Rededicated Kim coming into his own

Tuesday May 4th, 2010
Anthony Kim (driving) and wingmen (clockwise) Brodie Flanders, Stephen Ferguson and Ryan Todey.
Darren Carroll/SI

Four days after he almost stole the Masters, a week and a half after he won in Houston to reclaim the unofficial title as golf's most talented tease, Anthony Kim was sprawled on a couch at his house in Dallas, watching SportsCenter. Lounging on the surrounding furniture were Kim's omnipresent wingmen: Brodie Flanders, his chaperone during a long-ago recruiting trip to the University of Oklahoma, who is now in his first year as Kim's caddie; Stephen Ferguson, a friend who has become Kim's paid personal assistant; and Ryan Todey, a pal dating to junior golf in Southern California. Also hanging out was Rocky, a pit bull who thinks he's a lap dog. Flanders and Ferguson live with Kim in his 10,000-square-foot bachelor pad, which has so many TVs no one can provide an accurate count.

"Just say a dozen," says Kim, 24. "That's close enough." Todey has pretty much moved in too, despite a couple of niggling details like a girlfriend and an apartment back in Santa Barbara. "She's great," says Kim of the faraway girlfriend. "This is greater." Todey does not seem overly concerned about being reunited with his personal effects. "AK called me one time and said, 'I need you to get on a plane to Las Vegas in an hour and a half,' " says Todey, a sometimes bartender who also puts in cameos at his father's car dealership. "I just left my desk at work and went straight to the airport, without even a toothbrush. It was fine. Things always seem to work out when you're with [Kim.]

Like Rocky, Kim is a social creature with a need for constant companionship. Upon returning from Augusta, he gathered his boys for what he calls "a fireside chat." He went practically shot by shot through his spectacular final-round 65, during which he relentlessly attacked Augusta National. A birdie, birdie, eagle, birdie surge midway through the back nine got Kim within a stroke of the lead, but he ran out of holes and settled for third place in a performance that has the golf cognoscenti already fitting him for a green jacket. "The guys wanted to know what I was thinking, what I was feeling," says Kim. "It was cool to share it with them, to feel how much they cared and were pulling for me. Of course, I was more interested in what they had been doing while I was away."

Plenty, at least in Ferguson's case. He didn't make it to Augusta because he was on dog–sitting duty in Dallas. Also on the to-do list Kim left behind was overseeing the construction of a fire pit in the huge backyard and taking care of their shared fleet of cars, including a new black-on-black Bentley Continental GTC convertible, flossed out with 22-inch rims. "I wanted a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, but I made a team decision," says Kim. "I had to get something with four seats so these guys can ride with me."

Stop us if you've heard this before: four old friends with fancy toys in a too-big house, all drafting off the singular talents of one charismatic member of the crew. Kim and his buddies reluctantly acknowledge how life can imitate art. "Everywhere we go, people bring up Entourage," says Kim. "Unfortunately," adds Flanders.

Viewers of the popular HBO show know that an enduring theme is how the power of celebrity can aid not only a bona fide star but also his buddies in the pursuit of pleasure. On a counter in Kim's vast kitchen is a laptop computer that appears to be used primarily to peruse the Facebook photos of comely young women. The tossed-off commentary sounds like snippets of Turtle's dialogue: "Check it out, this is the girl we met the other night. She's good–looking, but I couldn't stop staring at her teeth—look at them, they're huge! She looks like a beaver!"

A few clicks brought up another profile.

"This chick is a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. She says, 'I'm a DCC.' I was like, 'Did you really just say that? Out loud?' "

Click, click.

"Think those are real?"

The frat-house vibe is deceptive. While they certainly have their fun, this entourage is dedicated to helping Kim achieve his awesome potential as a golfer. Ferguson's daily duties include chauffeuring Kim to the posh gym they belong to, a task made easier by the promise of what Kim calls "the ­scenery." (Before heading for a recent workout, he spritzed himself with cologne, saying, "Hey, you never know who you're going to bump into.") Kim's victory at Houston and thrilling run at Augusta were built on insane scrambling and lights-out putt­ing, which he credits largely to a recently installed $160,000 artificial putt­ing green in his ­backyard—"I tore out the garden; what am I going to do with a garden?"—and Flanders's constant hectoring. "Brodie is always challenging me to chipping contests, always getting me to practice my putt­ing, even when I might not want to," Kim says. Todey, like the other guys, keeps Kim's feet on the ground with a steady stream of trash talk, often recalling the old days, when the young AK was a cocky kid haunting ratty public courses. But beneath the boys-will-be-boys jocularity is a strong brotherhood that has become essential to Kim's success.

