‘Come on, let’s go!’ - The Presidents Cup was on life support, Tom Kim may have single-handedly saved it
The Presidents Cup went the way of the United States, which was largely expected, but the blowout some predicted did not arrive and the Internationals proved worthy competition at Quail Hollow. It did not look like that would be the case after a couple of days, but a 20-year-old by the name of Tom Kim became a talisman who ignited the competition and pointed to a bright future.
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For a couple of days it was, as a superior side on paper dominated an opposition team shorn of a host of star names due to defections to LIV Golf.
Open champion and world No. 3 Cameron Smith was one of those who joined LIV and made himself ineligible. Throw in Joaquin Niemann, Abraham Ancer and Louis Oosthuizen to name but three and you can see why it felt like Internationals captain Trevor Immelman was operating with one hand tied behind his back.
Immelman spent over two years planning, picking the brains of Smith and his fellow Australian Adam Scott and past captains. The planning started when the Internationals came close to snatching victory at Royal Melbourne in 2019.
The Americans fell over the line 16-14, with a lipped-out putt here and there the difference between victory and an eighth defeat in a row in Presidents Cups for the Internationals.
Since the Presidents Cup began in 1994, it has largely been the plaything of the United States - with some viewing it as a breeding ground for hatching Ryder Cup plans. The Internationals have one win to their name, and there has been one tie. The USA arrived at Quail Hollow with 11 victories.
In those 11 wins, there have been blowouts - 19-11 in 2017, 21.5-10.5 in 2000, 20.5-11.5 in 1998 and 20-12 in 1994.
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With players ranked one, four, five, seven, nine, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 18 to call on, many felt another American blowout was on the cards. And with the best of the Internationals now playing on LIV Golf, that threatened the legitimacy of the event, and left Immelman's plans in tatters.
Quail Hollow was a 40,000 sell-out, to make it abundantly clear that there's appetite for true team golf. The sights on the first tee were not quite on the scale of Le Golf National in the 2018 Ryder Cup but a massive amphitheatre with fans whipped up into a frenzy is what these team events are all about.
For two days, there was little competition to speak of - but Tom Kim gave us hope.
In the Thursday foursomes, Tom Kim went full Bubba Watson on the first tee. Upon being announced to the crowd, the youngster gave a twirl of an arm in appreciation. A silence normally descends as the player goes to address. Watson broke the mould at the Ryder Cup in 2012 when encouraging the crowd to stay loud as he teed off. Tom Kim did likewise, he then gave it a twirl of the club and a rapid tee grab to suggest he was delighted with the shot. That it ended up in the bunker on the left made no difference. The die had been cast.
Tom Kim on the first tee at the 2022 Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow Country Club on September 24, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina
Image credit: Getty Images
Tom Kim and KH Lee produced a fighting display. Tom Kim gave a few air punches and some calls of “come on, let’s go!” but they were beaten 2&1 by Cameron Young and Collin Morikawa.
A 4-1 deficit on Thursday went out to 8-2 by Friday evening and there was talk of record wins, and the nightmare scenario of the American victory being wrapped up before the Sunday singles.
Immelman required a talisman, and a 20-year-old from Korea became that man. Tom Kim turned professional at 15, and spoke some years ago about dreaming of playing in the Presidents Cup. He learned his trade on the tours in Asia before jumping to America. At the start of 2022 he was still an unknown playing on the Korn Ferry Tour. By August 7 he had a PGA Tour card courtesy of his win in the Wyndham Championship.
The focus then shifted to the Presidents Cup and on Saturday he announced himself. A series of huge putts were drained in the foursomes, followed by air punch after air punch and "come on, let’s go!” after "come on, let’s go!”, and his win alongside KH Lee against Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns raised International spirits.
The pair have dovetailed superbly in team golf for years, but Tom Kim put them under the pump. He did it from the moment he stepped on the first tee and whipped up the crowd.
He rolled in huge putts, accompanied by “come on, let’s go!” and the obligatory air punch. Those antics could have riled an opposition crowd, but it was done with a smile on his face and with the exuberance of youth. Ian Poulter delivered something similar in Ryder Cups of old, but he was viewed as a pantomime villain. Any opposition fan who viewed Tom Kim as the Wicked Queen had a heart of ice.
Playing alongside Si Woo Kim, Tom Kim was the senior partner despite being the junior by six years, prowling round the greens, reading putts for his partner and living every second.
When he wasn’t centre stage, he was the support cast. The sight of Tom Kim seemingly refusing to look, only to peek through his fingers was like witnessing a child viewing a horror film.
Tom Kim’s caddie Joe Skovron may have bruises on his shoulders. Not from carrying the bag, but from how tight his man was gripping them while watching the action - living every moment.
Tom Kim and caddie Joe Skovron at the 2022 Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow Country Club on September 24, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina
Image credit: Getty Images
Etiquette in golf tells you to wish your opponent (technically a playing partner but they are opponents) well on the first tee. Deep down you want your opponent to hook his tee shot out of bounds on the first, find the water on the second and snap his putter on the third.
You are not supposed to look happy when your opponent misses. But the sight of Tom Kim, gripping his caddie’s shoulders, barely able to watch as Cantlay lined up a putt for a half on Saturday was riveting viewing. The putt missed, Tom Kim’s grip tightened and there was a puff of the cheeks and an exhale that said “yes!” But it was done with the exuberance of youth, for the thrill of the contest and without any vindictive intent at all.
For all the exuberance, there is still a need to walk the walk. The 18th on Saturday afternoon showed Tom Kim has what it takes to live with the big beasts. With his playing partner in trouble in the trees, it was two against one. Tom Kim had 234 yards to the green. Out came the two-iron. Two-irons are incredibly difficult to hit, let alone to hit well with the match on the line.
He lasered the ball to 14 feet and strode up to the green and watched Cantlay and Schauffele miss - meaning his putt would win it all. Tom Kim stepped over the putt with the look of a man who knew exactly where the ball was going. It found the bottom of the cup, down went the putter, off went the cap and a huge “come on, let’s go!” followed as his team-mates joined in the celebrations.
A golfing superstar was born.
Tom Kim celebrates at the 2022 Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow Country Club on September 24, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina