GREENSBORO, NC – Joohyung “Tom” Kim was playing a practice round with Si Woo Kim on Wednesday at St. Andrews before The 150th Open Championship last month when he realized Trevor Immelman was following them.
The 20-year-old was nervous. He’d watched the Presidents Cup ever since his father, a golf pro from Korea, had first put a club in his hands at age 5. He knew Immelman was this year’s International captain, and he’d love nothing more than to play for him in next month’s matches at Quail Hollow.
“It was actually pretty nerve wracking for me for him to walk a couple holes,” Kim said with a grin. “Obviously you don’t want to shank one in front of your future captain, potentially.”
Not to worry. Kim recalls hitting the ball well during that practice round. And besides, Immelman had the young man who won the Wyndham Championship on Sunday on his radar long before that day.
One of his close friends, renowned teaching pro Claude Harmon III, had texted Immelman to tell him about the affable young man who is known as Tom because he loved the TV show “Thomas the Tank Engine” growing up. Seems Harmon had been out with one of his students who played with Kim, and he came away impressed.
“You’ve got to check this kid out,” Harmon told Immelman. “And so, from that moment on I started paying attention, because Claude is not only a great friend, but he’s somebody who’s been around the game his whole life. So, I trust his eye when it comes to spotting talent.
Kim did not disappoint. He finished third at the Genesis Scottish Open and seventh at last week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic before completing an improbable run from a quadruple bogey on his first hole at Sedgefield Country Club to his first PGA TOUR victory on Sunday.
“Isn’t it nuts?” Immelman said. “It’s crazy to even think about the fact that John Huh shoots 61 on Thursday morning and Tom starts his round with the quad. So he’s 14 behind after his first hole. … It just goes to show how brilliantly he’s played.”
“Hopefully, this gives me a close chance to make that team,” grinned the effervescent Kim, who moved to No. 34 in the FedExCup and 21st in the world.
Could be. Immelman was in the broadcast booth for GOLF Channel on Sunday, and he liked what he saw before he had to get on the road to Charlotte to catch a flight home to Orlando. Not only was Kim playing well, but Sungjae Im, a mainstay of International Teams past who ranks third in the standings, was in the mix as well, eventually finishing tied for a second.
Im, for his part, was also impressed by Kim’s performance.
“He’s a great kid and to come out here and to win on TOUR as a non-member and secure your card is really not an easy task, and he achieved that,” he said through an interpreter. “I’m really proud of him.”
Immelman said he’s enjoyed getting to know Kim, who has lived in Korea, Australia, China, the Philippines and Thailand, and speaks three languages. The two texts frequently, including on Saturday night, just as Immelman does with about 25 prospective International Team members as he tries to build a cohesive unit to take on the Americans Sept. 22-25 in Charlotte.
“He’s having a blast,” Immelman said. “He really is. He loves being out on the PGA TOUR. He told me it’s everything that he always dreamed of. He always wanted to play on the PGA TOUR, and everything is still new and fresh to him.
“And in a lot of ways, it’s kind of like he’s having to pinch himself. … He’s got this enthusiasm that is palpable.”
Immelman calls Kim, who became fully exempt on TOUR with Sunday’s victory, the “real deal.” And he sees a long future for Kim – who thrived on the support of the fans at Sedgefield yelling “Let’s go, Tom” – in the Presidents Cup.
“I’ll use Adam Scott as a role model, who in all likelihood will make our team as well and play his 10th Presidents Cup,” Immelman said. “He’s just turned 42. So, he can use Adam Scott as a role model and, and say to himself, man, I could be playing in the Presidents Cup for the next two decades.
“And by the end of it, in the next 10 years, he has an opportunity to even be one of the leaders of the team and in all likelihood he will be. So, it’s extremely exciting for me. I go back to the squad mentality of not just for this Presidents Cup, but for Royal Montreal and for Chicago and back to Royal Melbourne.
“The future is bright for us because we have all of this talent coming through from all around the world.”