Anthony Kim opens up about the last 12 years as he prepares for U.S. golf return

MIAMI — He sent out a text to maybe 100 people and told them to come over. Whoever got there first could keep all the remnants of who Anthony Kim was. It was a Saturday in 2012, a few months after he played his final PGA Tour event and shortly after suffering a ruptured Achilles. He was already going downhill, making poor decisions setting his life down a 12-year spiral of internal strife and external mystery. He filled three or four rooms with everything from his golf career. Hats, gloves, balls, shoes, clubs.

“It looked like a garage sale,” Kim said Thursday in his first public news conference in more than a decade.

He had already accepted his retirement from golf and was completely comfortable with that. He never loved the game anyway. So by the time all the equipment and apparel were picked up and taken from his home, so too was the first life of Anthony Kim as a professional golfer.

What truly happened in those 12 years remains a mystery to us, a painful, traumatic journey that in some ways isn’t our right to know, but also because Kim is keeping most of the details for a documentary.

But you can watch Kim at LIV Golf’s event at Trump National Doral, his first event in North America since joining the tour last month, and study him when he gets frustrated with his game. Choosing those moments to remind himself of what he called the low point and how close he was to not being here.

“When doctors are telling you that you may not have much time left,” Kim said, “that’s a pretty rude awakening.”

The 38-year-old version of Kim is so different and so similar at the same time. The once youthful, cocky golfer who wore extravagant belt buckles and rejected the norms of boring old golf walked to the stage Thursday with a hat tugged down low and a big, baggy collared shirt that hangs down to his thighs. His black hair is loosely tied up but still long enough it hovers over his upper back. He is simultaneously taking nothing about this seriously, yet he’s resolute about the importance of being here.

Anthony Kim, right, has finished 53rd and 50th in his first two starts on the LIV Golf Tour. (Tyrone Siu / Reuters via USA Today Sports)

It was the Internet golf sickos who kept the dream of Anthony Kim alive even as the years passed since his last PGA Tour appearance, the Ryder Cup or Masters memories becoming legend. Ironically, the object of their affection was the least golf sicko of them all.

Kim didn’t know what a Trackman monitor was and played his first LIV event in Saudi Arabia with a buddy’s set of clubs. He didn’t know until Thursday that when in a hazard rules now allow you to take practice swings or remove loose impediments. Kim was so completely removed from golf that Dustin Johnson had to tell him Brooks Koepka won four majors in three years, “which was awesome.” He might have heard at some point that Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters, but he certainly wasn’t following. At most, he said, he put on nine holes of golf when he wanted to fall asleep.

“I definitely heard that it happened but I mean, you know, going through some of the things I’ve gone through in my life, I wasn’t focused on golf. I didn’t care about somebody who won a golf tournament,” Kim said.

While specific details remain elusive, even in Kim’s heyday it was well documented that Kim was a partier who enjoyed a good time. In an interview through LIV with announcer David Feherty, Kim said: “I thought I was having a great time, but I don’t remember any of those times. When I say that I literally don’t remember any of those times. Because you figure at 23, 24 years old, 22 years old, you’re supposed to be doing these things and it’s OK. But with the personality that I have, which is an addictive personality, it can get out of hand.”

We know Kim has had countless surgeries. We know he was the beneficiary of an insurance policy worth north of $10 million. We know he said he surrounded himself with “bad people,” 98 percent of which he said he’s removed from his life. And we know it was all problematic enough that a doctor told him he didn’t have much time left.

We also know about Bella.

Isabella Kim was born two years ago, a few months early and faced a difficult fight, like so many premature babies. Kim said it was then that he realized he needed to make some changes.

“I got professional help,” he said. “I think that I didn’t deal with a lot of the trauma and whatever came from my life, and I buried it because I didn’t want to show anybody weakness, right?  And I thought by showing vulnerability, that was weakness, and I’ve come to a point in my life where I don’t care if somebody thinks that about me or not.  My daughter is all I care about, and I know it almost sounds corny for me to say but as long as she’s proud of me, I’m a happy man.”

He primarily credits his wife, Emily, and his mother, Miryoung, with getting him through these times and to where he is now. But the core at all of this is Bella, who sat in Emily’s arms through much of Thursday’s interview occasionally shouting something here or there like 2-year-olds do.

Eventually, Emily wanted to play golf. She wanted to play four or five times a week, actually. Kim might not have wanted to swing a club himself, but he wanted to hang out. For nine holes a day, he’d hop in the golf cart, turn on some music and be some version of a DJ and a caddie. Somewhere along the cart path, Kim thought maybe he could do this again.

Eight or nine months ago, he played his first full round of golf — with his wife. He was back … until the next day when he tried to jump a creek, “and being 38 years old, I didn’t make it.” That had him in a cast for four more months.

Around the time the cast came off, LIV called. So did the PGA Tour. He ultimately picked LIV. Negotiations went on long enough that it was not finalized until the days leading up to his first event in Jeddah last month.

Since joining, it’s been all pretty much by the seat of his pants. Kim didn’t know about the new club technology or even have proper fitting clubs. He just played golf. No, it hasn’t gone super well. He’s finished 53rd and 50th at two LIV events with rounds of 76, 74, 74 and 72 included, but he’s also scored birdies. Considering how little golf he’s played, full rounds have been a bit of a mess and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. But whether or not he can have runs of good holes tells us more about if there’s a future here. And even in the 76s, he’s stringing birdies together. And in his final round in Hong Kong, Kim broke through with a 65.

Kim wants to prove people wrong. Of course he does. He wants to succeed out here and have a career. But that’s not really the point. Life is.

“At this point in my life, I’m able to separate those two, which I feel like is a super power right now,” he said. “I know that whether I make a 15 or whether I make a 3, my daughter is still going to want to eat strawberry ice cream and I’m going to do that with her.”

After 40 minutes, Kim finished up his news conference and went over to Emily and Bella. He shook hands and received an ovation from portions of the room. He said he was going to practice, but when he started walking, he turned around.

“Bella, you coming?” he said in that high-pitched voice one uses with children. “Wanna come with daddy?”

Bella hopped up and down alongside Kim as they made their way out of the building. The ice cream would have to wait.

(Top photo: Francois Nel / Getty Images)

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