Anthony Kim expected to play LIV Golf event after 12 years away from the game

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Golf’s great prodigy turned mysterious recluse is returning to the sport. Anthony Kim is expected to make his return to professional golf for the first time in 12 years and play LIV Golf’s event in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, this week as a wild card.

LIV commissioner Greg Norman teased Kim’s return in a video on social media Monday, and Kim’s presence on the driving range did not go unnoticed Tuesday. Sports Business Journal’s Josh Carpenter snapped a photo of a placard featuring Kim’s name, and then YouTube golfer Andy Carter posted a video of Kim’s range session on Instagram.

Kim, now 38, was once one of golf’s biggest rising stars who won two PGA Tour events and made a Ryder Cup team by 23 behind exciting talent and a big personality that reached sections of fans golf often struggled to reach before. Injuries then led to Kim stepping away from professional golf at 26 and never returning.

Kim has become a cult-like figure in the time since, in part because he was such a popular player with enormous potential, but also because of the mystery that has shrouded his absence. During his playing days, Kim was known as a partier who had a complicated relationship with how much he loved golf. So when his injuries led to him stepping away and reports surfaced of him living off an insurance policy worth somewhere between $10 and $20 million, it meant only more fascination with whether or not he actually couldn’t play anymore.

So when reported in January that Kim was eyeing a return and was in negotiations with both the PGA Tour and LIV, the intrigue only skyrocketed. Now, Kim is finally returning and playing with LIV, a league backed by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia which can likely afford to give Kim a signing bonus to help with the insurance policy, in addition to massive purses at events. Kim is expected to play as a single this week and not part of LIV’s 13 teams.

The complicated element is what Kim’s return means and what to expect. Before Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, Kim was golf’s great young prodigy, expected to take some portion of Tiger Woods’ place in golf’s limelight. The Los Angeles native played college golf at Oklahoma and played on a winning Walker Cup team before turning pro at 22. Kim won two PGA Tour events at Quail Hollow and TPC Potomac by his second full pro season and became the first golfer under 25 to win two tour events in the same season since Woods in 2000. By the end of that 2008 season, Kim was 23, No. 6 in the world and the top rising star in the sport.

With an extremely aggressive style of play and an outgoing personality, Kim immediately became a star in demographics golf didn’t always reach. He made the 2008 Ryder Cup team at 23 years old — young for a spot on that team at that time — and he famously dominated Sergio Garcia with a 5&4 drubbing as the U.S. won for the first time in nine years. That next spring, Kim went to the 2009 Masters and broke the tournament record with 11 birdies in the second round. That may have turned out to be his peak.

He never actually became the star he was expected to be. He only won one more event, the Houston Open, and slowly fell from No. 6 in the world to 24, to 31, to 78 from 2008 to 2012. Injuries were likely a large part of that, but much of the memory of Kim is likely rooted in 2008 instead of the overall picture.

Much of his rise came while playing through a thumb injury, which Kim later said he compensated for and created tendonitis in his wrist. In 2012, he withdrew from three tournaments and eventually ruptured his left Achilles tendon.

But while his absence meant Kim didn’t get to become the star some hoped for, it also meant he didn’t have to go through the normal peaks and valleys of a career. The shine eventually comes off all young players, but being away meant being frozen in time as a beacon of potential.

Because of this, though, Kim may hold value. He is interesting to so many that fans may tune in to LIV to see what has become of Kim. The next question is how long that interest holds if Kim doesn’t play well. That part is up to him.

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