He has trimmed the number of his traveling party and has heard from enough people whom he trusts that playing with the purpose of proving people wrong is the wrong route. Even so, he feels as though fans, the media and players are questioning his devotion to his sport.
“I have a lot of people doubting me, which I like,” he said.
When asked why they are skeptical of his future, Kim first mentioned the arrival of so many players in his age group. Indeed, that’s what makes golf more intriguing than it has been in years. Martin Kaymer, who just turned 26, last year became the youngest major champion since Woods in 2001. Rory McIlroy won at Quail Hollow at age 20. Ryo Ishikawa was still 18 when he shot 58 to win in Japan. Jason Day won in Dallas, and at 23 is the youngest player at Kapalua.
Slightly older than Kim, and still very young, are the likes of Dustin Johnson and Hunter Mahan.
But it’s more than the youth movement bugging Kim.
When asked whether he was troubled about players doubting him because of his activity off the course, Kim’s eyes widened and he turned in his chair away from the Orange Bowl game on television.
“One hundred percent. Couldn’t have said it any better,” he said. “I feel that is a major reason why people doubt me. They don’t think I care about golf. It’s hard for people who don’t know me to say, ‘He’s 25, having a good time with his friends.’ If anyone knows me, they know I’m willing to admit to my mistakes. But when I do something, I want to be the best at it. I’m going to scratch and claw my way up the ladder. People around me see that.”
Kim doesn’t see the need to explain what happened in Las Vegas. If there was a lesson that came out of that, it was understanding that it’s better to be the center of attention inside the ropes than under a neon sign.
“I feel obligated to my sponsors to do a better job of not even letting some of these stories come out,” he said. “I don’t want to be a player no one can relate to. Sure, I’ve made some mistakes. I know that I was brought up well by two very great people, people that everyone respects. I’m not the type of person to stray off course. Maybe I did for a minute, but I’ve realized that I’ve got to have a game plan _ not for my next round, but for my life.”
Leave it to Kim to draw an analogy from George St. Pierre, who said the Ultimate Fighting Championship was a lot like golf. He didn’t get the sense the UFC welterweight knew much about golf, but his words stuck with Kim.
“He said once you make the golf swing and hit the shot, you can’t control it. You have to do everything before the shot to control the outcome,” Kim said. “I’m going to do whatever I can to control what I can.”
That starts this week at Kapalua, and his hope is to carry that through this year and beyond to get his name back in the conversation for all the right reasons.