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History has a funny way of inflating greatness.
Call it nostalgia bias, rosy retrospection or whatever you want, our memories are inherently flawed and programmed to recall certain moments, people, events, places, occasions and the like with more affection than they deserve.
The nineties weren’t as good as you remember. The Sixth Sense was, when you think about it, actually pretty predictable. Wimpy was the worst fast-food outlet.
Your brain, however, is hard-wired to process such things differently because, as well as being a great healer, time is also a wonderful exaggerator. The more it passes, the more you hanker after the summer of ’94, wax lyrical about the originality of M. Night Shyamalan, and salivate at the thought of a spicy bean burger smothered in special sauce.
The point being that legends grow, often at the expense of truth. Which brings us to the enigma that is Anthony Kim and his rumoured comeback.
One of the most mythologised golfers of this or any other time, the American hasn’t struck a ball on the PGA Tour since 2012. It has been reported many times but never officially confirmed that his decision to cash in on a lucrative injury insurance policy prompted his premature retirement at the age of 26.
Compounding the mysterious circumstances of his disappearance from the game is Kim’s almost total withdrawal from public view. In the last 12 years, he has given only a handful of interviews and been spotted infrequently. He has become a virtual recluse, a hermit, a ghost. But the less he has been seen, the more he has been missed. And that’s kind of remarkable when you consider that, as good as he was, he was never truly great.
Kim won only three times in 122 starts on the tour. He was runner-up on a further four occasions and finished inside the top-10 22 times in all. He missed the cut in around a third of his appearances and banked $12million in prize money, less than the likes of Dudley Hart, Billy Andrade and Briny Baird.
His starring roles in the USA’s Ryder Cup win in 2008 and Presidents Cup victory the following year – where he registered a combined five-and-a-half points from a possible eight – belie a major record that shows three top-ten finishes from 15 starts, the best of which was third at The Masters in 2010.
He reached no higher than sixth on the Official World Golf Ranking and spent only 22 weeks inside the top-10.
It’s an impressive CV but hardly deserving of the persistent paeans and pining that have steadily intensified since he hung up the ol’ clubs.
So, why does he remain a source of enduring fascination?
It’s simple: he wasn’t like other golfers.
Kim was brash, arrogant, fiery, uber-competitive, an alpha. He had personality, charisma and tons of potential. He had swagger and style, confidence and conviction. He was a jock. His reputation wasn’t “nice young man”; it was “I hope my daughter never brings him home… but also, I kinda hope she does.” He was interesting, a needle-mover. If Anthony Kim played, people watched.
He was disruptive. He was unpredictable. He might shoot 60 one day and 80 the next. He was compelling. He was box office. He was the captain of the football team in a world full of glee clubs. He was completely atypical of a professional golfer in the mid-noughties.
Tales of his high-rollin’, dusk-til-dawn, bachelor antics sat side-by-side with headlines about him breaking birdie records at Augusta. Heath Slocum wasn’t doing that, nor Nick Watney, nor Jonathan Byrd, nor any of the other “nice young men” who quietly went about their business. Kim worked hard, played harder and was successful. He was Brooks before Brooks was Brooks. He was Bryson before Bryson was Bryson. He was Nick Kyrgios.
Take all that, let it marinate for a decade, stir occasionally with generous lashings of absence to make the heart grow fonder, and you get what we’ve got: a complete enigma with unfinished business.
It’s all undeniably fascinating. If he returns (emphasis on the ‘if’), it will be one of the biggest stories in golf this century. How will he play? Where will he play? Will he be competitive? What does he even look like? He exists in our mind’s eye as a long-haired, boyish rascal with diamanté belt buckles. But that’s not who or what he is anymore. Or is it?
There is no question that the legend of Anthony Kim has overtaken his body of work. That’s the whole point. That’s what it makes it so absorbing. Golf has never had a story like it. Bobby Jones walked away from playing the game at 28 but did so having completed it, mate. He then built Augusta National and stayed visible, involved right up until his death in 1971. Kim has vanished. He’s Amelia Earhart. He’s Lord Lucan. He’s Shergar.
But unlike them, he might be coming back.
Michael McEwan is the 2023 PPA Scotland ‘Columnist of the Year’ and ‘Writer of the Year’
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