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Hard work pays off for Anthony Kim

Mark O’Meara saw the change in Anthony Kim seven months ago when he barely knew him.

Kim had finished his rookie year on the PGA Tour with only a reputation, and not the kind a 22-year-old needed. No one questioned his talent, only his temper. He often spoke without thinking, and he spent more time soaking up the night life than working on his day job.

They were teammates in the Merrill Lynch Shootout last December, and before they could get through the introductions, Kim told O’Meara that he had made some mistakes and needed some advice.

“I just conveyed to Anthony, ‘You’ve got as much talent or more than any other player I’ve ever seen besides Tiger.’ And I believe that,” O’Meara said earlier this year. “I’m not trying to put pressure on him, and I told him that. I laid it out for him. ‘Unless you don’t like money and you don’t want to win tournaments, then maybe you continue down that other road.’

“He could win multiple tournaments a year, easily, and win major championships. That’s how talented he is.”

O’Meara, 51, is a pied piper of sorts. This is the veteran who befriended Tiger Woods when the phenom arrived on the PGA Tour.

In this case, he might be a prophet.

Kim broke through with his first victory at the Wachovia Championship in early May, an impressive victory because Quail Hollow is a major-caliber course and it features one of the strongest field of this year without Tiger.

Validation came at Congressional, where the U.S. Open will be held in three years.

Kim had been lurking all week, and throwing away shots with an errant tee shot, a clumsy wedge, some spotty putting. But with the tournament on the line and a three-shot deficit to erase, Kim was practically flawless. He played the final 22 holes without a bogey, fired at flags when it made sense and used great imagination around the greens the few times he got in trouble.

The result was a 65 for a two-shot victory, putting him in elite company.

— Not since Tiger Woods in 2000 has an American younger than 25 won two times on the PGA Tour in the same season.

— Over the last 15 years, the only players in that age bracket with multiple victories in the same season are Kim, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Woods and Phil Mickelson.

Having spoken with Woods, the tournament host, by telephone and collected a trophy fashioned after the U.S. Capitol, Kim was asked if he was the guy to challenge Woods.

No telling what he would have said a year ago.

“I can’t answer that,” said Kim, who turned 23 two weeks ago. “Guys like Sergio and Justin Rose, there’s upcoming guys right now. Jason Day is a great player, and there’s going to be quite a few challengers. And hopefully, somebody can step up. I haven’t done enough to say I’m the guy. I’d like to think that I can work my way into that position.

“But right now,” he said, “I still have a ways to go.”

What he didn’t say was that Rose, despite winning the Order of Merit on the European tour last year, still hasn’t found the mettle to close out a victory on the PGA Tour. Or that Day, despite all the bluster over the 20-year-old Australian, has yet to finish in the top five.

Kim still lacks the consistency that Scott found a few years ago, and that made Garcia the best in his age group.

He tied for third at the Bob Hope Classic and tied for second at the MCI Heritage, and combined with his two victories, Kim is No. 5 in the FedEx Cup standings and almost certainly headed for the Ryder Cup team, where he will be the youngest American since Woods was 21.

The fact that he knows how much work is ahead of him is a good sign.

O’Meara has seen all these youngsters and played with most of them. He spent one practice round at Bay Hill in 2000 with 18-year-old Aaron Baddeley, a 20-year-old Garcia and 24-year-old Woods.

Something about Kim caught his attention.

“I see a lot of talented young players,” he said. “Nothing really jumped out at me until I played with this kid.”

The biggest change was his work ethic.

After two contentious years at Oklahoma, where Kim had too much attitude and too little team in his blood, he turned pro and tied for second at the Valero Texas Open. He ran out of time to get his PGA Tour card, then breezed through Q-school and expected everything else to be easy. But he saw how tough it is to contend on tour, much less win.

Change began when he noticed how Woods prepared for tournaments, giving himself enough time to work through his bag at the BMW Championship while Kim took only time for a breakfast burrito and a few putts.

Then came the week with O’Meara at the Merrill Lynch Shootout.

“I would expect big things out of him this year,” O’Meara said back in January.

It’s only July. There are two majors, the FedEx Cup and the Ryder Cup still to play. Kim’s year is shaping up nicely.

 

July 8, 2008




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