Anthony Kim isn’t ready to compete on the LIV circuit — yet


For the record, I’d rather play golf than watch it.  If I need to just watch, I’d rather do it live at the course.  If I can’t do that I’d have to settle for TV or the  Internet.  The latter is what I had to do to see Anthony Kim ‘s return to professional golf at the LIV Golf League’s tournament in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, last week.

There was no way I was going to miss this one, though. Curiosity got the better of me. In 56 years reporting on all kinds of golf I had never heard a story as intriguing as that of Kim, a promising young star until Achilles tendon surgery on his left leg sidelined him.

The initial surgery was performed in June of 2013 and he had subsequent problems with his rotator cuff, labrum, spine and hand, and they required six more surgeries in a four-year period.

Until LIV’s stop in Jeddah Kim had not played in a tournament since the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship on the PGA Tour. He could have played sooner, via a Major Medical Exemption, but he didn’t. There’s more to Kim’s story.  Kim admitted that, and said he’d tell it “at the proper time.’’

Anyway, Kim decided to retire after all those surgeries, and that lasted for 12 years.  Now 38, Kim admitted his comeback was “a long time coming…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.’’

Well, maybe he can and maybe he can’t. His first tournament back created a lot of interest, but his play wasn’t encouraging.

On the first day at tournament site Royal Greens he shot a 76, a round that included a topped second shot (LIV commissioner Greg Norman said a drone distracted him) and an ugly shank.  He was dead last after Round 1 and another 76 in Round 2 left him 12 shots behind his nearest rival. The good part at that point? Well, he settled down after a bad start to finish with 11 straight pars. He improved to 74 in the third round but wound up at 16 over par for the tournament while champion Joaquin Niemann was at 17-under.

After the first round Kim said he “played better than the score.’’  There was no comment after the second, but he put a somewhat positive spin to his play over the 54 holes overall.

“Obviously it was a rough week,’’ said Kim, “but I’m excited to play professional golf again and blessed to have this opportunity. I was doing a lot of things well, though I know the scores don’t reflect that.’’

No argument there, but I’m still not giving up on Kim.  Here’s why:

Kim was more than just a good young player after he turned pro.  After playing for Team USA and the University of Okahoma, he helped the U.S. win the Ryder Cup in 2008 after winning three times on the PGA Tour that season.

In 2010 he tied for third at the Masters, finishing behind only present LIV players Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood.  His most eye-opening performance came in the 2009 Masters when he set a tournament record with 11 birdies in Round 2.

Norman was unrelenting in coaxing Kim into a comeback on his circuit. Convinced that Kim could move the needle for a new tour, Norman made initial contact two years ago to see if Kim might be interested – and it took a while (as well as some talks with PGA Tour personnel) for him to decide he was.

“LIV Golf was launched to create new opportunities for players and fans that drive this sport forward in exciting ways and, when I think of Anthony Kim, I can’t think of a more perfect fit for what we’re trying to do,’’ said Norman. “His talent is undeniable.’’

Well, it wasn’t “undeniable’’ at Jeddah, and Hong Kong is the next stop. As a “wild card,’’ Kim can play in the rest of this year’s tournaments and is assured a check in each one without the added pressure of letting a team down. He’s got a few months to prove that his skills are still good enough to compete at a high level.

The less-than-ideal start shouldn’t be surprising, and didn’t leave him downtrodden.  That’s a good thing.

“I look at being in contention at some time this year,’’ he said.  “Everything with LIV has been first class, and I look forward to representing them well.’’

I hope he can. If his play is only slightly reminiscent of what it had been, his would be a feel-good story — and the world can always use another one of those.