NASSAU, Bahamas — Tom Kim looked devastated on Tuesday afternoon. He had just lost to U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick in the final round of the Hero Shot, a seven-man exhibition in which players hit wedges to a floating target in the middle of a pond between the ninth and 18th holes at Albany. When Fitzpatrick made his second “ace” from 78 yards, his ball landing in a bucket in the center of the target, Kim, like everyone else, reacted with elation. Then he realized he had instantly lost and squatted down and pulled his cap over his face for several seconds.
The 20-year-old South Korean sensation genuinely wanted to win the contest. Among the players who took part was Hero World Challenge host Tiger Woods, who was taking in the completion of the competition after being eliminated in the first round. Kim had to watch Fitzpatrick receive a trophy and get his photo taken with the 15-time major winner.
“Yeah, I kind of wanted to win it. I thought it would be a great thing to win, and obviously [with] Tiger being there,” Kim said. “But hats off to Fitzy to making two holes-in-one. I was bummed out, but just, hopefully, I can play better in the tournament than in that Hero Shot.”
Thanks to three birdies on his inward nine and the only scorecard without a bogey on a wind-whipped Thursday, Kim navigated Albany for a three-under 69, good for a share of the opening-round lead in his first Hero World Challenge. Sepp Straka, newlywed Collin Morikawa and defending champion Viktor Hovland also posted 69. Straka, a late addition to the tournament after Woods had to withdraw with a foot injury, birdied the 18th hole, as did Morikawa.
“I gave myself a lot of opportunities, I think,” said Kim, who earned a captain’s pick from International skipper Trevor Immelman after he won the Wyndham Championship in August. “Definitely, if some things went my way, I could have got a couple more, but with the conditions that we’ve had today, the no bogey is very, very acceptable. I gave myself a good chance to kind of play well the next three days.”
The loss in the Hero Shot aside, it’s already been a good week for the youngster. He reveled in the opportunity to mingle with Woods, having never “officially” met the 46-year-old Hall of Famer. During the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, Kim got Woods to stop for a photo with him, but they didn’t really talk beyond a salutation.
On Tuesday, there was nothing more than small talk between them, Kim said, but that hardly mattered. “It was really nice; it was the first time I officially got to meet him and talk to him a little bit,” he said. “It was really cool. I have to kind of pinch myself a little bit.”
Kim said the conversation was light. “I told him we really would have loved it if he played this week, and we’re really going to miss him. He was like, he was really trying to prepare hard for it and, unfortunately, he couldn’t make it.”
Of course, it would be cooler if Kim could accept the tournament trophy from Woods on Sunday. It would be the capper to an incredible second half of 2022 that he said he does not take for granted.
“I’m extremely grateful to be 20 years old and to play on the PGA Tour,” he said. “But I’ve worked really hard for it and I’m enjoying every moment out there, so it’s really fun.
“Every week you try to play well, and I think it’s just another week where it’s a great opportunity,” Kim added. “You’ve played well for the year to kind of get to this point, and it’s just kind of sticking to a game plan and just keep doing what you’re doing. I’ve been playing well and obviously a good start today definitely helps. I’m off to a great start, so I’m pretty happy with it.”