Michael Kim chuckled, and after years of an up-and-down ride on the PGA Tour, he deserved it.
When the Farmers Insurance Open compiled a note of locals playing in last week’s FIO, Kim was an out-of-towner.
“I’m kind of looking at the list, and I see Charley Hoffman (Rancho Santa Fe); yeah, I get that,” Kim said. “I see Xander Schauffele (San Diego State, Carmel Valley), yeah, I get that.
“I see J.J. Spaun (SDSU); I’m like, hmm if you remember J.J., you probably should remember me.”
Kim, who led Torrey Pines High to the state title in his senior year, didn’t let the oversight derail his positive vibe.
Not after riding an elevator that most pros experience.
That’s why Kim’s smile is extra wide when he’s on the Torrey Pines courses he knows well.
Kim, 30, has played on them and watched this event so many times that it’s hard to decipher the exact number of his visits.
What’s clear is that outside of a major, nothing is sweeter for Kim than showing well on the cliffs overlooking La Jolla.
“Yeah, this tournament is obviously really special for me,” said Kim, a Dallas resident who stayed with his parents in Del Mar for the FIO. “Torrey Pines is where I grew up playing. So I’m always excited to come back to this event, and it’s almost a dream come true. The dream is to actually win the thing, so we’ll see.”
Kim didn’t quite cross that off his wish list, finishing tied for 37th.
But he’s pumped about his play of late, which includes making three straight cuts and a tie for sixth at the recent American Express in La Quinta.
That’s three tournaments of solid golf, and if the golf gods owe anyone a solid, it’s Kim.
He made his pro debut at the FIO in 2014 with butterflies.
“To be honest, I just remember being super nervous on the first tee,” Kim said. “I remember my game wasn’t in good shape. I kind of scrapped it around Thursday on the North Course to shoot 2 under.
“I went to the back of the range, and I saw Tiger (Woods) was hitting some golf balls, and Sean Foley was his coach at that time. I had known Sean a little bit at that point, so I kind of used him as an intro to get a picture with (Woods) afterward.
“I know I played pretty terrible that Friday to miss the cut. I just remember those first-tee jitters. It was as nervous as I’ve ever been.”
Golf isn’t for the faint of heart. That’s something Kim, who posted a low amateur score in the 2013 U.S. Open, learned quickly.
When Kim won the John Deere Classic in 2018, his arrow was pointed up. After that, there was a thud as he returned to Earth.
Over a span of 44 PGA Tour events that featured a cut, Kim survived to play on the weekend only once. His world ranking, which had reached No. 199, nosedived to one with a comma in it.
Challenging for someone seemingly poised for greatness?
“It has been a pretty big roller-coaster ride,” Kim said. “When you grow up hoping to someday play, you only think about the good things that might happen; you don’t necessarily think about all the bad things that might happen.
“During those ups and downs, I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a person and as a golfer. Surely, I am much more knowledgeable about my mental game, my full swing, and all that. Hopefully, I can use those ups and downs to further my career starting now.”
Chris Drake, Torrey Pines High’s longtime golf coach, isn’t surprised that Kim, now ranked No. 101, is back on his game.
“He’s always had a solid work ethic, said Drake, who was also Kim’s teacher in an AP U.S. History class. “And I think it is showing now.
“He was an excellent student. He was able to manage playing in junior golf tournaments all over the country and have excellent grades.”
One is graded on the PGA Tour on how much money they’ve earned. With Kim making three consecutive cuts, he eclipsed the $6 million milestone in career earnings.
While it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Kim, that’s still a pretty keen roller-coaster ride.