Part of Anthony Kim's charm is that he doesn't quite understand the golf world's obsession with him. The PGA Tour's most gossiped-about player lives in his own little bubble, surrounded by old friends and largely oblivious to what is being said and written. "I never read the Internet," he told me Friday morning, calling from his bachelor pad in Dallas. "Why would I? There's so much ridiculous stuff on there. The only time I read something is when friends send me negative stories. I use those for motivation."
He should now have plenty of that. Earlier this week Kim created a minor media frenzy when reports of a wild night out in Las Vegas coincided with the news that he had withdrawn from Justin Timberlake's tournament. This was of a piece with Kim's longstanding reputation as golf's wild child, a rep he clearly earned early in his career but is now trying to outgrow. "I'm not going to deny my friends and I went out and had a great time in Vegas," says Kim, 25. "But that had absolutely nothing to do with me having to W/D. People may not want to believe that, but it's true."
Kim was extremely motivated to play well in Las Vegas. He and Timberlake are long-standing buddies, but more significantly, this was to be AK's return to competition after a six-week break spent rehabbing his surgically repaired left thumb and fine-tuning his game and equipment. Two weeks ago he worked with Nike's club gurus to dial in a new driver and tweak his wedges. Kim then spent the week leading up to Vegas working on his game alone in Palm Springs. "I was in the gym every day at 5 a.m., then I'd head straight to the range, then I'd go play 36 holes, then I'd chip and putt," he says. "Of course, nobody sees that."
By last Saturday it was clear that Kim had overdone it, as his thumb had become sore and a little stiff. On Sunday, as he journeyed to Las Vegas, Kim consulted with two doctors who advised him not to hit any golf balls until Wednesday's pro-am. Come Monday night, nearly two dozen of Kim's friends had gathered in Las Vegas. He is a social creature who likes to be surrounded by buddies, at home and on the road. "Of course we went out on the town," he says. "I wasn't going to be able to practice on Tuesday." The night out included a trip to the craps table at the Bellagio. A blind item by an eye-patched gossip columnist in a Vegas paper reported on Wednesday that the "salty language and screaming was so bad that Kim was asked to tone it down by Bellagio management."
Says Kim, "There were a bunch of us at the craps table and everyone was winning. There was a lot of hooting and hollering, but it wasn't any different than what was going on at other tables. The big difference was that we had about 100 people watching us and they were getting into it, too, so it got pretty loud. It was never disrespectful or out of control. When we were asked to quiet down, everyone did. It wasn't a big deal."
Kim and his entourage also visited a couple of clubs. A disc jockey's late-night tweet yes, this is what passes for journalism in the Internet age had Kim buying 115 bottles of alcohol and spraying the dance floor with a $25,000 bottle of Dom Perignon. Kim is a very generous host, compulsively picking up every check, but he says, "That stuff is way, way exaggerated. There have been some crazy reports, like I was drinking 100-year-old cognac. I don't even know what cognac tastes like."
Vegas was invented so people can have fun with their pals, but Kim knows he's way past the point where media scolds are willing to laugh off any of his missteps as boys being boys. "I've been grinding so hard to get my game back, and it is disappointing that this is what people are going to focus on," he says. "But I know it's up to me to give them something else to write about."
Two months ago he hired a personal trainer, and Kim says he's now in the best physical condition of his life. And, he adds, "My swing is better than it's been in a long, long time. My game is a little rusty, but in my practice before Vegas I was getting my old rhythm back. I feel close to playing really good golf."
When Kim's thumb was still sore on Wednesday morning he reluctantly withdrew from the Timberlake tournament. "I didn't want to do something stupid and miss another three months," he says. There is no structural damage to the thumb, and with more rest and continued rehab Kim plans to play in the HSBC Champions early next month, followed by the Tiger's World Challenge and then the Shark Shootout. "I can't wait to get back on the course," he says.
And if he wins one of these season-ending events, we know the perfect way to celebrate: pop a nice $25,000 bottle of Dom. "I couldn't have said it better myself," sighed Kim.