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Tom Kim couldn’t be at a happier place than in Scotland this week. For an aspiring golfer, a trip to the Home of Golf has its many perks, although consuming black pudding or haggis, two of Scotland’s most traditional dishes, is not quite on his “to do” list.

It was at the Genesis Scottish Open exactly a year ago that Kim, who was then 20, broke out in a big way after a top-three finish at the Renaissance Club in North Berwick. Although he’d already enjoyed success in Asia, it proved to be a week where the world of golf finally took notice of this prodigious young talent from Korea as he sparkled in a truly world-class field.

“This is where it started for me here, finishing third. It’s really nice to be back. I love Scotland. Obviously have great memories and I’m super happy to be back,” said Kim, who earned his place in the Genesis Scottish Open through spots offered to the Korean Tour last year.

“It was my first time playing links golf. If you had told me I would finish third in a Rolex Series at the time, and my best finish was 23rd at the US Open, from what I remember. I wasn’t really thinking much of myself at the time. I was just trying to learn, trying to get to the Korn Ferry Finals. Just very fortunately it happened that I played really, really good golf.”

The high finish at the Genesis Scottish Open, which is co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, ultimately provided the launchpad for Kim’s meteoric rise. A subsequent tie for 47th at The Open at St Andrews saw him earn Special Temporary Membership on the PGA Tour and he went on to finish seventh in the Rocket Mortgage Classic to secure sufficient FedEx Cup points for his PGA Tour card for the 2022-2023 season.

Named after “Thomas the Train Engine” which he adored as a child, Kim’s life changed dramatically after a memorable triumph at the Wyndham Championship, which he opened with a quadruple-bogey. Weeks later, he emerged as an unlikely star in the Presidents Cup with his youthful exuberance and stunning play despite the International team’s defeat to a powerful US side. 

Then came a second PGA Tour triumph at the Shriners Children’s Open when the golf world was still trying to learn more about the kid.

Interestingly, Kim conceded his main goal last American summer was simply to earn enough FedEx Cup points to qualify for the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, where 25 PGA Tour cards were on offer. “My main focus was trying to get enough points so I could try to get to the Korn Ferry Finals. I wasn’t expecting a top three finish, I’m not going to lie to you. I had limited events and I was trying to make the most out of it,” he said.

“For me at that time, that top three was an unreal feeling. So to kind of be able to achieve that, it’s just amazing to see the way I’ve done it. It’s really, really cool. I wasn’t expecting it but that really gave me the confidence of seeing all of last year and the fall. This is really where it sparked off for me.”

He has since established a new US base in Dallas, Texas, and befriended players like Jordan Spieth and Scottie Scheffler, who both live in the same city. Spieth invited Kim to spend Christmas with his family last year and Scheffler, the current world No.1, has been a mentor to the young Korean, treating him as a little brother. Kim and Scheffler coincidently share the same birthdate as well – June 21.

“Scottie has been… he’s a good friend of mine. One of my closest friends on tour. He’s given me a lot of advice. It’s amazing how far we go back. It’s not many years but I played with him before and to be able to kind of build that friendship, and he’s No.1 in the world, he’s been playing so good for so long now and continuing to do so,” Kim said.

“For me coming up, to have someone close like him with the experience that he has, it’s really unbelievable. Like at home, we work out together. We play a lot of golf. So I’d always ask him a lot of questions, and he’s very, very nice to answer with sincerity and I’m very lucky. I’ve learned not only so much about my golf game but outside of life, which I think is very important. I’m fortunate to do that, even though he does give me a very hard time with everything, he’s still a really nice man.”

Currently ranked 25th on both the FedEx Cup points list and Official World Golf Ranking, Kim prefers to let his golf do most of the talking, and a tied-eighth finish at the recent US Open, his first top-10 in a major, continues to reinforce his growing reputation.

“I still like flying under the radar and I find it very fortunate when people do recognise me. I’m happy to be back and hopefully I can put on a good show for all of the fans here,” Kim said. I’m trying to be me out there and trying to have fun and trying to play the best that I can. I’m competitive. But you know, like I said, it’s pretty fortunate how people are seeing the good side of it.”

His bold approach to the game is not quite matched yet by his desire to try haggis or black pudding, traditional Scottish dishes made with similar ingredients – onions, pork fat, oatmeal, spices and pigs’ blood.

“I have not been brave enough to do it yet,” he sheepishly replied when asked if he’s tried the local delicacies.

Note: The writer is senior director, marketing and communications, APAC, for the PGA Tour.