- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Perhaps Anthony Kim should consider commissioning a diamond-crusted caduceus for his next belt buckle. After capitalizing on his immense talent last year by posting the first two victories of his PGA Tour career and authoring a rousing performance in the Ryder Cup, Kim’s follow-up season has been sabotaged by a confounding assortment of ailments and injuries.

“I’ve been a walking calamity,” said the 24-year-old Kim, who returns to Congressional Country Club this week to defend the title he captured last year with a tournament-record score of 268 (12 under). “There have been quite a few injuries, but I don’t even know where to start.”

Kim’s catalog of infirmities began when he nearly broke his jaw in a horseback riding accident late last October while in New Zealand for the Kiwi Challenge. He severely sprained his ankle falling down a set of stairs a month later in China. He battled bursitis in his left shoulder in January, withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational with the flu in February and spent April and May playing with a dislocated thumb.

“There’s been one thing after another,” lamented Kim two weeks ago at the U.S. Open. “The injuries I feel are pretty close to all behind me. I think the problem with an injury is that when you start compensating for that injury, you tend to use one part of your body a little bit more. That’s what I was doing. So to get back into shape was very important. I’m almost there.

“I’ve gotten over all those little injuries everybody keeps talking about. So now it’s just time to go ahead and work on my swing a little bit more and start making a couple more putts.”

The American star of Korean descent has done just that of late, recording his best finishes since a runner-up performance at the season-opening Mercedes Championship in consecutive weeks at the U.S. Open (t-16) and the Travelers Championship (t-11).

“I think the whole key is driving the ball,” said Kim. “When I drive the ball well, it’s the straightest club in my bag — that’s including my 7-iron, which is I guess a good and bad thing. But I like to hit driver everywhere, and that’s caused some problems for me early this year when I haven’t been able to get the ball on the fairway.”

The charismatic former University of Oklahoma standout used the long ball to put his challengers to the sword at Congressional last year, finishing eighth in the field in driving distance (305.8 yards) and tied for 18th in driving accuracy. The net result was a slew of short-range birdie attempts and a two-stroke victory over Sweden’s Fredrik Jacobson.

This year, the swashbuckling Los Angeles native arrives at Old Blue riding a smoking short stick that left him tops in the field in putting at TPC River Highlands last week and yielded his most consistent set of scores this season (66-66-67-67).

Nobody has ever questioned Kim’s massive ability. Like a latter day Phil Mickelson, Kim plays the game with the kind of aggressive abandon that occasionally produces jaw-dropping results; consider Kim’s Friday onslaught at Augusta National three months ago, when he set a single-round Masters record by carding 11 birdies during his second-round 65.

But legions of fellow players and insiders have questioned his focus, work ethic and off-course behavior, placing him somewhere between Lee Trevino and John Daly on the post-round party meter. Much of last season’s success was attributed to his commitment to curtailing such activity. But not everybody is sold on that transition being complete.

“Look, he might not be quite the holy terror that he was originally, but he’s still got some serious growing up to do,” said one PGA Tour veteran on the condition of anonymity. “He’s got as much talent as anyone out here, but he’s a long way from maximizing it.”

Kim has heard the criticism, and he thinks at least some of it qualifies as unfair:

“I think people get the wrong impression about me being lazy or not wanting to practice or whatever. That’s just not true. The problem is that I’ve had one little nagging thing after another this year, and I’ve just been trying to make it through tournaments. I feel like I’m finally turning a corner physically.

“This year has been very frustrating to say the least. Last year, I had some pretty good success, but I definitely was looking for far bigger and better things this year and it hasn’t turned out that way. But it’s a long year. Like I said, I’m getting back into good shape. You know, if I come out and peel off some wins, it will be another great year.”

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