"My friends are my family," he says. For all of Kim's braggadocio, there is a sweetness there too, and he is not afraid to pour his heart out. "These guys mean everything to me," he says. "This is the best place I've been in my life. It's the happiest I've been on and off the golf course. It's all because I've surrounded myself with the right people who have my best interests at heart. They're helping me work hard and make good decisions and do all the right things. And it's finally beginning to pay off on the golf course."

Though Kim is only in his fourth year on Tour, his career (and image) have already gone through several distinct phases. Everybody's all-American at Oklahoma, he turned pro in the fall of 2006 and tied for second at the Texas Open in his first PGA Tour event. "Worst thing that could have happened to me," he says now. Thinking he had the game licked, Kim spent his rookie year in 2007 partying like a rock star, and he admits that he drank way too much and worked on his swing far too little. "When I jumped out on Tour, I was attracted to shiny things, shiny people," Kim says. "I got sucked into a whole different world. I don't know if things ever got out of control, but they were moving way too fast."

In 2008 he applied himself just enough to cement his status as the most tantalizingly talented young American to come along since Tiger Woods. He won two big-time tournaments (at Quail Hollow and Congressional), finished fourth on the money list with $4.66 million and capped his year with a memorable beat down of Sergio García in Ryder Cup singles. Kim's game was as flashy as his oversized belt buckles, but he also offered an irresistible tale of redemption as he became more polished at mouthing press–conference platitudes about hard work and dedication. A series of lengthy magazine profiles chronicled his heartwarming reconciliation with his father, Paul, who had pushed Anthony so hard that they didn't speak for two years while he was away at college. (Father and son finally ended their estrangement with a teary, cathartic hug after Anthony secured his card at the 2006 Q school.)

Kim's breakthrough year, in '08, came at a perfect time. His equipment deal expired at the end of that season, and Nike broke the bank to re-sign him. With Woods recovering from knee surgery, Kim blew into 2009 on a tailwind of hype and expectations, but the season was, in his candid assessment, "a disaster." He spent the early part of the year chasing appearance fees around the globe, never settling into a rhythm on the course. His swing was also compromised by a nagging ankle injury suffered when he slipped on some stairs.

"I should have taken time off to let my ankle get better, but I was trying to be a tough guy," Kim says. "My dad drilled into me that there are never any excuses. If you're on the golf course, you need to get the job done. If a putt lips out, it's your fault for not making it dead-center. It's kind of a brutal way to approach it, but that's how I was brought up."

Kim's play suffered throughout the '09 ­season (­lowlights included an 82 to miss the cut at the ­Players) and so did his reputation as he became the Tour's most gossiped-about player. Each nagging injury was accompanied by colorful rumors as to how the ailment might have occurred, and players, caddies and reporters delighted in comparing notes about the fast women he was supposedly spotted with on the road. For Kim the nadir came at last October's Presidents Cup. He was frustrated with his ragged play even before he got sucked into an ugly controversy when Robert Allenby told reporters his "friends" had seen Kim coming back to his hotel "sideways" at 4 a.m. following the third day of competition. It was a dubious bit of ­hearsay—and Kim has steadfastly denied any sort of drunken nocturnal ­escapade—but it got a lot of play in part because of all the bad juju that had come to surround Kim. "I was upset about it because my parents were upset," he says. "It's important to me for them to be proud of who I am." (He went out the next day and thumped Allenby 5 and 3.)

In the funk that followed, Kim resolved to remake his career. A few months earlier he had already begun tightening his circle, buying the big house in Dallas and moving in Flanders and Ferguson. (Both had been adrift after an unhappy stint working in the same office selling insurance.) Flanders joined Kim's payroll last October when he made his caddying debut in Las Vegas. "It's nice to have someone my age and someone who's an old friend as a caddie," says Kim. "We have fun hanging out at night, and we bring that chemistry to the course. Brodie may not have had any experience as a caddie, but he understands the game, he understands my game and he understands me. If I make a bogey, he knows not to say, 'Hey, it's O.K.' It's not O.K. And it's not going to be O.K. until I make another birdie."

Searching to further redefine his career, Kim called a "team meeting" in December that included his three amigos and his agent, Chris Armstrong. This was not a spartan exercise; an enthusiast of the jet-set lifestyle, Kim flew everyone to Aspen on a private plane and brought in a masseuse and a chef. After some heart-to-hearts he was inspired to get in the best shape of his life and improve his short game, but the results were slow to come at the outset of this year. "Anthony's been working hard for quite a while, but for a long time he didn't have anything to show for it," says Kim's swing coach, Adam Schriber. "A lot of guys would have bailed. He kept a good attitude, which I think is a sign of maturity."

For Kim the turning point in his ­season—and, not to be too melodramatic, also his career—came in the third round of the Honda Classic in early March, when he began the day with a two-stroke lead but labored to a 73. It doesn't sound impressive, but Kim says, "I'm so proud of that round. Absolutely nothing went right for me, and I was struggling so badly with my game, but I kept fighting and fighting and held it together and still gave myself a chance to win. That was a huge boost." He shot a smooth 67 the next day to finish second, his best showing in a year and a half.

