Tour Confidential: Anthony Kim’s debut and what’s next for The Match

We discuss Anthony Kim’s return to pro golf, what’s next for The Match, Talor Gooch’s controversial comments and more.

The post Tour Confidential: Anthony Kim’s debut and what’s next for The Match appeared first on Golf.

We discuss Anthony Kim’s return to pro golf, what’s next for The Match, Talor Gooch’s controversial comments and more.

The post Tour Confidential: Anthony Kim’s debut and what’s next for The Match appeared first on Golf.

Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us at @golf_com. This week we discuss Anthony Kim’s return to pro golf, what’s next for The Match, Talor Gooch’s controversial comments and more.

After 12 mysterious years away from the game, former PGA Tour star Anthony Kim returned to professional golf and made his first start in over a decade when he teed it up at LIV Golf Jeddah. Kim shot 76-76-74 (16 over) and finished last in the 53-player field. What did you think of his week?

Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): I’ve already decided what I want on my tombstone: Better than he coulda, worse than he shoulda. You could say something similar about Kim’s performance. I’m sure it was worse than what he hoped for. But the man was away from professional golf for much longer than he was in it. And you can’t simulate that, no matter how much you practice. Not sure we could have rightly expected anything else.

Josh Berhow, managing editor (@Josh_Berhow): I think it was what we expected: lots of rust. At first glance some golf fans might think it was a disaster, but honestly what would you expect from a guy who hasn’t played a competitive round in more than a decade? We aren’t even sure how much he’s been practicing. Likely a lot more lately, but I’m assuming not as frequent or as seriously as his competitors have the last several months. It’s funny; some would say he blew expectations out of the water. Others would say they expected more (which is also what he said himself). I’m not sure which is right.

Alan Bastable, executive editor (@alan_bastable): How could you possibly know what to expect after such a long layoff? Which is why I was giddy to rise early on Friday morning to see how he was faring. (Not great, it turned out.) I guess if there were any positives, he seemed to settle into his rounds after rocky starts and avoided any train-wreck scores. But this was not the electrifying AK we all remember, despite him saying on Sunday, “I’m doing things that I used to do before.” Just four birdies over 54 holes ain’t gonna cut it. If you take him at his word, he’s relatively happy with the state of his swing and game. His biggest issue in Jeddah, he said, was his inability to focus. We’ll see if he can sharpen that skill over his next couple of starts.

What do you make of how LIV Golf and Kim himself managed his return to the public eye?

Sens: As our man Alan Bastable put it, Kim’s return was about as weird as his disappearance. It felt like LIV and Kim wanted to have it both ways: a ratings boost without giving us the full show and the full story. Kim’s return was disappointingly stage-managed by LIV — you sign a guy with all kinds of curiosity around him and then soft-pedal the spectacle? — and Kim himself was withholding as well, saying he’s going to tell his story when the time is right. That’s his prerogative. But he’s also a paid entertainer. And finishing dead last while also not talking beforehand makes for very dull entertainment. You don’t have to be a cynic to call that a good argument against so much guaranteed money.

Berhow: To watch one of the biggest golf stories of the past decade unfold, Americans had to wake up at 3 a.m. and watch it on an app that I heard wasn’t even 100 percent working. A little extra notice would have also allowed some U.S. media to make the trip and give the story the coverage it deserved, widening its reach. I wonder if there was any thought about Kim returning April 5-7 at Trump Doral in Miami and promoting it weeks ahead of time. It would have been one of the most anticipated tournaments of the year — and well-attended by the media — and at a time (a week before the Masters) when more eyeballs start to pay attention to the sport. I do think there is a counterargument to be made, though, which is that having Kim return in the middle of the night on the other side of the world was a good way to take the pressure off and hide the storyline in case he didn’t play well. But like Sens said, you can’t have it both ways.

Bastable: Yeah, I think it’s no coincidence that the AK reboot unfolded at one of LIV’s sleepiest events of the year. Clearly, he just wanted a quiet, relatively media-free week in which he could focus on reacclimating to pro golf and grooming his game while not having to delve into the details of his disappearance. It did feel like a missed marketing opportunity for LIV, but AK was never going to arrive on the first tee by parachute, a la his LIV boss, Greg Norman. Heck, there was no sign even of his signature belt buckles. This 2024 version of Kim seems less flashy and more family-oriented than the guy who used to run around with an entourage. Perhaps most surprising is that he’s been leaning into a narrative that he has an army of “haters.” Maybe he does genuinely feel that no one’s giving this comeback a real chance but I’m not sure many fans want to see him go down in flames.

Kim is locked in as a wild card for the rest of the season. What do you forecast for his game, and return to competitive golf in the States, going forward?

Sens: This game is too crazy to forecast with confidence but I’d be surprised if he can come close to keeping up with the best of the best.

