Twenty-three-year-old Anthony Kim knows how many tournaments Tiger Woods won by the time he turned 23 (seven, including one major), but not because Kim looked it up. A writer told him. Kim (two wins, no majors) doesn't dwell on comparisons because he has a life, and it's "far-fetched" to think anyone will match Tiger's stat line — even if Kim did win one of the most coveted non-major titles of the '08 season, the Wachovia Championship, and Tiger's own event, the AT&T National. Besides, there are things A.K. can do that T.W. can't, like break a guy's ankles off the dribble (Kim frequently practiced with the University of Oklahoma's basketball team) or inhale 21 pieces of pizza in a sitting (seriously, read on). Kim took a break in the midst of the FedEx Cup playoffs to discuss his appetite for winning, and other things; his escape from the streets of L.A.; and how he overcame a topsy-turvy — and tipsy — rookie year in 2007 to grab a spot among the game's elite.
Technically, you aged only one year in 2007, but realistically it was more like…
Mentally I feel like I aged 20 years, because I just lived my life so recklessly. I felt like my life was a round that consisted of triple-bogeys and eagles and lots of double-bogeys. It was quite up and down, but I got through it and now I'm on pace to shoot a low number.
You said you played some rounds hungover in '07 and on almost no sleep. What's the worst you felt on the first tee?
[Laughs] I've felt pretty bad. I guess there were many times when I felt like I was going to throw up on the first tee, but I held it in there.
You gave up drinking for five months last year, right?
Yeah, in '07 and '08.
You don't drink anymore?
Not at tournaments. When I'm on the road I'm on the road, and alcohol is out of the question. If I go home and want a cold beverage on an off week, that's different. But I'm trying to be more disciplined so that when I'm at work I have a clear mind.
How do you measure your progress from 2007 to '08?
I'm very proud of a lot of situations this year, how I've conducted myself as a professional.
There's a story about you hitting a drive into the trees at the 2007 Reno-Tahoe Open, and the ball bouncing back out into the fairway. You said it was a turning point for you when you realized you didn't care where the ball went.
I remember Jeff Maggert looked at my buddy who was caddying for me and said, "Is he serious?" He didn't mean that in a negative way, but just that it was such a poor decision.
You mean to hit driver on that hole?
Right. I'm the only person that would have done that. I pulled it off and ended up making birdie, but it's something you don't do as a professional golfer. The fairway is 15 yards wide and the carry was 370. There's water the whole way across the fairway. If you miss left there's a whole bunch of trees and out of bounds, and if you miss right you're in the water, and if you're short you're in the water.
So you were trying to hit a ball 370 in the air?
It was off a very steep downhill, but I think I ended up carrying it like 390.
So the answer to Maggert's question was no, you weren't serious about your game.
Right. I wasn't respecting the game. I make better decisions now.
You've said the epiphany happened a few months later. What was that about?
I looked back on the year around August and was disgusted with how I had played and acted. I was upset and frustrated with my game and the results, and I knew I had to turn things around.
Do you ever get tired of all the talk that A.K. is the next Tiger? Isn't it enough just to be you?
It's an honor for even one person to think that. I feel lucky that people see that much potential in me. I just have to keep practicing and see where I end up, because I feel like I have a good bit of potential that I have to fulfill.
Sixty-five wins, 14 majors — that's not realistically attainable, is it?
It's very far-fetched to say it's attainable. All I can focus on is winning. I'm not focused on records. I'm just there to win.
When a guy like Mark O'Meara says you have more talent at your age than anyone but Woods, can you explain what he's looking at?
That's a good question. I really have no idea, either. Obviously that's nice to hear, but if I don't do anything with it…at the time , I wasn't going anywhere with my career.
Did you ever start justifying a loss in your mind, blaming the weather or something, and then catch yourself? Like, 'Wait a minute. I'll bet Tiger doesn't think like that.'
I do, absolutely. You try to model yourself after him, and you can blame it on a spike mark or the wind picking up, but Tiger seems to find a way to deal with it and that's what I try to do as well.
When Tiger won the '97 Masters you would have been…
I was 11 or 12. I just remember all the posters of him in the red shirt, pumping his fist after he made the five-footer. I didn't really watch too much golf. I was either playing basketball or hanging out with my friends.
If you could trade one part of your game for one part of Tiger's game, what would it be?
Putting. I'm a very confident putter but he holes more putts because his speed and line are a lot more consistent on a regular basis and that takes a lot of pressure off him. He knows his speed and where he's looking every time.
When we had dinner in Tampa last year, it was amazing how much food you ate. Is that typical?
