Tom Kim living the dream, three years after attending Genesis as a fan
5 Min Read
Written by Chuah Choo Chiang @PGATOUR
Dreams are often made in Tinseltown. Or maybe it’s where they come true.
For the nation of Korea, 2020 was historic in epic proportions as the movie “Parasite” won Best Picture at the Oscars and became the first non-English language film to sweep the illustrious prize in Hollywood.
As Korea gushed and celebrated its film-maker Bong Joon-ho, who was also named Best Director, in the days after the Academy Awards ceremony, a teenaged Korean golfer was amongst thousands of golf fans at Riviera Country Club, some 20 miles away from La La Land, and likely day-dreaming of his own happy story.
Tom Kim, who was 17 then, had tickets to attend The Genesis Invitational and like many, he wanted to catch a glimpse of the game’s biggest names including his idol, Tiger Woods.
Fast forward to 2023, and Kim, still only 20, is now one of the stars of a weekly show called the PGA TOUR. From being outside the ropes, he is now in the heart of it all and very much looking forward to a first competitive appearance at The Riv, a famed venue which has crowned champions like Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els and Adam Scott.
“L.A. (Los Angeles) … I think is going to be a cool one,” Kim said at the start of the year.
“I was doing a winter camp in San Diego. I came to L.A. to just to watch some golf and meet some people. I was there, right before COVID hit, I was outside the ropes and watching all these guys play. And L.A.'s, I feel like the crowd's going to be pretty fun. I like it when there's a lot of people and when the crowd gets loud. So I enjoy that atmosphere.”
As a teenager, Kim was every bit a golf prodigy as he won professional tournaments in Korea and across Asia. Then he started to have bigger dreams.
“I want to play where all the best players want to be,” Kim said. “If you see Tiger's career, Jack Nicklaus's career, all these guys, they have come from the PGA TOUR and it has a legacy. So hoping to do the same and kind of stay here for as long as I can.”
It may very well be a very long stay in the U.S. at the rate Kim’s career is trending. He is now 15th in the world and sixth on the current FedExCup points list. He already holds two PGA TOUR victories where he was the second youngest to achieve the feat, even younger than Woods in winning twice before turning 21.
Kim’s big break on golf’s biggest stage came at the Genesis Scottish Open last summer, where he used an exemption given to Korean PGA players to finish solo third. It enabled him to secure special temporary membership on the PGA TOUR and four tournaments later, he became a PGA TOUR winner after bouncing back from an opening quadruple bogey in the first round at the Wyndham Championship to win by five shots following a closing 61.
“It's everything,” Kim said of his high finish in the Genesis Scottish Open, a tournament co-sanctioned by the PGA TOUR and DP World Tour.
“I think it was the first really big event for me that I finished inside the top-5. After that week, I really believed that with this field, I can really play well. And after the Scottish Open, everything just kind of went with a rhythm. It was definitely the start of my kind of last part of the year and definitely meant a lot for me.”
Kim’s rapid rise has coincided with the strengthening of Korean golf in recent times. Compatriots Sungjae Im and K.H. Lee are both two-time PGA TOUR winners while Si Woo Kim claimed his fourth career victory at the Sony Open in Hawaii last month. The quartet also wrote a slice of history by making the International Team at the Presidents Cup last September, which was the first time four Koreans qualified for the same team. Despite being the youngest team member at Quail Hollow, Tom Kim shone through as the team’s talisman with his bravado, clutch play and never-say-die attitude.
At this week’s $20-million Genesis Invitational, the Korean band of brothers will be bolstered by the presence of the upcoming S.H. Kim, who was the Korn Ferry Tour’s Rookie of the Year in 2022 and Seungyu Kim, the reigning Korean PGA Genesis Points Awards winner.
Lee, who won the AT&T Byron Nelson in 2021 and 2022, said: “We now have a lot of great Korean guys and every week, we are playing well. We’ve got Sungjae, Tom and Si Woo, and there’s very good competition amongst us and we are cheering each other. I’m very happy with this and it’s very good for us.”
As Tom Kim’s star continues to shine brightly, he is finding himself in the company of sport’s luminaries. Jordan Spieth invited him to spend Christmas with the his family in Dallas, he recently played a casual round of golf with World No. 3 Jon Rahm, NFL legend J.J. Watt and Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history. He also has an open invitation from World No. 2 Rory McIlroy to go for drinks after he turns 21 in June.
He has also gotten to know Woods, this week’s tournament host, after playing in the Hero World Challenge in Bahamas in December and is now looking to tick off another item on his bucket list which is to play with the 82-time PGA TOUR winner at this week’s Genesis Invitational.
“Tiger's, like, man, he's pretty cool,” said Kim. “I've seen him a few times, but to be able to kind of just have a conversation with him was pretty amazing. You look at him, and just the amount of things he has accomplished in his career was really cool to see.
“As a player, even me a big fan of Tiger, it's going to be awesome for him to be in the field. Hopefully I can kind of work myself up and kind of hopefully play with him if I get the chance. I played a few events that he's been in there, but never been near where he was teeing off.”
Much has happened for Kim in the last three years, but he’s still allowed to dream. Especially while in Hollywood.