Sports

Looking back at Anthony Kim’s best moments as he makes long-awaited return

Reigning Open Championship winner Brian Harman once called Anthony Kim one of the three or four most talented golfers he’s ever seen.

Harman and Kim played together on the 2005 and 2009 Walker Cup teams when they were both amateurs. Back then, Harman measured his game against Kim’s because of his length off the tee, consistent iron play, ability to move the ball both ways and solid short game.

“He’s got speed,” Harman told ESPN on Tuesday. “He’s got the thing that you can’t really teach. Back then, it was a big deal because he was one of the few guys that could really, really, hit it far. Now, everybody hits it far, but back then he could really get out there.”

Harman is among the PGA Tour players who have often wondered what Kim might have accomplished if he hadn’t walked away from the game in 2012 following a series of injuries. A three-time winner on tour, Kim was ranked as high as No. 6 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Fans loved his aggressive style, outgoing personality and big belt buckles.

And then, at the age of 26, Kim vanished from the golf world. In May 2012, Kim left the public eye when he withdrew after the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship. He underwent surgery to repair an Achilles tendon injury in his left leg the next month and hasn’t played professionally again.

Kim’s 11-year hiatus will end at this week’s LIV Golf League tournament in Saudi Arabia, starting Friday at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City, according to an announcement from the circuit Wednesday. Earlier this week, the league posted a dramatic video featuring Kim that referred to his comeback as the “Dance of Redemption.”

“After stepping away from the game years ago due to injury, I’m happy to officially announce my return to the world of professional golf,” Kim said in a statement. “It’s been a long time coming, and I’m very grateful for all the highs, lows and lessons learned from the first part of my career. I want to compete with the best players in the world, and I’m on a mission to prove to myself that I can win again. The next step on that journey starts now, and I’m excited to give everything I’ve got this season [to] the LIV Golf League.”

Now 38 years old, Kim will compete as a season-long wild card, meaning he’ll play in the individual competition but his scores won’t count in the team portion.

“I think I missed the competitive part of the game — I wouldn’t just say it was golf,” Kim said in a video posted to LIV Golf’s X account. “Just being in the heat of the moment and having an opportunity to do something special, and I’m looking forward to having that opportunity again.”

In a statement, LIV Golf CEO and commissioner Greg Norman said Kim’s “talent is undeniable.”

“It’s clear that he has the fire to win again and show why he was one of the most compelling players in the world, and we will support him on that mission as he works to earn his way back to the top of the game,” Norman said.

What should golf fans expect from Kim after so long away from competition? 12 years would be one of the longest layoffs for any athlete in a professional sport. Las Vegas oddsmakers have given him 200-to-1 odds to win in his first tournament back. The over-under on his finishing position in the 54-man field is 48½. For his first-round score, it’s 74½.

“I know that I don’t think I could do it, and who knows if he can either,’ Harman said. “It’s a long time to be out of it. It’s 12 years of guys sharpening their axes, and competition is a hard thing to replace. But I certainly wouldn’t go around doubting anyone that possesses that kind of talent.”

Kim remains confident in his game.

“Eleven years off is a long time, but I feel like I was blessed with a little bit of talent, and a little hard work can go a long way,” Kim said in the video. “So I’m expecting good results.”

When Kim left the PGA Tour in May 2012, reigning FedEx Cup champion Viktor Hovland had only been playing golf for five years. Budding star Ludvig Åberg was 12 years old. Recent first-time winner Nick Dunlap was 10.

Over the past dozen years, Kim was rarely seen in public. He lost touch with players who considered him a friend. His life has been shrouded in mystery, with few people having direct contact with him or knowledge of what he has been doing, which only fueled the legend around him. His young daughter and a woman appeared with him in the video, and he said he was happy to have his family with him in Saudi Arabia.

“I’ll tell my story when it’s the right time, but right now I’m focused on golf,” Kim said.

Dubbed “Golf’s Yeti,” Kim will finally emerge from the wilderness again Friday.

Here’s a look at the Kim’s greatest moments on the PGA Tour:

Ryder Cup Sunday singles, Sept. 21, 2008

It was the day that cemented Kim’s place among the game’s rising stars. He was one of six Ryder Cup rookies on a U.S. team that was missing world No. 1 golfer Tiger Woods, who was recovering from knee surgery and was unavailable to play.

Kim, 23, was the youngest player in the event by three years, but he certainly wasn’t lacking in confidence. Kim wanted to play European star Sergio Garcia as soon as he arrived at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.

“[Anthony] was our off-the-course team leader,” U.S. team captain Paul Azinger told Golf.com in 2016. “Everybody laughed at AK because he was a street kid, a chip-on-your shoulder kid. He wanted Sergio all week. I don’t think he realized that we couldn’t just match ’em up when we got there.

“He kept saying, ‘I want to play Sergio, Zing. I want to play Sergio.’ It never worked out until Sunday, and we got lucky. Anthony ate it up and responded. He said on the first tee, ‘I’m gonna whup his ass for you today, captain.'”

After going 1-1-1 in foursome and four-ball matches with Phil Mickelson over the first two days, Kim got his wish in Sunday singles. Azinger sent him off first against Garcia, with the U.S. team holding a 9-7 lead. The Americans were trying to end the European team’s three-match winning streak in the event and capture the Ryder Cup for the first time in nine years.

Kim set the tone for a tense match on the first hole. After both players hit their approach shots within two feet of the cup, Garcia asked, “Good, good?”, suggesting they concede their birdies. Kim’s response: “Let’s putt them.”

Kim had birdies on three of his first four holes. When Garcia’s driver got loose later in the match, Kim pounced. Kim handed the Spaniard a 5 & 4 loss, his worst defeat in a stellar Ryder Cup career.

