Kim dishes on Tiger, MJ and the U.S. Open

June, 10, 2009
06/10/09
8:12
AM ET

Anthony Kim has won two PGA Tour titles, more than $7 million in total earnings and has been a Ryder Cup hero. For most professional golfers, this would be a career. For him, it's just life as a 23-year-old.

Though he won't turn 24 until Friday of U.S. Open week, the precocious, ultratalented, third-year player has already amassed a huge amount of success in a very short time. Not much of it has come this season, however. After opening the year with a T-2 finish at the Mercedes-Benz Championship, the guy known simply as AK hasn't finished better than T-17 in 10 appearances.

And yet, he's still the most confident guy on tour.

Kim recently sat down on the ESPN.com Hot Seat to discuss that confidence level, his maiden voyage to Bethpage and the one thing that he knows he can do better than Tiger Woods.

Q: You grew up playing hoops. If you could trade life as a pro golfer for a successful NBA career, would you do it?
A: In a heartbeat. Basketball was my first love. Although the more I'm realistic and I think about the people I've met in my life and the opportunities I have … I feel like golf is the right fit for me, but basketball is always that dream that I had when I was a little kid. The grass is always greener on the other side, so I don't want to say of course, but basketball was my first love.

Q: If you could play any position for any team, what would it be?
A: I'd be a point guard for the Lakers, because I'd be throwing oops to Kobe. All day, every day.

Q: What would be the basketball equivalent of posting 11 birdies in a single round at Augusta National?
A: Probably scoring 60 at Madison Square.

Q: I wonder if Michael Jordan would trade that for making 11 birdies in one of his rounds.
A: You know what? He may, because he has so many titles already. He may give up a big game, as long as it doesn't cost him a championship.

Q: Well, you've got MJ on speed dial now. Can't you just ask him?
A: I'll see him on Thursday. I got to New York last night and I'm going to be here through the U.S. Open. On Thursday, I'm going to play a practice round with him and Justin [Timberlake] and [Ben] Roethlisberger for that Golf Digest day, and I'm going to caddie for Justin on Friday for the U.S. Open Challenge.

Q: At least you get to see the course in tournament shape.
A: Absolutely. I'm going to play there, practice and then maybe take the weekend off and play some golf, then maybe come back, so it doesn't beat me up too bad.

Q: Going back to that Friday round at the Masters, did you realize how many red numbers you were making that day?
A: No, I didn't because I offset it with a couple of absentminded bogeys and a very unfortunate double. Those made me very frustrated, angry, upset -- all of the above. I was just worried about getting those shots back and grinding away.

Q: Do you ever think, "If I had played the other 61 holes in 1-under, I would have been part of the playoff"?
A: Well, I didn't think about that until you just said it [laughs]. But, you know, I learned a lot. I played No. 10 in 4-over-par for the week and I had wedge two days into that hole, 9-iron one day and 5-iron one day -- all from the middle of the fairway. So next year I'll go back and hit those shots to the middle of the green and not fire at every single flag. I learned a lot. I know that experience matters out there and I'm going to be in a lot better shape going into next year.

Anthony Kim

Andrew Redington/Getty Images

During the second round of the Masters in April, Anthony Kim had a record 11 birdies. According to Kim, that would be the equivalent to a 60-point night at Madison Square Garden during an NBA game.

Q: You've gotten to know Tiger pretty well; you won his AT&T National tournament last year. Tell me something about him that most people don't know.
A: Who?

Q: Tiger Woods?
A: Oh, yeah. That guy. Most people don't know that he can't talk trash as well as he thinks.

Q: Are you a better trash-talker than him?
A: Absolutely.

Q: If you were ever in the final pairing of a major with him, are you talking trash?
A: You know, golf is such a gentleman's game -- that's why I'm associated with the company I'm with -- that I would have to wait until we got done or right before we teed off for me to say anything. But inside the ropes, it would be all business.

Q: OK, then. You and Tiger tied at the U.S. Open. Right before you tee off No. 1 in the final round, you turn to him and say …
A: Put your hard hat on.

Q: Going to work?
A: That's it.

Q: By the way, I've got to ask you: How many major championship titles has Tiger won?
A: Fourteen.

Q: You know that now. When you did that clinic with him back in October, you guessed eight.
A: No, to be perfectly honest, I didn't know. My agent is over here and he said 14, so I got you on that one, Jason.

Q: What was Tiger's response that day you said eight?
A: I wasn't paying attention, because I was trying to guess how many majors he had won. I wasn't sure if I was close or not. Then I saw everyone start laughing and I realized I was probably not even close. I think he had 12 then.

Q: No, he had 14. That was October; he hasn't won any since then.
A: Oh, all right. Wow. He had a lot more than I thought. I'm sure he was pretty surprised, but I know how many points Kobe scored in the last game, so that's what's important to me.

