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Monday Rap: Anthony Kim Is Back Playing LIV Golf After 12 Years In The Abyss. Now What?

Matt Sullivan. Getty Images.

It's an oft-used device for adding chronological context. Instead of saying x happened XX years ago, the telecast will give you the top song from the year in which happened or the price of gas when happened. Now it's our turn. The last time Anthony Kim finished in the top 10 of a PGA Tour event this was at the 2011 Open Championship. The top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking were as follows:

1. Luke Donald
2. Lee Westwood
3. Martin Kaymer
4. Rory McIlroy
5. Steve Stricker
6. Phil Mickelson
7. Dustin Johnson
8. Matt Kuchar
9. Jason Day
10. Nick Watney

Rory, DJ and J-Day are still kickin' at the top level of professional golf. But the other 8? Donald's the Ryder Cup captain. Westwood is north of 50 and not playing great golf on the LIV tour. Martin Kaymer's not heard from much these days. Steve Stricker's crushing it…on the PGA Tour Champions. You get the picture. It's been a lifetime since Kim contended in a professional golf tournament of importance. He was 26 years old when he took that T6 at the Open. An old 26, for sure, given his hard-partying ways and the thumb surgery that forced him to miss the 2010 Ryder Cup. Still, at 26 you're just entering your prime in this game. By the end of the following year he'd played his last golf tournament. 

Or so it seemed until very recently. A Golf.com story dropped about a month ago saying Kim was seriously considering a comeback to professional golf and was "negotiating" with both the PGA Tour and LIV Golf about the terms of a comeback. I found that wording kind of funny beause there really wasn't anything to negotiate with the PGA Tour. It's a meritocracy. He lost his tour card when he stopped playing and they don't just hand those out. Sure, he might be able to get into some lower-tier events with his past champion status and surely some sponsors would throw him an exemption. But the PGA Tour can't simply hand him a spot in their big-money events. So not sure, really, what there was to "negotiate" as far as Jay Monahan and Co. go. 

Enter LIV Golf. They're in the headline business. The last two-plus years have made that clear. They're also in the invite-whoever-we-want business because well, that's just kind of how they roll. This was a perfect marriage: a player itching to get back into competition—whether by way of monetary necessity or more wholesome motivation—and a tour offering big-money payouts to whomever they deem worthy of big-money payouts. 

Kim will absolutely bring attention to his debut at this week's LIV event in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Why they had him debut there and not in the United States, where the media attention would be 10x, remains a mystery.) But he has to perform on the golf course to avoid the narrative quickly becoming: he's a sideshow, and LIV is a sideshow for giving him this opportunity. 

When we think of AK we think of the golden years. The three PGA Tour wins. The 11 birdies in a Masters round, which remains a record. The massive white belt buckle. The buttery swing. The beatdown of Sergio Garcia in Ryder Cup singles. The carefree, I'm-better-than-you attitude. Showing up to a golf course without any sort of plan and then shooting 62. 

But again, those were the glory years. 2008, '09 and '10, mostly. What followed were very bad injuries for a golfer (to his thumb, achilles and back), a total lack of desire and some major driver struggles that torpedoed his comeback effort in 2012. Kim played 10 events on the PGA Tour that year. He made the cut twice, never finishing inside the top 40. He missed the cut four times, was DQ'd once (after an opening-round 78) and withdrew three times. For the season he lost 1.167 shots per round with the driver, which would put him 186th out of 188 qualified players this year. His last three scores on the PGA Tour are a 74, a 79 and an 83. He was a very, very poor player before he hung it up for 12 years and then emerged from the abyss. 

He's also 38 years old now. He won't quite have the young-kid swagger. He is trading mostly in an aura from the past. It's entirely possible for him to add to the lore by coming back after 12 years and immediately competing with the world-class players on LIV. He'd become an instant star. It's perhaps more likely that he shows the same form that forced him to give the game up for over a decade in favor of a $10 million insurance policy. 

Speaking of that insurance policy…it's been widely reported that it was the roadblock complicating a comeback. If he played another professional event he'd have to give the money back. So is LIV paying that $10 million back, in addition to a signing bonus for him? Are they just paying back the $10 million, and then he gets whatever he earns in LIV prize money? From what I gather he's playing as a wild-card individual this week meaning he's not a member of one of LIV's 13 established teams that will play in every LIV event his season. (Again, LIV kind of just does whatever they please with this adding wildcards stuff). That suggests LIV wants him to prove it before they offer him anything truly substantial. 

What this comeback absolutely, positively needs is a sit-down, tell-all interview where Kim explains what the fuck's been going on this last decade-plus. He burst onto the scene as a star then completely disappeared. Like, actively avoided the spotlight like he's Bigfoot. And all the sudden he's back playing a professional event in Saudi Arabia. Why'd he step away? What's up with the insurance policy? Why'd he come back? What are his expectations? What does his voice even sound like? Without that piece of content the comeback will feel a touch hollow. Let's see what they produce. If nothing else, that first press conference should be englightening.

We'll definitely be watching closely. At least this week. 

