. I still watch it sometimes because it gives me motivation,” he laughs. “I always have that fire inside me.”
Already a winner at last season’s Wyndham Championship, Kim steps out for just his 18th TOUR start this week at the Shriners Children’s Open. Despite no history on the course, he is one of the favorites to win at TPC Summerlin.
Former major winner-turned-analyst Paul Azinger has already anointed him a possible future world No. 1 and one of his favorite players. Indeed, Kim is already a drawcard.
While picking up a coffee at a local store near TPC Summerlin on Wednesday morning, this reporter was spotted with a TOUR credential and International Team polo which drew questioning from a golf fan in the same line.
“Are you here for the Shriners? Do you know Tom Kim? We can’t wait to get out there and see him play this weekend,” the excitable middle-aged man gushed as he walked off with his latte.
“My son plays junior golf and he’s been fist pumping and roaring just like him for the past few weeks. Don’t tell his teacher, but I might buy a Friday ticket as well just to make sure he gets to watch him.”
Running late somewhere, he was gone before more questions could be asked, but one figures that man and his son are not alone in a quick admiration for Tom Kim. After all, he’s also a built-in advertisement for resilience, having opened the Wyndham Championship with a quadruple-bogey eight yet winning the tournament by five shots.
And his energy is infectious.
“As competitive as golf is, and that’s why we play it, part of it is entertainment, and I feel like he also has that extra kick of being very entertaining and lovable and somebody you want to see succeed,” Homa added.
“To be able to qualify for the Presidents Cup at that age is crazy to me. He played awesome all week. He was the catalyst of the team, I felt like. His emotion was cool.”
Kim and Homa have been paired together for the first two rounds this week along with fellow Presidents Cup player Si Woo Kim, Tom’s partner in that fateful Saturday afternoon match in Charlotte. There’s no doubt those three will be looking to entertain with abundant birdies.
The question for Tom Kim now is how he will handle his newfound fame. At this tender age, can he maintain the love and joy for the sport that often can become a grind? Will it get to his head?
He claims he won’t be getting complacent. He’s aware his new bank balance could induce such behavior, but Kim idolizes Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan for the never-be-satisfied mindset they carried. He intends to do the same.
“It’s amazing how people are starting to recognize me, and it’s a great feeling, and I really appreciate it,” Kim said humbly as he looks to start his 2023 campaign. “But I feel like nothing has really changed. Tiger has 82 wins on the PGA TOUR. Until I get to 83, it’s going to be hard for me to think a little different.”
It’s a refreshing maturity for one so young, particularly with the hype train in full motion around him right now.
“A lot of people have been telling me that hey, you’re such a star now, things like that, but I feel like really, am I that big of a star?” Kim said. “I played the Presidents Cup, it’s great, I had one win. But you’ve got guys like Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth … I’ve still got a lot to do.”
As such, he’s knuckling down this week where he feels the course should suit his game perfectly. And he intends to play the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP in Japan next week and THE CJ CUP in South Carolina the week after. Will he still have his bubbly smile throughout that intense travel schedule? Likely yes as he knows his energy is almost his secret weapon.
“I’ve learned enjoying it is the biggest thing, because there are a lot of times where it gets a little difficult with travel and going to places every week, and sometimes maybe not having the perfect food or something like that,” Kim said.
“But I enjoy a lot of things out here, and I love golf, and I love practicing. Putting a focus on enjoying it is probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned.”