Q: Speaking of Tiger, his buddy Mark O'Meara has repeatedly said that your swing is better than his was at your age. Your thoughts?
A: That's great, but he's won a lot more tournaments than I have and he's obviously done what nobody has done before, besides Jack [Nicklaus]. I would like to get to the point where I am playing my best and everything will take care of itself.

I'm going to win golf tournaments. I have no doubt in my ability or my talent, but I'm not out there chasing Tiger's records. I think that's a difference that people don't understand. Between a lot of the guys that play golf, there are different tiers here on the PGA Tour and in the world rankings. There are different goals for different people. And mine isn't to break every record. I mean, it's nice if I break a record along the way, but I'm there to win golf tournaments at the time. It's like basketball. You want to win every game you play, but you're not going to win every one.

I'm not out there to break Tiger's records. I'm out there to compete and that's what I love doing, that's what I enjoy doing. That's why when I'm with my friends, I talk as much trash as I can, because I just love competing, no matter what it is. So to have a chance at these golf tournaments and play against the best and see how I stack up is a great opportunity for me to showcase my talent around the best players in the world.

Q: In the past year, you've been injured while taking batting practice with the Boston Red Sox and while riding a horse in New Zealand. Not exactly extreme sports. Any chance you'll just stick to the driving range for a while?
A: There's a very good chance. I owe it to myself. I owe it to the people who have obviously shown support and the fact that they believe in me by putting their logos on me. I feel very grateful to companies like Nike and RBC for giving me the opportunity and believing in me, so I need to go ahead and put the work in. I've been putting in a lot more work at the gym and I just need to go ahead and start producing now.

Q: You haven't finished better than T-17 since the opening week of the season. Is that due to those injuries, a hangover from last year's success or just lack of strong play?
A: Well, I'll tell you one thing: It's not a hangover from last year's success. I feel like I let quite a few tournaments go last year and my goal is to, when I get in the hunt, not let that happen again this year. You can't control what somebody else does, but I can be ready.

Obviously, being injured doesn't help, but that's not the reason I haven't been scoring well. I've been impatient out there and I know that. And I haven't had as much fun playing golf as I need to. I'm playing my best when I'm laughing and can shake off a bogey or double-bogey and not let that ruin my round. If I can stay more patient like I did at Colonial -- even though that wasn't a great finish, that was the best I've played in a couple of years, as far as my ballstriking -- so if I can do that, I know my game is going in the right direction.

Best Ball Challenge

I'm working out hard. I have a new trainer I hired away from the men's basketball team at OU -- he was the strength and conditioning coach there and he lives with me now. So it shows that I'm working hard. It shows that I'm dedicated to being the best that I can be and hopefully that will be good enough.

Q: When we talked late last season, you spoke about partying less and practicing more. Is that still the case?
A: Absolutely. I mean, I'm not going to sit here and lie to you and say that I don't get out with my friends, because I absolutely do. When I have an off week, one or two nights I like to go out and have a good time, but it's not like when I was a rookie on tour, going crazy and having a blast. I'm absolutely more dedicated to my sport.

I know that it's going to take a lot more for me than it did last year to be the player that I want to become. I know I have that ability if I just keep working hard and staying positive, which is tough to do when you don't see the scores and the results you want. I know they're going to come. I just have to keep believing; that's what got me here in the first place. And I'm going to keep striving to be the best that I can be.

Q: Can there be a balance between having fun and working hard, or is it a matter of choosing one over the other?
A: There can be a balance and I'm trying to find that right now to be honest, Jason. It's one of those things where there's a time and place for everything and I think I've been fortunate enough to meet some great people in my life -- some great athletes, some great performers -- and the consensus is that there's a time and place. And I'm trying to figure that out as we speak.

I feel like I'm putting a little bit more pressure on myself because I have been putting in more time and not seeing the results. So it may be just needing to relax and enjoy being out there, enjoy being on the PGA Tour. Every 23-year-old's dream is to be a professional athlete. Getting to see the world, travel, the money -- all that's great. But I'm getting to meet so many great people along the way. It's been a tremendous, tremendous life so far.

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Q: Let's talk U.S. Open. What can you tell me about Bethpage Black?
A: Nothing. I just walked around the offices here at RBC. I actually walked around the trading desk. I tell you what: Every person that I talked to told me what a bear it was. I've never been out there, but they play there quite consistently and every single person said it just gives them horror stories. That doesn't make me feel too good about where I'm going. But like I said, I'll put my hard hat on, get ready and buckle up.

Q: Complete this sentence: Of the four major championships, Anthony Kim's first victory will come at ___________.
A: The next one. Always.

Q: You have that much confidence?
A: You know, I go into every golf tournament thinking I can win. There's no reason to stop now. Whether it happens or not, I don't know, but I know my mentality has to be, I'm here, I'm going to give it my best shot to win the golf tournament and whatever happens happens. But I want to go in there thinking the same thing I have been since I was 5 or 6 years old, playing basketball or football or soccer or golf.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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