Jake Knapp - a star is born

Back when we broadcasted the NV5 Invitational presented by Old National Bank on the Korn Ferry Tour there was one swing that stopped all of us in our tracks. It was Jake Knapp's. Other players told us to watch how fucking easy this guy makes 190 mile per hour ball speed look like. He didn't disappoint.

It's Freddie Couples tempo with John Daly power. That swing has the potential to be thought of alongside the Adam Scotts and the Rory McIlroys and Louis Oosthuizens as an easy answer to what's your favorite swing on tour? But you've gotta have success first. He's finding it now. 

Knapp is 29 years old. That's far older than what we've become accustomed to when it comes to up-and-coming stars. Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland and Joaquin Niemann all broke through in their early 20's. Not everyone's road to the top level of professional golf is so smooth. Knapp played collegiately at UCLA, traditionally a blue-blood program. But he struggled to get out of golf's minor leagues for the first five-plus years of his career. Just a few years ago he was working as a nightclub bouncer near his native Orange Country to raise enough money to keep the dream alive. Then, finally, a good-enough season on the Korn Ferry Tour last year to get his PGA Tour card. He's been flying since. A T3 at Torrey Pines, just an hour away from where he grew up, freed him up in just his third career start on the PGA Tour. That strong early finish meant he wouldn't have to worry so much about keeping his card and could focus on moving up the world rankings and trying to get into the signature events. He did both of those things this past week, building a commanding lead with an overpowering ball striking display from Thursday-Saturday and then gritting his teeth through a scratchy ball striking performance on Sunday to win the Mexico Open at Vidanta. Per stats oracle Justin Ray, Knapp became the first player in 40 years to win on the PGA Tour despite hitting 2 or fewer fairways in his final round. 

Vidanta isn't a very demanding golf course, for sure, but Knapp's overwhelming power shouldn't be discounted. It's part of what makes him so appealing as a player. Easy speed, that mullet, a fun backstory with the nightclub bouncer stuff and an easygoing California swagger. He also pulled on the heartstrings when diving into the tattoo honoring his late grandfather, who was his guiding light throughout his golf life. 

"It's pretty amazing," Knapp said after the two-shot win over Sami Valimaki, who came up just short in his quest to become the first man from Finland to win on the PGA Tour. "Like we were just talking about, I don't think it's fully sunk in yet simply because I haven't looked at the schedule and all the events that I'm into now. Obviously I know the Masters and everything like that. Yeah, it feels pretty amazing."

He's right about the Masters. He's also into the five remaining signature events on the PGA Tour schedule as well as the PGA Championship. Now world No. 52, he's in a great spot to earn berths into the U.S. Open and Open Championship by way of his world ranking. He's the exact type of player the PGA Tour had in mind when it preserved spots for the hot hands in signature events. A player still has the opportunity to play his way into the top-tier events, he just needs to go out there and earn it. Jake Knapp has done that. 

As for Valimaki, his strong finish is another positive sign for the DP World Tour. The top 10 not-already exempt players on that tour receive PGA Tour cards at the end of every season and the 2023 graduates are off to a hot start. Mathieu Pavon won at Torrey Pines. Nicolai Hojgaard has been in conention multiple times. Ryo Histatsune is going along nicely. And now Valimaki. Their play is showing that the top players on that tour aren't as far behind the PGA Tour guys as maybe previously thought. 

Elsewhere…

—Charlie Woods shot 86 in his pre-qualifier for the Cognizant Classic. He made a 12 on the hole. Not really much to add beyond he's 15 years old, and he still hasn't played in his first AJGA event (that's coming next month). Oh, to be a fly on the wall in that first conversation between Tiger and Charlie after that humble pie he was served. 

—There's another edition of The Match tonight featuring Rory McIlroy, Max Homa, Rose Zhang and Lexi Thompson. McIlroy, Homa and Zhang are not in great form. The golf course could well be the star tonight: they're playing under the lights at The Park, a new Gil Hanse-designed public facility near the golf mecca of Jupiter, Fla. It's a really cool property with the mission of providing an elite course to the public at an affordable rate to attract more people to the game. 

—What an amazing, feel good story on the DP World Tour this week at the Magical Kenya Open. Ronald Rugumayo birdied his final hole on Friday to make the cut on the number and become the first player from Uganda to ever make a cut on the DP World Tour. In a golf era increasingly defined by the rich getting richer, this one was much needed on our timelines.

—The full trailer for season 2 of Full Swing, Netflix's docuseries following professional golf, dropped on Monday. The show itself releases all 8 of its episodes on March 6. 

—The Florida swing begins this week with the Cognziant Classic at PGA National, which was known for decades as the Honda. Rory McIlroy's playing the event for the first time in years. Matt Fitzpatrick, Tom Kim, Cameron Young, Rickie Fowler are also teeing it. All those guys listed besides Kim live within 30 minutes of the course. 

—The LPGA Tour moves to Singapore this week for the HSBC Women's Championship. Patty Tavatanakit won last week's Honda LPGA Thailand. 

—The Korn Ferry Tour's in Argentina this week. It's poor timing, considering there's some sort of mosquito outbreak going on down there. I'm glad I'm not on-site. 

Until next week,

Dan

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