CHARLOTTE, N.C. – South Korea to Charlotte is no easy trip, but Anthony Kim never considered not playing the Quail Hollow Championship. He wasn’t going to miss the site of his first PGA Tour victory.
Kim has a much more difficult decision to make in the near future. It concerns his injured left thumb. Kim has been playing through the pain for more than a year. He said he’ll keep going until the pain becomes unbearable. Then it’s time for surgery.
He tied for 16th last week at the Ballantine’s Championship in South Korea, his ninth top-25 in his past 10 worldwide stroke-play events. This year, Kim has risen 15 spots in the Official World Golf Ranking, to No. 10. A victory this week would be his first with Tiger Woods in the field.
“There was no way I was missing this tournament,” Kim said. “Everything about this place is special to me.”
Kim is in the midst of a hot streak. He has finished among the top three in three of his past four PGA Tour starts. He won the Shell Houston Open, his first victory since his two-win season of 2008. Kim, 24, is the only PGA Tour player younger than 25 with at least three victories.
Good play is as addicting as it is fleeting. That’s why Kim is reluctant to go under the knife. He wants to ride this wave as long as possible.
“It’s extremely tough, just the mental grind of it, because you want to play,” Kim said. “So I need to take care of it when the time is right, but I’m playing so well right now, I don’t want to give that chance up.”
Surgery is a certainty. Deciding when to have the procedure is no easy task. The prudent play would be to have it sooner rather than later. But Kim, who once made 11 birdies in a Masters round, has never been known for playing it safe.
“I’m just going to keep playing until I can’t anymore,” he said.
Kim said the surgery, to reattach a ligament in his left thumb, will require two to three months of recovery. He doesn’t want to miss a major, but playing in the Ryder Cup on Oct. 1-3 is paramount, which means he’ll likely have the surgery in advance of the intercontinental competition. Kim is second in the standings for this year’s Ryder Cup team, but the list will change greatly between now and October.
“If I go ahead and play good these next couple weeks, I should take care of (the Ryder Cup), and then it gives me a little bit more leeway to go take care of what I need to do,” Kim said. “The way I look at it, we play four majors every year, and one Ryder Cup every two years.”
Kim went 2-1-1 in his Ryder Cup debut at Valhalla in 2008 as the U.S. won, 16 1/2-11 1/2.
A major championship victory would be next in Kim’s development. He may have finished four shots behind Phil Mickelson at Augusta, but the third-place finish was the best major showing of Kim’s career. He put on a late charge, playing Nos. 13-16 in 5 under, then making an important putt on No. 18.
The 8-foot, downhill putt he faced was a mandatory make if he wanted to keep alive his title hopes. If he would have missed, Masters officials were going to let Kim face the media, then go on his way. Because he made it, they shuffled him into one of the club’s cabins to wait in private for a potential playoff.
Kim didn’t leave Augusta National with a green jacket, just another good finish. He’s had plenty of the latter lately. Now he’ll have to decide how long he wants to keep the hot streak going.