Debutant Tom Kim couldn’t have asked for a better way to begin his first Masters Tournament appearance following “a dream” practice round on Monday in the company of golf legend Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Fred Couples.
Now comes the tricky part – how to plot his way against golf history and a stellar line-up to challenge for the coveted champion’s Green Jacket that is very rarely handed to a first-timer at the Masters.
Only 20, Kim has been on cloud nine since driving through Magnolia Lane and stepping foot on the hallowed turf of Augusta National Golf Club, the permanent home to the Masters Tournament.
He got to smell the Azaleas that line the manicured fairways at Augusta National and more importantly, pick the brains of Woods, a five-time Masters winner, reigning FedExCup champion McIlroy and veteran Couples, who triumphed in 1992, during a nine-hole session in front of large crowds that had semblance of a final round in any major.
“A lot of laughter. So it was really fun,” said Kim in a press conference on Tuesday.
“I think my first memory of just watching golf was the Masters and Tiger winning it (2005), and for me to be able to share my first official practice round with him was a dream come true, really. And to not just play with Tiger but to have Fred Couples and Rory join us, it was a dream.
“The guys were pretty serious and they were getting work done. It was just nice and enjoyable. Days like yesterday definitely makes me feel like dreams really do come true, especially for the guys back in Asia. You know, I had a goal, and I worked towards it, and it feels like days like yesterday definitely, the hard work kind of pays off.”
Kim is determined to not be the kid in a candy store in his first appearance at the major every golfer craves to play in. He made a recce trip to Augusta National several weeks ago to get the “bug out” and this week has all been about meticulous planning with caddie, Joe Skovron, and understanding the course intricacies from the masters themselves.
Two stunning PGA TOUR victories and a standout performance in the Presidents Cup last year propelled Kim into the global spotlight as he became the first golfer since Woods to win twice before turning 21. Kim would break Woods’ record of being the youngest Masters champion if he can pull off an improbable victory come Sunday.
The last Masters debutant to win was Fuzzy Zoeller, who triumphed in 1979. Only two others won on their first visits, Horton Smith who won the inaugural Masters in 1934, and Gene Sarazen in the following year.
Kim is not deterred.
“I got some really good work done, and this course actually does suit my eye a little bit. So I’m trying to prepare really well. Obviously some of the guys have been here a lot more than I have, but I have to adjust and adapt really quickly,” said Kim, who will play the opening two rounds alongside McIlroy and recent WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play winner, Sam Burns.
“The weather, it looks kind of a little shaky on the weekend, so I mean, whoever has the best stuff kind of wins. So just trying to get ready, and hopefully I’ll have a chance to win on Sunday.”
Like many others, Kim grew up watching Woods dominate at the Masters. After turning professional at the tender age of 15, he started winning tournaments in countries such as Pakistan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia and Korea, before bursting onto the PGA TOUR.
Two years after Hideki Matsuyama of Japan became the first Asian winner at Augusta National, Kim reckons the Asian brigade at this week’s Masters, which includes countrymen Sungjae Im, Si Woo Kim, K.H. Lee and another Japanese debutant Kazuki Higa, could well emerge as legitimate contenders.
“Obviously in major championship history, we haven’t had many Asian golfers win. I feel like right now on the PGA TOUR, there are a lot more Asian golfers than there were. Hopefully, especially the Masters, every single golfer wants to win it, but for an Asian golfer to win the Masters is going to be a lot more impactful. Hopefully this week, whether it’s me or any Asian golfer will have a chance to win on Sunday and hopefully inspire the generations coming up,” he said.
“That would exceed expectations for sure,” Kim added when asked what it would mean to become the youngest Masters champion.
“I mean, I think everyone wants to win the Masters. Everyone wants to park in the champions parking lot. Everyone wants to go to the Champions Dinner. Everyone wants to fight for it. And I’m the same way, and hopefully I’ll just be able to have a chance on Sunday. That would be a dream.”