Tom Kim of South Korea poses with the trophy after putting in to win on the 18th green during the final round of the Shriners Children’s Open at TPC Summerlin on October 15, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
Column – December 2023
When young Korean star Tom Kim qualified for his maiden Tour Championship appearance in August by being amongst the elite 30 golfers on the PGA Tour, he was asked how he’d grade his 2022-23 season.
He gave himself a C-minus.
It certainly felt Kim was being extremely hard on himself as his first full season on the globe’s elite circuit included one victory and seven other top-10s, including at two of the major championships. “It’s just the truth,” said Kim without batting an eyelid.
“I won a title this season, but it wasn’t this year, and it was about 10 months ago. However, I also had some good results in the majors, so I think it’s a positive I gained confidence and comfort in the majors. Golf is a sport that is judged by results, so I’m disappointed I didn’t win this year.”
When quizzed what he’d needed to have given himself a better grade, he simply replied – “start winning” – which he duly delivered a sensational third PGA TOUR victory just two months later when he repeated as champion at the Shriners Children’s Open in Vegas in October.
Kim’s self-deprecating attitude, coupled with a winning mentality and an abundance of talent, are very much ingredients that should propel him towards his goals of winning golf’s biggest tournaments and becoming World No. 1. He will end 2023 as the highest ranked Asian golfer at World No. 11, eclipsing the likes of countrymen Sungjae Im, Si Woo Kim and Japanese star HidekI Matsuyama.
The year 2023 was no doubt a tale of two halves for Kim, who struggled to hit consistent results after ramping up his ball speed. He enjoyed a couple of top-10s early in the year before hitting a flat line.
“Technically, my ball speed has gone up a lot from last year, so my timing is a little different. I needed to find new balance with my body and my swing. As these things improved in the second half, my results improved and I think I made the most progress in my short game and mentality,” he said.
He recalled flushing a pure 4 iron approach shot to perfection on the final hole of the U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club in June which produced a closing birdie and a career first top-10 in a major. It proved to be the catalyst for a strong summer as he went on to finish T6 at the Genesis Scottish Open and runner-up at The Open Championship, despite playing with a sprained ankle.
“I was inside the top-10 going into 17 (at the U.S. Open) and doubled 17. I then hit a four iron to within five feet at the last and made birdie that got me a top-10 in my first major. It was cool,” said Kim.
He feels the biggest change for him since bursting through in 2022 with two PGA TOUR titles and delivering a memorable outing at the Presidents Cup is his mindset and mentality. “I feel like I am a completely different person now,” Kim said.
“I have a really good team around me. Whenever I am hard of myself, they always give me perspective. I’ve seen the results of after a tough round the attitude that I go into the next day … if I have a great attitude, I always play better. I’ve had days where I played bad and the next day had a bad attitude and played horrible. I’ve definitely had to learn.
“Also, when I play with best players in the world, I learn a lot. I feel like I’m improving. I feel like I’m learning a lot not only about golf, but also about life.”
With a base firmly established in Dallas, Kim is ready to put a bow on 2023 and take his career to new heights in 2024, which will include the Paris Olympic Games. “I think for the first time in my life right now, I’m realizing that I’m feeling the balance of like you know where I’m playing every year and I know what my schedule is going to look like next year,” he said.
“I don’t need to bounce around houses or hotels, don’t need to worry about booking an Airbnb. I can just go back to my house and that balance in general for me it’s just the biggest thing,” said Kim.
Note: The writer is senior director, marketing and communications – APAC for the PGA TOUR and is based in Malaysia.