Kim was so focused on taking the match that he didn’t realize he’d won after earning a half-point on No. 14. He started walking toward the 15th tee box before realizing it was over.

‘”I was just trying to keep my nose to the grindstone,” Kim said. “I give [Garcia] a tremendous amount of respect. I wanted to get things going for us.”

Kim’s stunning victory helped spark the U.S. to a 16 ½-11 ½ victory, its largest margin of victory since 1981. It was Kim’s only Ryder Cup appearance.

“That was one of the classic moments in Ryder Cup history, I think,” Azinger said. “After he won that match, I gave AK a big hug on the green, and then he kind of backed off. He was pointing at me, and if you can read his lips, he was saying, ‘I told you I was gonna whup his ass!'”

Masters second round, April 10, 2009

Playing in his first Masters, Kim was overshadowed by teenagers Rory McIlroy and Ryo Ishikawa when he posted a 2-over 75 in the first round. He arrived at Augusta National Golf Club after playing in only three PGA Tour events, skipping starts at the Bob Hope Classic and Northern Trust Open on the West Coast Swing to play in Malaysia and Australia instead. He had been plagued by ankle and shoulder injuries and a bout of the flu.

In the second round, Kim carded six birdies in the first eight holes to move to 5 under. After making a bogey on No. 9 and a double-bogey on the par-4 10th, Kim said he felt things slipping away. But then he picked up five more birdies in his last eight holes to break the Masters single-round record with 11. Kim carded a 7-under 65, two strokes better than any player in the field that day.

“I haven’t been making 11 birdies in two days; so to make 11 in one day is pretty special,” Kim told reporters afterward. “Obviously, to do it at Augusta is amazing. Hopefully, I can build off that and if I keep the putter hot, I like my chances here.”

Kim said he was moved by the death of Los Angeles Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart, who had been killed in a car wreck the day before.

“No matter what I shoot, I wanted to put this tournament round in perspective,” Kim said. “I read a great story this morning before I teed off about that baseball player who died, and I said, ‘Look, it’s been a dream of mine to be at the Masters my whole life.’

“There’s no reason to pout about a bogey or a three-putt, enjoy being out here and enjoy all of the hard work that was put into it by myself and my parents and go out there and have some fun. The last line in the story was: ‘You never know what can happen, even at 22. You have to live every moment of every day like it’s your last.'”

Kim had rounds of 72 and 74 on the weekend and tied for 20th at 2-under 286, 10 strokes behind winner Angel Cabrera.

AT&T National final round, July 6, 2008

After posting a bogey-free final round of 5-under 65 for a 2-stroke victory at Congressional Country Club, Kim became the first American golfer since Woods in 2000 to win two PGA Tour events before turning 25. Kim was asked why he was now capable of winning.

“I think it’s easier to mature faster as a golfer, but definitely, as a person, I feel like I’ve come a long way,” Kim said then. “I’m making a lot better decisions off the course. I’m staying away from bad people and staying away from bad places.”

Kim had earned the reputation of playing aggressively on the course and living fast off it. Kim’s breakthrough came at the 2007 BMW Championship when he arrived at the course only a few minutes before his final-round tee time. Woods had been at the course for more than an hour preparing for his round. Tiger won the tournament and was 22 strokes better than Kim.

“It’s time to grow up and make the right decisions,” Kim said. “And I feel like I’m in a great position right now, that I get to affect young kids. I feel like a lot of them look up to me, so I have to put myself out there like Tiger did for me, and be an example and be somebody my parents will be proud of.”

Presidents Cup Sunday singles, Oct. 11, 2009

Robert Allenby apparently didn’t think Kim would put up much of a fight in their Sunday singles match at the 2009 Presidents Cup at Harding Park Golf Club in San Francisco. Not after the Australian heard that Kim had been out partying for much of the night and didn’t return to the team hotel until 4 a.m., less than six hours before their tee time.

So imagine Allenby’s surprise when Kim thumped him 5 & 3, helping the Americans capture a 19 ½ – 14 ½ victory over the International Team, which was led by non-playing captain Greg Norman.

“I’m just pissed off that I lost,” Allenby told reporters afterward. “Maybe I should have the attitude of Anthony Kim, get home at 4 a.m. and go play. Maybe I should have gone out with him.”

When reporters asked Allenby how he knew Kim had been burning the midnight oil, he said his friends saw Kim “come in sideways.”

Kim denied the allegation, saying he’d attended a team dinner and gone back to the hotel.

Less than a month later, Kim and Allenby played each other again in the semifinals of the Volvo World Match Play Championship at Finca Cortesin Golf Club in Spain. While Allenby tried to put the matter to rest, Kim joked that he’d make sure to “be in bed by 9:30 p.m.”

Kim thumped Allenby again, 5 & 4, to reach the final match. He lost to England’s Ross Fisher by a 4 & 3 score.

Masters final round, April 11, 2010

After winning the Shell Houston Open the week before, Kim entered the final round of the Masters tied for ninth, seven shots behind leader Lee Westwood and six behind Phil Mickelson.

Kim was 2 under on the first nine and then put himself in contention with an unforgettable four-hole stretch on the second nine. He made an 18-foot putt for birdie on No. 13, 6-footer for birdie on No. 14, 15-footer for eagle on the par-5 15th, followed by another birdie on No. 16.

“I just tried to make as many birdies as possible and fire at a couple of flags,” Kim said. “I grinded, I hung in there and I’m proud of the way I stuck it out.”

With Kim watching in the clubhouse, Mickelson made a birdie on the 15th to win his third green jacket. Kim was solo third, his best finish in a major championship.

Remarkably, Kim was playing some of the best golf of his career while battling a left thumb injury. He withdrew from the Players Championship and had surgery the next month. He was sidelined for more than three months.

It was the beginning of what we thought was the end of his career.

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