Anthony Kim didn’t touch a club for seven years during his publicised absence from golf. He didn’t touch social media, either. In fact, he wasn’t on it until recently. He had no idea that online, his whereabouts had morphed from curiosity to big-foot levels.

Kim, the big belt buckle-wearing Los Angeles native, took golf by storm in 2008. Gripping down on his clubs and thrashing at the ball with a violent yet beautifully on-plane swing, he won at Quail Hollow. It was the first of three PGA Tour titles. He starred at the following year’s Presidents Cup at Harding Park in San Francisco, going 3-1-0. In 2009, he made a record 11 birdies in one round at the Masters. A year later finished third at Augusta. His Official World Golf ranking peaked at No.6.

But in 2012, it all took a turn. Kim withdrew injured, citing an Achilles issue, from the PGA Tour event at Quail Hollow after the first round.

Then he went off the grid.

He took an insurance payout reportedly in the $10 million to $20 million range and was hardly seen for 12 years before his return to the game with LIV Golf earlier this year.

Anthony Kim was so off the grid that he was only ‘vaguely’ aware of Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters win

In his absence, he had no idea fans had romanticised his swashbuckling brand of golf so strongly that “Anthony Kim sightings” became a thing in the golf corners of social media. Photos of him at cafes, or rare videos hitting balls on the range, would surface and create a buzz. “I was so far removed from golf I didn’t know it was that big of a deal,” Kim, now 38, said at LIV Golf Adelaide. “There was one instance, I didn’t have social media back then, where I got 200 messages of me taking a picture with a guy at a [café] with my wife and my dog. For people to think that’s a big deal, I didn’t understand it. Now that I’ve got clarity, it’s super humbling for people to even give a shit.”

Until about 2018, Kim was not playing or even thinking about golf. He occasionally watched, but only Augusta National on TV. “I definitely watched some of the Masters maybe every few years,” he said. “I was not in a great place and golf was something I wasn’t interested in. I think I caught a few holes [of Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters victory], but hearing he was in contention was something everyone was talking about.”

He battled with addiction and mental health issues. “At one point I had to be away from my family for a while and get help,” Kim said. “That was a low point in my life. 

Kim also underwent a total of seven surgeries between his shoulder, a spinal fusion, Achilles, hand and knee. He didn’t pick up a club for “six or seven years” until about 2018 or 2019. A year later, he finally played nine holes with friends while visiting his mother. “I played nine holes in a bathing suit using rental clubs,” Kim said, laughing.

He started playing and practising more. In 2023, Kim began to field interest from both LIV Golf and the PGA Tour about a possible return.

“What people didn’t realise is I had an opportunity to play on both tours,” he said. “There was plenty of conversation. I had to do what was my best for my family, and what I thought was best for my mental health, because it’s something I’ve worked on for the last couple of years. With this opportunity and ongoing conversations, it was a pretty easy decision to make [LIV].”

Kim recalls the first discussion he had with LIV Golf commissioner and CEO, Greg Norman. “I was sitting with my wife the first time he called and it was a weird feeling,” he said. “It was like hitting the lottery without buying a lottery ticket.”

His return to golf at LIV’s Saudi Arabia event did not fare well, his first competitive outing in 12 years. Kim is a wildcard on LIV, not attached to a team and playing individually on the league, which grew to 13 teams after signing Jon Rahm and creating a new franchise. Kim finished 53rd in Saudi Arabia, then 50th and 53rd. Although a five-under-par 65 in his final round at LIV Golf Hong Kong showed promise.

Kim says his relationship with golf these days is “complicated.”

“I still expect big things and good results, and obviously they haven’t come,” he said. “But I’m enjoying getting back to that place where I’m coming to the range or course with a purpose, and working towards something. [My body] feels 38. Things are cracking I didn’t even know could crack. It was hard for me to walk nine holes when I first came back, now I’m charging up the golf course for 18. I feel like I’m going in the right direction. I’m super excited to keep playing.”

Kim, currently world No.4263, even allows himself to think about winning again.

“I think about it every day; I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t,” he said. “That’s not the person I am. When I had the conversation with Greg about certain expectations. I told him, ‘I’m not here to be another one of the guys. If you want me to be, I shouldn’t be on this tour’. He sees some ability in me, but he wanted me to manage my expectations because there’s a lot of good players. I’m not here to be finishing 20th, 30th, 40th or 50th. I’m here to start competing for tournaments, and with some hard work and a couple of good bounces, I’m sure I’ll be there.”

But, as one fan in Adelaide told him Thursday after finishing an intense session practising short putts at The Grange Golf Club, “it’s just good to see you back again.”