By Jim SLATER
On the 12th hole at Quail Hollow on Wednesday during his final practice round for the Presidents Cup, 20-year-old South Korean star Kim Joo-hyung botched a math calculation.
“Is that college math?” teased Internationals assistant captain Geoff Ogilvy.
“Dude, I didn’t even graduate from high school,” Kim said.
The world number 22 and youngest player on the global squad has been a joker to keep the locker room lighthearted as the Internationals prepare to face the United States, which leads the rivalry 11-1-1 after eight consecutive triumphs.
Kim, nicknamed Tom for his youthful love of Thomas the Tank Engine, is the Seoul-born son of a teaching professional who grew up in Australia, the Philippines and Thailand and turned pro in May 2018 at age 15.
He finished third in last year’s Scottish Open, earned PGA playing rights for this past season and won his first PGA title last month in nearby Greensboro.
“Tom could be our little secret weapon,” said teammate Adam Scott. “He’s a confident young kid. He has won on the PGA Tour and this is the next challenge in his career. He’s obviously good enough to do it on the big stage. This is his first real opportunity.”
Kim, one of a record four South Koreans on the squad, accepts his role as a motivator with aplomb.
“I’m the youngest guy on the team and I’m a big jokester, so playing that role, I feel like I can bring good energy and enlightenment to the team,” he said. “When things get tough, I feel I can bring people up. That’s going to be my role.”
Compatriot Im Sung-jae, who delivered 3.5 points for the Internationals in 2019, is fine with the “baby” antics.
“He has got a great sense of humor, brings a lot of positive energy and obviously he’s the youngest player, so he’s kind of the baby,” Im said. “Brings a lot of humor to keep the energy very lighthearted.”
Kim has found a new audience for his humor.
“I just like to joke around a lot. I’m lucky enough that they don’t give me (abuse) for it,” he said. “It’s a great vibe, definitely enjoyable in the team room.”
That could carry over to the course if he is matched against US pal Scottie Scheffler, the top-ranked Masters champion.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to trash talk to Jordan Spieth. I’m not that close enough,” Kim said. “But I think Scottie, he gives me a really hard time. It would be fun if I could play with him. We’d probably give each other a hard time.”
– Kim pulls team together –
Internationals assistant captain K.J. Choi said Kim “has quality and a strong mind. He’s very personable, very fun. He has good English, better than mine.”
That, Scott said, could be a key link in uniting players from all over the world.
“He’s going to help bring our team together even more,” Scott said. “It really helps integrate our team.”
“He’s obviously speaking perfect English,” 2021 Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama said. “He’s mixing with the team really well. A great player. I feel like he’s got a great tee shot and short game.”
Kim’s excitement is infectious, teammates said.
“To just come in here with an energy like this is the biggest moment of his life, it kind of brings everyone else into that frame of mind,” said Australian Cam Davis.
“He’s super fluent and super funny so he really helps the whole team mesh,” said Colombia’s Sebastian Munoz. “That’s only going to help us.” — Agence France-Presse