Who is Anthony Kim?
Brash. Humble. Strong. Soft. Not to mention fearless, funny and combative. Even if he's 'as normal as it gets,' Anthony Kim is an uncommon talent. At 23, is he Tiger's next challenger?
In 1996, when Tiger Woods declared "Hello World," and the commercial airwaves echoed with children proclaiming "I'm Tiger Woods" ... "I'm Tiger Woods" ... "I'm Tiger Woods," one of them could have been an 11-year-old Korean-American from Los Angeles named Anthony Kim. He was Tiger Woods and had the photograph at 2 with the diaper and the downswing to prove it.
He also had the Pygmalion father, the protective mother, the trophy-laden junior pedigree, the truncated collegiate career, and that distinctive bearing and brag that the other players seemed to recognize first. They always do.
"He's kind of fearless," says Ernie Els, who adds wistfully, "Weren't we all kind of fearless at 23?" Among Kim's fellow pros, fearless is the consensus description. "Funny" rings a lot of bells, too. "He's a character," Mike Weir says. "A funny, funny dude," says Phil Mickelson.
"What do I think of Anthony?" Jim Furyk mulls over the question. "I really like the guy, to start with. He's a lot of fun. He's got a real confident feel about him. Even as a rookie , just the way he handled himself, walking around the locker room. He almost appears cocky, but when he talks to you, he -- I don't see that side of him when he talks to you. He's just very confident. He has a lot of belief in his ability."
What does Furyk see on the golf course?
"I just don't see a lot of weaknesses. I haven't seen him do anything poorly, and you don't see a lot of young guys like that get in contention on a tough course like Wachovia [Quail Hollow, 2008] and then just beat the hell out of everyone [by five strokes]. He gets up two, pretty soon it's three, pretty soon it's four. You have to have a lot of belief in yourself to do that out here. He's got a lot, a lot of game."
And he's fearless.
"Yeah," Kim says, "I've heard that word a few times. Some have said it to the media when I'm standing right next to them. I don't know what they're talking about, to be honest, and I mean that. I'm the same as everyone else. I'm as normal as it gets. Maybe it's just that golf isn't as big a deal to me as it is to most people. It's something I love to do. It's a talent I was blessed with, that I have confidence in. At the end of the day, I couldn't care less who I'm playing against. Because I know, if I play my best, I'm not worried about anyone else. My shot. My putt. What that guy over there is doing doesn't really affect what I do. Whether I win or lose -- and trust me, I'm going to kick and claw to try to win -- it's just competition to me. It's just golf."
Morningside Avenue, on the edge of downtown Dallas, about a 10-minute drive from the grassy knoll, is near enough to the freeway to be noisy. But it's quiet, almost silent. Settling in Dallas, Kim was influenced by the convenience of the airport and the presence of a few friends. He expects to miss the ocean. On the brink of real riches, Anthony has been imagining a house with a theater and an indoor basketball court, not to rule out a retractable roof and helipad. ("If I had Tiger's money, I'd start building it right now.") But for the moment he lives in a small, handsome, conservative home that doesn't say 23-year-old until you open the door.
Years ago in Rome, the young tennis player Boris Becker apologized for the state of his hotel suite, which appeared to have weathered a nor'easter only to be ransacked by thieves and tossed by detectives. "Pardon the mess," Becker said, "but I live like a player."
Anthony Kim lives like a player. The floors are awash in clothes and clutter, gimcracks, gewgaws and Ryder Cup mementos. The decorator could be the same guy who organizes claw machines on boardwalks. Sheathed in a worn, blue Club Glove, Kim's work tools have been strategically dropped just inside the doorway, so they can be tripped over most easily.
He shares the place with girlfriend Lisa Pruett, best friend Paull Veroulis and a couple of cherished dogs, one of them a buckskin-colored pit bull, Rocky, who doesn't seem to know he's a pit bull. Rocky is in love with everyone, including a cat who lives across the street.
In the PGA's infantry of wives and significant others, the uniform of the day is either phosphorescence or camouflage. Pruett is one of the ones who doesn't try to stand out in the gallery; she blends in with the trees. Veroulis is a salaried assistant, but more friend than employee. He and Anthony go back to high school. They have just returned from lunch at Fadi's, one of the trio's favorite haunts, a cafeteria-style restaurant where the fare runs to hummus, eggplant, stuffed cabbages and grape leaves, with enormous platters of chicken and beef. Kim's presence creates no stir. He is still on the doorstep of celebrity.
Sitting at his kitchen table, using a look to convey we might as well get one thing straight right now, he says, "I'm not going to call any other players out. I don't need to do that. But [unlike your average everyday image-conscious touring pro] I've never been a person who says something because it looks good in print. A lot of times, that's gotten me in trouble, too. Where I could smooth things over with just a few words, I don't. I choose maybe a little too much of the truth, without spinning it enough, if you know what I mean."