Berhow: He’ll get comfortable and better, but he’s got a big gap to close right now. Royal Greens Golf Club isn’t necessarily a super challenging test, and Joaquin Niemann won at 17 under — 33 shots better than Kim. I don’t know if he’s going to be in contention to win this year, but I’d be nice to see him get closer to the pack. And, if he did happen to sniff the top of the leaderboard and ever contend, it would be a ton of fun.

Bastable: As mentioned, 54 holes into his return, he seems to believe he still has the game to compete at this level — he just needs to get mentally stronger and accustomed to the rhythms of big-time golf again. LIV events also take some getting used to, and not just because of the blaring music. When Norman visited the booth Friday, he said Kim’s opening-hole top was the result of Kim being distracted by drones buzzing overhead. As for his prospects for this year? Hard to fathom any top-10 finishes.

The PGA Tour’s use of its sponsor’s exemptions for its ever-important (and lucrative) Signature Events was put under a microscope again this past week, as PGA Tour player-directors Adam Scott and Webb Simpson both received spots into this week’s limited-field Arnold Palmer Invitational. This is Scott’s third such exemption (in as many events), and Simpson’s second. Peter Malnati, another PGA Tour player-director, also got an invite to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am a month ago. With so few spots to hand out in these crucial events, should pros be upset with PGA Tour player-directors getting these starts?

Sens: Understandable that these guys would get thrown a bone or two but for sure there should be limits. Where the line falls is hard to say. Adam Scott is a big name who has been playing great. That makes an exemption easy. Simpson as a past U.S. Open winner seems justifiable. I guess I’d say if a player of Malnati’s standing got another exemption this season without doing something on the course to merit it, that would be one too many.

Wildcard player Anthony Kim smiles during the practice round before the start of LIV Golf Jeddah at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club

Anthony Kim’s return feels as surreal as his disappearance

By: Alan Bastable

Berhow: It’s not the best look, especially since there’s already talk about Korn Ferry Tour graduates struggling to get PGA Tour starts, but let’s not forget someone like Adam Scott has played well this year. I think the Aon Next 10 and Aon Swing 5 — I had to look up what those were called — are good ideas to reward spots to those not already qualified, but we might forever be stuck trying to reward players with big-money, limited-field events while also providing others with the opportunities they believe they deserve.

Bastable: Sponsor’s invites aren’t supposed to be equitable. They’re designed to give tournaments an opportunity to either reward players who have been loyal or, more commonly, to bring in A-listers who can help sell tickets and drive ratings. Adam Scott puring balls on the range is good for any event’s bottom line.

The ninth edition of The Match — which featured Rory McIlroy, Max Homa, Rose Zhang and Lexi Thompson — received the made-for-TV event’s lowest ratings yet, pulling in about 511,000 average viewers (or, about 250,000 less than the previous low). What did you think of the latest edition? And does the disheartening ratings news mean the entire event is due for an overhaul?

Sens: I think the lesson here is that a little bit of these made-for-TV confections go a long way and that relying on banter from Tour pros (plus some jabs from Charles Barkley) is no way to create compelling entertainment. As with so much in golf these days, The Match franchise feels like an attempt to squeeze more money out of a product than there is a market to justify it.

Berhow: I liked the addition of Rose and Lexi, but honestly it’s the spectacle of The Match that’s turning me off. The trash talk is too forced and the majority of the on-course reporting is unnecessary and awkward. If this were up to me, and it’s not, I’d go back to 1-on-1 match play. Give me two talented and compelling players — Spieth vs. Rory or Nelly vs. Lydia, for example — and have them play on a cool golf course without all the pomp and circumstance. Make the golf and the venue the star, and it can still have a charity component.

Bastable: I don’t care who’s in the field — Monday-night golf on TNT is a tough sell. If I wasn’t in the golf biz, I think it’s highly unlikely I would have watched of even known it was on. And yeah, as Sens says, golf is throwing a lot at viewers these days: the various tours, The Match, a Netflix series, YouTuber showdowns, the soon-to-come TGL. We might be reaching oversaturation. The Park looked amazing under the lights, though. Can’t wait to check it out.

Talor Gooch, who won three times on LIV last season but isn’t in this year’s Masters, told Australian Golf Digest that “if Rory McIlroy goes and completes his grand slam without some of the best players in the world, there’s just going to be an asterisk.” McIlroy downplayed the comments, saying the reporter’s wording of the question might have influenced Gooch’s viral quote. What say you?

Sens: I think two things can be true. That statements like that can easily get taken out of context and/or magnified by our weird media/social-media machine. And that Talor Gooch has a knack for putting his spikes in his mouth.

Berhow: I’ll give Rory some credit for defusing the controversy… but I also won’t be surprised if he uses it as motivation for this year’s Masters, which might be exactly what he needs.

Bastable: Gotta respect Gooch’s gall. Trouble is, there really aren’t many LIVers who “deserve” to be at the Masters and won’t be. Jaco Niemann would have been on that short list, especially after his two LIV wins this season. But the green coats, in all their wisdom, got ahead of that snub.

The post Tour Confidential: Anthony Kim’s debut and what’s next for The Match appeared first on Golf.