Count Tiger Woods as the latest member of the Tom Kim Fan Club.
The American golf legend returns to action this week at The Genesis Invitational – a tournament which he also plays host – and marvelled at the rapid rise of the 20-year-old Korean who has taken of the PGA TOUR by storm over the past six months.
“It’s incredible to see, to beat the fields he’s beaten that early and to have the confidence he has. It’s neat to see the personality side of him – we’ve all seen that – but also the talent. It’s underrated,” said Woods, who holds the joint-record for PGA TOUR wins at 82 titles.
Kim became the first golfer since Woods to win two PGA TOUR victories before turning 21 when he won the Shriners Children’s Open last October, two months after his maiden victory at the Wydham Championship.
He also threw in a stellar debut at the Presidents Cup by winning two points for the International Team which his captain Trevor Immelman called Kim “a gift to our sport.”
Woods, whose playing schedule is now limited following injuries, is making his first official start on the PGA TOUR since the Open Championship at St Andrews last July which has only heightened Kim’s anticipation as the Korean makes his debut at Riviera Country Club. Three years ago, Kim attended the tournament as a fan.
“Really cool for me to come back. This is probably one of my first PGA TOUR events I stepped on to, so I took a bus and everything. It’s kind of cool for me to just take the cart outside the parking lot. Yeah, just seeing things outside the ropes and for me to be playing this week, it’s really fun for me,” he said.
“I think I was near the putting green and Tiger walked down the stairs to whatever busy schedule he was going to. I just remember, I think I saw Chris Pratt (the actor) there as well and all these celebrities, which was really cool. Yeah, Tiger stood out the most for me.”
As Kim will turn 21 on June 21, he has several more opportunities to play his way into the history books. Only two players – Gene Sarazen and Horton Smith – have won three PGA TOUR titles before their 21st birthday and Kim can achieve the feat, which Woods did not.
Kim is already proud to have his name next to Woods under a list of players who have won twice before turning 21. “Special, very, very special. There’s not a lot of record ‑‑ well, obviously Tiger has a lot of records, but I feel like it’s really hard to have an accomplishment near Tiger’s name because if your name’s near it, it means you’ve done something pretty special,” said Kim.
“That for me just starting out for my career and to do that right away, it’s a special thing for my heart. I’m very grateful for it, but I’d like to have a lot more next to his name, but one day when I do retire, I’d have a pretty good career if I’m kind of near him.”
He also likes his chances at iconic Riviera, and is counting on some Asian support.
“I actually first took a look at this course last week, I came over for a trip and I played 18 holes and I played nine yesterday (Tuesday). I think this place is very magical. The course is in great shape and I think it’s a very special place. This course so far I think has been one of the best courses I’ve played,” he said.
“I think the biggest thing for me is just kind of being in L.A. and there’s a big Asian community here so hopefully we’ll have a lot of people out there. Obviously it’s a beautiful designed golf course, it’s a great place to play well. I’m just trying to play the best that I can and hopefully have a chance on Sunday.”