Anthony Kim’s return feels as surreal as his disappearance

For a golfer who lived large, Anthony Kim’s reintroduction has been surprisingly low key — and, in all its crypticness, a bit weird, too.

The post Anthony Kim’s return feels as surreal as his disappearance appeared first on Golf.

For a golfer who lived large, Anthony Kim’s reintroduction has been surprisingly low key — and, in all its crypticness, a bit weird, too.

The post Anthony Kim’s return feels as surreal as his disappearance appeared first on Golf.

Can you believe it? Anthony Kim, the most mytholigized golfer of his generation, is back. And not just as the subject of a colorful grill-room tale or five-second social-media clip from parts unknown — he’s, like, back back. In the flesh, on a golf course, hitting balls, holing putts, on the verge of playing for trophies and money and pride. Even a few weeks ago, when whispers of a potential Kim return began to surface, it still all felt improbable. But now we know this is not a drill: AK, the one-time phenom and Ryder Cup hero who wowed golf fans with his sweet swing, bedazzled buckles and taste for the fast life, will, after a 12-year walkabout, compete in a professional golf tournament later this week.

If you’re a Kim diehard or merely have just been intrigued by the mysterious circumstances surrounding his disappearance, you might have long fantasized about this day and maybe even envisioned how an AK reemergence might look and feel: a buzzy private-jet arrival on a local airstrip, entourage in tow; Kim bursting into a packed-house press conference like the Kool-Aid Man through a brick wall; rapt reporters absorbing riveting details from our protagonist about how he has spent the better part of his 30s. Yes, we’re exaggerating here, but for a guy who lived large, AK’s reintroduction has been surprisingly low key — and, in all its crypticness, a bit weird, too.

There’s still so much we don’t know. But here’s what we do know: Kim signed a deal with LIV Golf that has secured him one of the league’s two “wild-card” spots in each of the league’s 10 remaining regular-season events in 2024. Kim’s lone-wolf status means he will not be on a team, but if he plays well enough, he could find stablemates next season. Just as TV shows need to prove their merit and watchability, Kim will need to do the same in what is essentially a pilot season. LIV executives believe the brashness and aggressive play for which Kim was known aligns with the league’s ethos. “When I think of Anthony Kim,” LIV CEO Greg Norman said in a press release announcing Kim’s signing, “I can’t imagine a more perfect fit for what we’re trying to do.”

Kim will begin his revival Friday at LIV’s Saudi Arabia event. The first round at Royal Greens Golf Club, in Jeddah, starts at 11:15 a.m. local time, which means if you’re an American fan on the East Coast and want to see Kim’s opening blast (in the shotgun start, he’ll be going off the par-5 home hole alongside major winners Cameron Smith and Graeme McDowell), you’ll need to flip on the CW app at 3:15 a.m.

That Kim’s comeback party is unfolding half a world away from American golf fans is, of course, contributing to its subdued nature. So, too, is the dearth of American media on site, and perhaps this is precisely how Kim and LIV drew it up. A LIV representative told me Wednesday that no U.S.-based reporters are at Royal Greens this week, which, in part, helps explain how in two team press conferences Wednesday — one of which included McDowell — Kim’s name wasn’t mentioned. Not a single question about the splashiest LIV story line since the league inked Jon Rahm.

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Even Kim didn’t field any queries about Kim. That’s because he didn’t have a press conference, and won’t; at least he has none scheduled before play begins. One might think LIV would be eager to get its newest, shiniest recruit in front of cameras and microphones, but either Kim or LIV, or both, is instead electing to slow-play his assimilation. When I asked about when the league intends to bring Kim to a podium, the LIV rep told me, “We will when the time is right.”  

That’s similar messaging to what Kim himself delivered in a short video LIV published to its social channels Wednesday. In that video, Kim is playing a Royal Greens hole in shorts, an untucked white t-shirt emblazoned with “GIRL DAD” (he has a toddler daughter, Georgia) and a white LIV hat with a ponytail popping out of the back. “I’ll tell my story when it’s the right time, but right now I’m focused on golf,” he says. Toward the end of the video, Kim adds, “I’m 38 now so I don’t know quite a few of the guys, but I’m here to bust everyone’s ass.”

Now, that’s the AK we remember! Even if he doesn’t quite look like the same sprightly guy who once made Augusta National look like a pitch and putt. Kim has aged — don’t we all? — and seemingly put on some weight; his voice also sounds deeper and more gravelly than it did in his 20s. And the swing? It’s similar in shape and style to young AK’s move but surely not as explosive.

LIV’s promo wasn’t the only Kim video that surfaced Wednesday. Another one came by way of the first post on Kim’s freshly hatched Instagram account, which already has 22,000 followers. Among the many things that have changed during Kim’s sabbatical: the importance of social media in the marketing of athletes. Kim and his advisors know this, meaning no matter how private Kim might want to continue to keep his life, if he wants to attract followers and sponsors, it will behoove him to open up.

The video, backed by a soundtrack of “Blessed and Free” by Kane Brown and H.E.R, begins with a highlight from one of Kim’s PGA Tour wins, then depicts the questions around his disappearance, his relationship with his daughter and, finally, his LIV signing, complete with a bear hug from Norman. The video closes with a black screen overlaid with four words:  


How many “haters” Kim actually has is up for debate — he seems to be far more beloved than abhorred — but regardless, the spot is an insight into how Kim wants to position his return to pro golf: AK vs. the World. The Outsider vs. the Insiders. The Disrupter vs. the Establishment. If that sounds like the messaging of a certain upstart golf league, that synergy might not be accidental.

All that posturing, though, will quickly become moot if Kim isn’t competitive. The single biggest question on fans’ minds is how will he play? Does he still have it, or even any semblance of it? After more than a decade in the wilderness, can he possibly challenge recent major winners like Rahm, Brooks Koepka and Cameron Smith? No matter how many money games Kim has been playing around Dallas and SoCal, it’s hard to fathom his game is sharp enough to hang with world beaters. The oddsmakers have set an over-under for Kim’s first round at 74.5; Royal Greens is a par-70. The over-under for his overall finish is 48.5 (out of 54). Line-setters are right far more often than they’re wrong. Kim will have this start plus one more (March 8-10 in Hong Kong) before his U.S. debut, which will come at Trump National Doral, in Miami, the week before the Masters.

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Beyond the state of Kim’s game, another big question lurks, one which is harder to quantify: How much does the golf world still care about Anthony Kim? Do you care? If you’re of a certain age, you might not. Kim last played in a PGA Tour event in 2012 and last won in 2010. That was 14 years ago, meaning most golf fans under the age of 30 have at best hazy memories of Kim’s prime or, more likely, no memories at all. My neighbor, who is in his late 40s, is a rabid golf fan and weekly PGA Tour watcher. When the news first surfaced that Kim was plotting a return to pro golf, I texted him for his take. He replied, “I feel out of the loop that I don’t really remember Anthony Kim.”

Take that sample set of one for what it’s worth, but it was a reminder that not all golf fans, even loyal ones, have stock in AK or are engrossed by his comeback. There’s undoubtedly a significant subsection of fans who are, of course, and LIV ratings will prosper this weekend even despite the challenging time difference. But, yeah, when it comes to Kim, it has been a while. For many fans, maybe too long a while.

“Eleven years off is a long time,” Kim admitted in the LIV promo video. “But I feel like I was blessed with a little bit of talent, and a little hard work can go a long way. I’m expecting good results.”

Really, though, as with all things AK, it’s impossible to know what to expect.

The post Anthony Kim’s return feels as surreal as his disappearance appeared first on Golf.