Golf: Nicknamed after Thomas the Tank, Tom Kim's aiming to go places

Born in 2002 as Kim Joo-hyung, the talented youngster has literally taken the world by storm. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Tom Kim express finally ran out of steam after a whirlwind joy ride which lasted nearly two months and ended at his dream destination, the PGA Tour. But for the 20-year-old Korean phenomenon, this is just the beginning of an exciting journey, with the Presidents Cup being his next port of calling.

Born in 2002 as Kim Joo-hyung, the talented youngster with an easy demeanour and carefree approach has literally taken the world by storm. He first left his mark by winning multiple times in Korea and across Asia in countries such as Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

It somewhat mirrored his growing-up years as his family of four lived in Australia, China, the Philippines and Thailand as his father, Kim Chang-ik, was a professional golfer before becoming a teacher of the game.

The younger Kim picked up his English name, Tom, as a kid after watching Thomas the Tank Engine, a TV show based on a British book series. He loved Toy Story too, especially the character Buzz Lightyear, but somehow, Buzz Kim did not sound as quite as good as Tom Kim.

"It's just a stubborn me. Like you're supposed to let your parents name yourself and I was like, 'Nope, I'm going to name myself Thomas'. I loved the show as a kid," explained Kim. "I was like, you know what, I'm going to name myself Thomas. … And as the years went on, people started calling me Tom. It was shorter, so I kind of went with Tom after that."

With his precocious talent, he started creating his own buzz on the global stage by finishing third at the Scottish Open in July. With a tied-47 result at the The Open Championship at St Andrews the following week to add to earlier top-25s at the AT&T Byron Nelson and US Open, he earned special temporary membership on the PGA Tour.

Three tournaments later, he rolled on like a bullet train and made golf history by becoming the second-youngest winner on the PGA Tour since World War II with his victory at the Wyndham Championship. It earned him instant fame and Tour membership. He qualified for the FedExCup Playoffs but missed out on the Tour Championship after running out of gas following a seven-week stretch of tournament play.

"It has always been a dream of mine to play the PGA Tour," said Kim, who is now ranked 20th in the world. "Start of July, I was planning on trying to get my card through the Korn Ferry (Tour) Finals and now one month later, I'm a PGA Tour winner, so it's pretty crazy.

"When I was younger, I would see Tiger (Woods) win on the PGA Tour, not somewhere else, so for me that was always the goal. Hopefully I'll be here for a very long time."

Kim's father, who had a brief stint on the Korn Ferry Tour, put a club in his son's hands when he was five and his progress was meteoric. He won amateur tournaments while in the Philippines and after turning professional in 2018, he triumphed twice in the Philippines before raking up seven other victories across the region.

"I spent a lot more time with golf than I did in any other sport because it was in the family a little bit more and we would spend time on the golf course. Just things like that where it kind of made the path more clear to be a golfer. I definitely don't regret it because, gosh, how many people are able to play the PGA Tour at age 20!," he said.

Spanish star Jon Rahm, who played with Kim earlier in the month, had a word of advice for the young Korean, who averages 301 yards off the tee, which ranks him at around 80th on the tour in driving distance.

"To an extent, tee to green, he's just repetitive, the same thing all the time. One here on the fairway, one on the green. He's super accurate and a good putter," said Rahm, who is ranked sixth in the world.

"If I have one piece of advice for him, in this day and age, he's going to have to pick up a little bit of ball speed. That low 60s is going to be hard to contend in some bigger golf courses, so if he can keep that accuracy and just get a little bit of distance, he could be someone who can contend anywhere, not that he can't, but nowadays, distance is really, really necessary."

South Korea's Kim Joo-Hyung in action during the Scottish Open in North Berwick on July 9, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Kim's success has earned him automatic qualification into the International Team where he will be the second-youngest player after Japan's Ryo Ishikawa to feature in the Presidents Cup which takes place at Quail Hollow, Charlotte from Sept 22 to 25.

International Team captain Trevor Immelman first heard of Kim earlier in the year when well-known instructor Claude Harmon III texted and suggested he keep an eye on the young Korean. The South African made it a point to watch Kim closely during a practice round at The Open and liked what he saw.

"He (Harmon) had been out with one of his players who played a round with Tom. And Claude immediately texted me and was like, 'You've got to check this kid out. He's unbelievable'," said Immelman. "I can't wait for him to bring his youthful energy to Quail Hollow Club."

Kim's wild ride in 2022 will see him face a power-packed US team led by the likes of current World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, 2021 FedExCup champion Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Justin Thomas, and he cannot wait to represent his country and the International Team.

"It's crazy. I can't believe I'll be able to play in the Presidents Cup. It's something I've watched all the time, so it's going to be exciting, and hopefully I can be a good contribution," he said.

"I'm a lot younger than all the guys on the team, so hopefully I can bring that young energy and just be a kid out there and have all the fun we have. As long as we come together as a team, we're going to have a chance."

  • Chuah Choo Chiang is senior director, marketing and communications - APAC, for the PGA Tour.

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