September 27, 2008
Notes, observations, recollections, and assorted one-liners from a Saturday at East Lake. I spent most of the day walking with Anthony Kim and Sergio Garcia, and long story short, golf is in very good hands. And now, the long story long:
"I don't know what to do here."
That was Anthony Kim on the seventh hole today. He'd hit his tee shot right up to the outside lip of a fairway bunker, and the ball sat on an ugly downhill lie 160 yards from the pin. Kim walked up, realized the ball would be about waist-high if he stood in the trap, and just shook his head. He looked at the gallery and -- no fooling -- started surveying the gallery for ideas. "What would you do?" he asked three dudes holding beer cups. "Man up!" one hollered, and Kim smiled.
And that right there is why the guy is going to be world-famous. He was in deep trouble -- he was in trouble pretty much from that point on in the round, matter of fact -- and yet he still kept smiling, tipping his cap, and recognizing the crowd every chance he got.
Unlike some players, who go into a zone and don't even pay attention to the crowd around them for their entire round, Kim nodded at fans on every single hole. At the raucous tenth tee -- which seems to be the spot at East Lake that most closely approximates an SEC stadium -- a group of fans began shouting, "A! K! U-S-A!" Kim turned around, waved to them, and gave a little half-bow, sending the crowd into hysterics.
But it wasn't just about performing for the big crowds. Get this -- in the walk off the sixteenth hole, the players must pass right next to a row of spectators. Several kids stuck out their hands -- high-fives for Sergio (who obliged), fist-bumps for Kim. The last kid in the line held out his hand for a fist-bump, and Kim actually bounced his ball to the kid. How many other golfers would do that in the middle of a round?
In the same vein -- hmm, that may be a bad choice of words -- Kim was consumed with concern for the guy he nailed with his tee shot on the ninth. As he was walking down the fairway, word filtered up that he'd hit someone. "Oh, no," he said. "Why'd I have to hit somebody?"
It was, apparently, the first spectator he'd ever hit. He knelt down by the guy -- who had a horrific gash in his forehead -- and kept saying, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry ...", gnawing on his golf glove as the paramedics arrived. (Stalker alert: You can see me there just behind him, in the blue shirt and black visor. I was apparently looking for a beer stand or something.)
As the paramedics loaded the guy onto a stretcher, Kim put a hand on the guy's shoulder and again apologized. He signed a ball "Sorry" and handed the ball and his golf glove to the man's wife. (With all the stuff he gave away, his caddy must've been carrying ten pounds less by the end of the round.)
He said that the incident didn't rattle him, but regardless, he didn't play particularly well for the rest of the round. He only hit 4 of 14 fairways all day, and only his unbelievable scrambling ability kept him in the match at all. He ended up losing five strokes and the lead to Garcia, but even so, was in decent enough spirits. (Possibly too decent; he nearly missed his tee time when he misread the time sheet. "I was in the locker room talking to the attendants, and I suddenly realized nobody else was around," he laughed.)
Still, Kim is getting groomed for superstardom. There are six huge billboards around the course, each with ten-foot-high images of five of the golfers in this weekend's tournament. On the marquee billboard approaching the 18th green, Vijay Singh's photo is at the center, but flanking him are Sergio, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, and Kim. The guy's got the demeanor and the game to be huge, and if he comes out swinging at the 2009 Masters, AKmania will be everywhere.
You'll see plenty of "Who needs Tiger?" articles in the coming days, and there's a reason for that -- with Garcia, Kim, Mickelson, Singh, Harrington, and Camilo Villegas, the game is riding high. It's the best possible scenario, several fine players rising to the occasion with flair and skill. Quite a few folks said that Tiger's brief absence could actually benefit the game of golf, and it appears that his fellow players are indeed stepping up. And Anthony Kim is at the front of that line.