Ryder Cup: From Valhalla to nowhere - the curious case of Anthony Kim

A key part of the 2008 USA side, Kim had the world at his feet - and then, he disappeared

Anthony Kim was a key part of Team USA’s victory at the 2008 Ryder Cup. Photograph: Harry How/Getty

Anthony Kim was a key part of Team USA’s victory at the 2008 Ryder Cup. Photograph: Harry How/Getty

 

August 2011. A second round of 71 is not sufficient for Anthony Kim to make the cut at the US PGA Championship, but falling short by one appears far from disastrous. Kim, 26, had tied fifth at the Open Championship just weeks earlier demonstrating the versatility that had earned him third place in the 2010 Masters. At Augusta National in 2009, Kim had birdied 11 holes in a single round. With Tiger Woods wilting, Kim appeared a legitimate successor to the throne, and one who could have done so much to break down barriers as a Korean American.

Yet Atlanta Athletic Club and the final major of 2011 proved a key moment in the story of Anthony Kim. He has not appeared in one of golf’s big four individual events since. Given that a decade has now passed, it is safe so assume he will not again. Kim’s absence has proved more fascinating than his spell inside the ropes. Golf’s answer to the Loch Ness Monster, if you like, only Kim definitely did exist – to the point where Nike latched on to a potential global star.

Free-spirited golf and a penchant for a party meant Kim brought some much needed movie-star appeal to a world of chinos and polite applause. “I miss Anthony Kim,” Rory McIlroy said in 2019. “The tour was a better place with him in it. He was exciting.” The occasionally mischievous McIlroy appreciates those who refuse to bow to convention – but beyond that, he was simply aware of Kim’s professional ability. Kim won three times on the PGA Tour between 2008 and 2010; this was a golfer with substance.

Anthony Kim finished third in the 2010 US Masters at Augusta. Photograph: Jamie Squire/Getty
Anthony Kim finished third in the 2010 US Masters at Augusta. Photograph: Jamie Squire/Getty

The Ryder Cup provides scope to reflect. In 2008, Kim was a boisterous member of the US team that dismantled Europe at Valhalla. Kim trounced Sergio García 5&4 in the opening match of the Sunday singles, setting the tone for those in stars and stripes. A day earlier, while supporting his teammates in the fourball session, Kim body-checked a visibly irate Ian Poulter. “I explained my dislike of the situation to him ... in so many words,” recalled Poulter last week. Kim was, at that point, ranked in the world’s top 10.

Henrik Stenson, so unimpressed with Nick Faldo’s pairings pontification at Valhalla, took it upon himself to tell the captain he would play alongside the English rookie Oliver Wilson in the Saturday foursomes. Kim and Phil Mickelson, who had seen off Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell a day earlier, lay in wait. At four down after six holes – Europe’s pair were level par – Stenson regretted his intervention.

Europe rallied to win the match to ensure a memorable debut session for Wilson. Having beaten Kim before, he was far from overawed but fully appreciative of his status. “I had played quite a bit of golf with Anthony and got on well with him so I wasn’t intimidated but I knew how good he was,” Wilson says. “I always thought he was a world No 1 in waiting.”

“Anthony didn’t have a weakness. His mentality was like he was already No 1 in the world. He had every shot, there wasn’t one he was ever scared of taking on. He could produce ridiculously low rounds. He just had it all, he really did. He was cocky but in a nice way, a good guy to be around.”

Wilson, then in the world’s top 50, subsequently encountered struggles. The scale of delight across golf as he won the Dunhill Links Championship of 2014 endorsed just how popular the Englishman was and is. Wilson’s current battle is to retain his European Tour card, one he will surely relish. Kim, remarkably, has no footprint in golf whatsoever.

Poulter, despite the pair’s spat, echoes Wilson’s sentiment. “He was a great player, an incredible player,” Poulter says. “There haven’t been many young talents at that level to completely fall by the wayside. We can all play the ‘what if’ scenario, but genuinely, where would Anthony Kim be today if he didn’t jack it in? It’s bizarre, it’s a shame. Even though he was a feisty character and we had that run-in, you miss competing against people like that.”

Anthony Kim hasn’t appeared at a Majpr since the 2011 US PGA Championship. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty
Anthony Kim hasn’t appeared at a Majpr since the 2011 US PGA Championship. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty

So what actually happened? It is easy – fun, even – to portray Kim’s disappearance as some great mystery. The reality, as far as anyone in the golf world is aware, is that Kim was the holder of a lucrative insurance policy. Depending on one’s perspective, he was either prevented from playing by a series of injuries or he was given the option of not having to play after the injuries took hold.

Kim’s last post-round media appearance was at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2012, where he discussed a hole-in-one. He underwent Achilles surgery in June of that year and never returned to the PGA Tour. There have been snapshots which only add to the legend. In early 2019, Kim was approached by an eagle-eyed fan in Hollywood while walking his dog. Benjamin Bujnowski reported Kim to be perfectly amiable and approachable.

When asked about the state of his golf game, Kim replied: “Non-existent.” Kim’s long-time coach, Adam Schriber, posted an Instagram image from Dallas alongside his one-time star pupil to kick off 2021 with the promise of “special” things to come. Schriber could have meant anything at all, or may have just been playing to an expectant gallery, but Kim has not been presented in public since.

“I’m a pretty relaxed person, I like to have fun,” Kim said before life took him down an alternative path. Will he watch this Ryder Cup? Does he even know it is taking place? Still only 36, one of the greatest players in a generation is a forgotten man. - Guardian

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