BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — Anthony Kim pressed a cell phone against his ear as he listened to Tiger Woods, the tournament host of the AT&T National, congratulate him on another impressive victory that seemed to mark the arrival of America’s next great golfer.
That was one year and 25 tournaments ago.
Kim has yet to pose with another trophy he could call his own. Remember, the Ryder Cup is an exhibition, and no matter how thoroughly the 23-year-old dismantled Sergio Garcia in the leadoff singles match, it was a team effort.
Over the last year, Kim has made news for not remembering how many majors Woods had won, not being fully aware that the automobile industry was hurting, not realizing Colin Montgomerie had been selected Ryder Cup captain for Europe or not knowing Congressional once hosted a U.S. Open or two.
Trouble is, he has not made news for what matters.
Kim started the season with a runner-up finish at Kapalua. He has not finished in the top 10 anywhere in the world since. So perhaps it was not surprising Tuesday when someone asked him the best thing that has happened to him this year.
He thought about this briefly, then smiled.
“I made it to my 24th birthday,” he said.
His age should count for something. When he unleashed a bogey-free 65 in the final round at Congressional last year for a two-shot victory, Kim became the first American under 25 since Woods to win at least twice on the PGA Tour in the same year.
Woods, who was home in Florida recuperating from reconstructive knee surgery, told him that day to keep working hard and there would be no limits on what Kim could achieve. And it appeared that Kim was headed in that direction.
He was in the mix Sunday at Royal Birkdale, his first taste of links golf. He was in the final group at the Canadian Open until he kept his foot on the accelerator through one too many construction zones, as Kim is prone to do. He was a birdie putt away from joining the playoff at the season-ending Tour Championship.
And there was that week at the Ryder Cup, where Kim was the life of the party in so many ways.
Still, celebrations for his golf have been rare.
Kim has dealt with more nagging injuries than he can recite, whether it was his jaw from a horseback riding in New Zealand to the most recent setback, an injury in his left thumb that kept him from making an aggressive pass at the ball.
He had to stick with fairway metals at long and soggy Bethpage Black, and he was pleased to finish tied for 16th with those kind of restrictions. He made 11 birdies in the second round at the Masters when he shot 65, but he didn’t break par the other three rounds.
“It’s probably been my toughest year on tour, the fact that I’ve had these little injuries that have held me back,” Kim said. “But I’m learning more about myself when I’m not playing well. I’m learning how to play this game. I’m learning how to approach different situations when you’re not playing you best, and it’s going to help me when I do start hitting the ball well, and do start putting well, when my game comes together.”
Kim isn’t the only player who has struggled this year.
British Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington has missed his last four cuts. Adam Scott had a hard time breaking 80 a few months ago. Ernie Els hasn’t won in 16 months and has fallen out of the top 20.
The fact Kim has gone an entire year without winning is a reminder that winning is never easy on the PGA Tour.
“We live in the era of Tiger Woods, who makes winning look ridiculously easy,” Paul Goydos said last week. “The more I think about it, the more I feel Tiger Woods is the most underrated player on this tour. You guys have no concept of what he accomplishes on a weekly basis when he plays. It’s ridiculous how good he plays.”
Even with 67 career victories and – pay attention, Anthony – 14 majors, Woods conceded that it’s never easy.
“I certainly have won my share of tournaments, but I’ve lost more than I’ve won,” he said. “And that’s the nature of our sport. We do lose a lot of events.”
Having turned 24 a few weeks ago, time is on Kim’s side.
He is the defending champion at Congressional – remember, Anthony, it will host the U.S. Open in 2011 – and winning again will be more difficult this time with his health just now returning and Woods at full strength.
It would be easy to speculate that Kim is enjoying fruits more than labor, although only he knows how hard he is working. At least his objectives have not changed.
“I want to win golf tournaments. I’m here to do that,” he said. “But at the same time, I have so much to look forward to. I heard you don’t hit your peak at golf until 31, 33 years old. So I have a long way to go. I have a long career ahead of me. And as long as I stay positive and keep working hard, I should be in pretty good shape.”