Maui musings: Connection between Jordan Spieth and Tom Kim

January 6, 2023 GMT
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FILE - Tom Kim, of South Korea, watches his shot from the second tee during the second round of the Hero World Challenge at the Albany Golf Club in New Providence, Bahamas, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. Kim starts the year with a new endorsement with Nike. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File)
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FILE - Tom Kim, of South Korea, watches his shot from the second tee during the second round of the Hero World Challenge at the Albany Golf Club in New Providence, Bahamas, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. Kim starts the year with a new endorsement with Nike. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File)

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Jordan Spieth knew Tom Kim had game. He just didn’t know about Kim’s appetite.

Spieth and Kim have been loosely connected in recent months without ever really knowing each other. That changed over the holidays.

The 20-year-old South Korean was looking for a U.S. base last summer when he chose Dallas, the hometown of Spieth. Kim needed a place to play and practice and chose Trinity Forest, where Cameron McCormick has a state-of-the-art teaching facility. It made sense for Kim to ask McCormick if he could help keep his game in order.

McCormick, of course, has been the only swing coach Spieth ever had.

“I don’t remember meeting him until the fall, maybe at the Presidents Cup,” Spieth said.

He knew about Kim and his exploits — winning the Wyndham Championship in the final regular-season event, delivering big moments at the Presidents Cup, and then winning again in Las Vegas in a duel against Patrick Cantlay.

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But it wasn’t until a flight home from the Hero World Challenge a month ago in the Bahamas that the relationship took on a new meaning. Spieth was with his wife, Annie, and 1-year-old son Sammy.

“I took Jordan Air,” Kim said with a laugh, because he laughs at most things. “The more time I spent with Jordan, we just kind of became closer friends.”

Spieth learned that Kim was headed to South Korea in December for a few weddings. His parents, who had moved to Dallas with Kim, were going to stay through the holidays.

“Annie said, ‘You’re going to be alone on Christmas?’” Spieth said, to which Kim replied his trainer was in town and it would be no problem. “Annie was like, ‘No, no. No one is alone on Christmas.’

“I shot him a text on the 23rd ... ‘Tom, we want you to come over. Don’t feel obligated, but if you want to, we’d love to have you.’”

The holiday feast was prime rib and a full table of side dishes. They played the Dominoes game “Train,” which was just a coincidence. Kim was known by his given name, Joohyung, until word got out that he goes by “Tom” because he was fascinated by Thomas the Tank Engine cartoon figure as a boy.

In some cases, Kim is still a boy.

“He’s like the Sammy Whisperer,” Spieth said. “He’s so good with Sammy. I think they’re just so close in age, it makes it nice for them.”

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Spieth was joking and Kim burst out laughing when he heard what Spieth had said. Kim likes to make fun of his age. He sent Justin Thomas a text last October asking if he could get an exemption to the junior tournament Thomas hosts.

“Oh my God, Sammy is amazing,” Kim said. “He’s the most wonderful little boy I think I’ve ever met.”

Spieth also showed photos of Kim playing with Ellie, the younger sister of Spieth who has special needs and whom Spieth once said is the funniest member of their family.

“Hopefully, it made him feel like he was with his family on Christmas,” Spieth said. “That was the plan.”

As for the meal?

Spieth said Kim finished his plate and then got up from the table quickly.

“I thought Tom when he got up first was going to put his plate away,” Spieth said. “He went to get seconds quickly, and I’m pretty sure he got fourths at one point. I eat a lot. Annie said, ‘I think he put you to shame.’ I was baffled that he ate more than I did. We cleaned everything dry.”

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Kim doesn’t drink, and the only awkward moment was when Annie Spieth asked Kim if she could make him a “mocktail” — a drink with no alcohol

“I’m not sure he knew what it was,” Spieth said.

Kim has been a rising star in so many ways. The PGA of America had its eye on him when it offered Kim an invitation to the PGA Championship at Harding Park in 2020 — the first major after the COVID-19 pandemic. Kim was 18.

He won the Singapore International on the Asian Tour to start last year. He nearly won the Scottish Open, and then his career took off. He arrived at the Sentry Tournament of Championship — his first trip to Hawaii — at No. 15 in the world ranking.

He is one spot behind Spieth, the 29-year-old with three major championships.

Spieth marvels at the outlook of a 20-year-old, even though Kim’s game looks much older.

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“You’ve got to be envious how he approaches every situation,” Spieth said. “After a shot he likes, there’s that fire. He laughs like everything is such a blessing. It seems that way the way he talks and walks around. We forget that side of it.”

There was one final touch. Kim showed up in Hawaii with a gift he brought for Spieth and his wife, a way of sharing appreciation for making him feel at home for Christmas dinner.

Spieth didn’t want to say what it was.

“It’s just a nice, small thing, something really meaningful in Korea,” he said. “He wanted to bring it there, but he needed his parents to bring it back from Korea.”

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