I can't get enough. I love it. One of my favorite things is to eat delicious, warm meals.
Did you feel slightly threatened when you heard how much Michael Phelps eats?
Yeah, I'm very competitive. I like to say I'm one of the best eaters I know.
What's the most you've put down in a sitting?
In a pizza-eating contest with my best friend, Paul Veroulis, I dominated him, 21 pieces to 14. He was hiding pieces under the plate when I went to go get more. I call that domination. Not a big deal, but I just worked him.
How many full pizzas was that?
I don't know. It was a lot of pizza. I barely made it to the car. It was CiCi's Pizza in Dallas, a buffet. It was all kinds, sausage, cheese, pepperoni, some of everything. I love all kinds.
Is there anybody on Tour who can hang with you with a knife and fork?
Your coach Adam Schriber once told me you weighed in excess of 200 pounds at age 13.
No. That would be the biggest 13-year-old you've ever seen! No, I would say probably more like 15, or 14 — no, 15. I was probably 210 pounds.
I just quit ordering pizza or going to McDonald's every night, and started losing weight as quick as I could snap my fingers.
This was when your folks got you an apartment in La Quinta so you could get out of L.A.
I had just turned 15.
Then your parents started visiting on the weekends and cooking meals for you to thaw out and eat during the week.
Yeah. My mom wanted to make sure I could take care of myself.
With the drugs and gangs around L.A.'s Koreatown, how crucial was it to move out?
I had to learn how to grow up, how to make better decisions. I had so many opportunities to make bad ones. I turned into a different person, one who my parents would be more proud of than the kid who was getting into trouble.
There are stories about your dad, Paul, being too tough on you as a kid, like pretending to throw away a trophy when you didn't perform up to his standards. You weren't on speaking terms for a few years, but that's over, right? Didn't you and your mom and dad talk by phone after you won Wachovia?
We talk often. It's whatever a professional golfer and his parents would be like.
Is it accurate to say that O'Meara and fellow OU Sooner Todd Hamilton have been sort of like second fathers to you?
No. I've got one dad. They've been great, very positive influences, and if they needed me I'd be right there and I'm sure it's the same way back. But you only have one mom and one dad.
You told Sports Illustrated earlier this year, 'I want to be the baddest person on the planet.' Explain.
It means that I want to work hard and fulfill what everybody sees in me, and what my parents have worked so hard to put me in a position to do. If I do what I think I can do, I'm going to be able to make a difference in other people's lives. I mean, that's what Tiger did for me, and that's why I think he's one of the baddest people on the planet. To be able to affect kids, and be able to help other people, it's important to me.
You've been called 'a downtown L.A. kid at heart.' What's the most downtown thing about you?
I still love to go to the park and play basketball. I don't do it anymore because I'm a professional golfer, but I still like to go see old friends and just hang out with the boys.
You held your own with the OU hoops team, right?
Well, yeah, I felt like I was in good enough shape to run around with those boys.
Were you quicker than the starting point guard?
I don't know if I was quicker. I ran harder. I would say I had stronger legs than him.
You once called your famous 'A.K.' belt buckle your best $40 investment. What's the most expensive accessory you own?
Does that include cars?
Sure, go ahead.
I just bought a [black Mercedes] S 550, and I have a Cadillac Escalade that I bought with the first check I ever won.
That was at the 2006 Texas Open. You've said finishing second was the worst thing that ever happened to you. Do you still feel that way?
There were so many positive things coming out of that. My confidence was high going into Q School, knowing I could play with these guys. Did it give me a bigger head than I needed? Absolutely. I took it for granted and thought the game was going to come to me a lot easier than it did.
You have a lot of financial freedom now. What's it like doing stuff with friends? Do you pay?
Every time. I'm fortunate to be in the position I am. I really don't have time to hang out with people I don't know well, so if I am hanging out with friends, it's usually my close friends, and obviously I'm in a better financial position than most 23-year-olds.
Have your expectations changed?
I don't think so. I achieved some of the goals I set early in the year: to make the Ryder Cup team and to win. My main goal this year was to be prepared at every tournament. I almost did that. There were a couple of tournaments where I didn't feel as prepared as I wanted to be.
Do you think about your legacy?
I don't want my legacy to be just golf. After I'm gone I want my kids and people that knew me to say he was a person with a good heart, who would go out of his way to help somebody if they were in trouble, and somebody who helped kids. Because without a lot of people helping me, I wouldn't be in the position I am today. I'm not even going to try to name them because there are so many people, and I'd be doing an injustice to the person who I leave out.
Nobody does it alone.