Two starts later Kim won in Houston ­despite hitting only eight of 28 fairways on the weekend, with many of his misses barely staying on the planet. The list of current players who could have won from where Kim hit is short. In fact, only Woods and Phil Mickelson are on it. Kim's wildness can be blamed on a painful tear in the ulnar ligament in his left thumb, which dates to last year. "Anthony has tremendous flexibility and generates tremendous speed, especially with his hips," says Schriber. "He has been slowing down his arms to take pressure off the thumb, which gets his swing out of sequence. The thumb can't withstand much pounding, so he hasn't been able to hit balls and sort it out on the range. Every round he shows up on the 1st tee having to try to find his swing." After Kim's high-wire act at the Masters he decided to ride out this hot streak and defer surgery or the extended rest that will be necessary for his thumb to heal.

Kim's recent surge was an inspiring display of talent, ­desire and dedication, but those close to him have been more impressed with how he has celebrated or, rather, how he hasn't. Not a drop of alcohol was imbibed on that Sunday night in Houston. The day after returning to Dallas from Augusta, Kim shared two meals, played 18 holes and presented a new set of golf clubs to Nick Maleski, a 15-year-old whose Make-A-Wish dream was simply to meet his hero.

Says Schriber, who has worked with Kim since he was 14, "No doubt about it, the kid is growing up."

A tour of Kim's house in Dallas begins, as it must, in the subterranean home theater, on which Kim dropped $60,000 for a state-of-the-art, ­eardrum–shattering system. "I'm not afraid to spend money, obviously," he says. The electronics are so complicated that Kim doesn't know how to turn on the system. "I get it set up for him and then hand him the remote," says Ferguson. "At that point he can usually figure out how to adjust the volume." Kim bought the home fully furnished, or, as Ferguson puts it, "He kept everything but the children and the monogrammed towels."

With its dark walls, heavy curtains and ornate furniture the place gives off the vibe of an upscale bordello. For Kim it has become an important refuge. "These days you can never be too careful," he says. "Here we can control the environment, control who comes and goes. It takes a lot for us to trust somebody."

"It has to be earned," says Flanders.

"The answer is always no, until it's yes," adds Ferguson. This kind of playful chemistry would make for good TV, and in recent months Armstrong has spoken with producers about a possible reality show starring Kim and his ever-present posse. "I would love to be on TV," says Kim. "I like the idea of letting people see a different side. I don't want to be labeled as just a golfer. I want to be more than that. But we're waiting for the right opportunity because right now I don't need any extra distractions."

Kim's love life could certainly lead to some lively programming. On a sunny day in late March, he was entertaining a doe-eyed brunette with a figure curvier than 17 Mile Drive. This was Christina, no last name given. When she sashayed away in her four-inch stilettos Kim was asked to clarify the nature of their relationship.

"Just friends," he said.

Pity.

"Well. . . ." He dissolved into giggles.

A couple of weeks later, at the Masters, his companion was Lisa Pruett, an on-again, off-again flame going back to Oklahoma, where she was a grad student working as a teaching assistant in one of Kim's classes. A blonde, blue-eyed stunner, Pruett strolled Augusta National in tight jeans and a form-fitting tank top, snapping necks up and down the rope line. "We're not dating; we're a lot more than friends. . . . I don't know what we are," she said. "I'm simply giving him what he needs, which is space. When you love someone, you have to do what's best for them, even if it's hard."

Pruett hadn't seen Kim play this year until the final round in Houston, and she was struck by his metamorphosis. "He has a different energy out there," she said from Amen Corner. "He's a lot more relaxed, he doesn't get down on himself like he used to. It's nice to see so many smiles."

After Augusta, Kim reiterated that he's "happily single" while also calling Pruett "one of the most important people in my life." She lives in his Dallas starter home, along with "their" dog Norman, a golden­doodle [a mix between a golden retriever and a poodle] named for the city in which Pruett and Kim met. ("Also, he has blond hair, like Greg Norman," she adds.) Says Kim, "People wonder if it's a burden to have so many people depending on me. Actually, I love it. It motivates me. And the fun part of having success is getting to share it with those you care about."

Back on his oversized couch, with SportsCenter still playing in the background, Kim was riffing on how exciting it was to have been in contention at the Masters. He sounded like a fan when replaying Mickelson's instantly classic six-iron out of the trees on the 13th hole on Sunday. "Next time, I want to be the guy who hits that shot," he said. "I want to be the guy who makes the putt on the last hole." To get there, Kim will continue to rely on the friends all around him.

More From the Web

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN