Healthy and happy, Kim has sights set on win

July 30, 2011
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- For the better part of the last six months, Anthony Kim has wanted to be anywhere but on the golf course. He wasn't having fun. He certainly wasn't seeing results.

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"I didn't know where the ball was going, and I was just hoping it would bounce out of the trees," Kim recalled on Saturday. "It wasn't a matter of it going in the rough, it was a matter of it bouncing in or out of bounds. People may think I'm exaggerating, but this is how tough this game got for me."

Just before the British Open, though, after a dismal string of 16 tournaments in which he only finished higher than 54th once, the mercurial Kim made the conscious decision to get back to basics. The 26-year-old Californian simplified his outlook, and the move paid dividends with a tie for fifth at Royal St. George's.

"Going back to the basics is really what helped my game," Kim said simply. "Without that, I would still be struggling."

Kim certainly was hitting on all cylinders on Saturday as he fired a bogey-free 62 to grab sole possession of the lead at The Greenbrier Classic. He hit 17 greens at The Old White TPC and put those approach shots so close that all eight birdie putts came from inside 10 feet. Shoot, he nearly holed the one at the 14th hole that settled a mere 10 inches from the cup.

"I haven't had this much fun playing golf in a long time," Kim said. "Even when I wasn't hitting the ball particularly well yesterday I had a lot of fun. The last couple weeks have really turned my golf game around, especially starting at the British. So I'm looking forward to pretty good things."

Of course, a little advice from his sports psychologist didn't hurt, either. And no, we're not talking about Bob Rotella, Dick Coop, Gio Valiante or Morris Pickens. That attitude adjuster would be his mother, Myryoung.

"My parents have meant everything to my golf game," Kim said. "I wouldn't have gotten started in golf without my dad, and I'm lucky to have a full set of clubs because of my mom. I would probably be snapping clubs right and left if she didn't tell me that that wasn't okay when I was little."

Kim turned to his mother once again last week after he was disqualified at the RBC Canadian Open. He had shot 81 in the second round -- a disappointment in itself -- but was DQ'ed when he inadvertantly signed for a lower number. He wasn't happy and it showed as they talked. Fortunately for Kim, though, his mother's words hit home.

"(The conversation) was just about having fun and relaxing and enjoying the position I'm in," Kim said. "Because I'm very fortunate to be playing golf for a living, and sometimes you forget about that. I was pretty upset about my 81, and she noticed somebody in the gallery who was less fortunate and we talked about that.

"I came out here ready to play some golf a good time, and 62 shots later I'm sitting here."

The round of 8 under was Kim's lowest since he shot the same score to open his title defense at the 2009 AT&T National, where he went on to tie for third. The last two years, though, have been marked by highs like his third PGA TOUR victory in Houston last yeara and lows like the surgery a month later to repair torn ligments at the base of his left thumb.

Since he turned pro in 2006 after three years at the University of Oklahoma and finished second in his PGA TOUR debut, Kim has been saddled with high expectations. Lately, though, his name has been missing when people talked about the great young players like Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Nick Watney who are making their mark on the game.

His recovery from the surgery admittedly was slower than expected. But along the way, Kim also developed a reputation as a someone who was less than dedicated to perfecting his craft. His work ethic has been criticized; his sometimes carefree lifestyle scrutinized, as well.

The words and whispers have hurt but Kim has persevered. He wants desperately to get back to the top of his game, and Sunday at The Old White TPC he'll have that chance.

"It would mean a lot to me," Kim said when asked what a win at The Greenbrier would do for him. "I think it would actually mean more than any of the other wins I've had just because of the fact that I've come back from something. I didn't know where my golf game was going.

"I always had belief in my ability and confidence that I would keep trying, no matter how many times I would fail. But you never know with this game. You never know if you're going to come back and not be able to hit a fade, not be able to hit the bunker shots like you're used to hitting.

"So, you know, even up to this point, I'm excited about the rest of the year, the FedExCup Playoffs, and the chance to win a golf tournament."