Tom Kim is quickly becoming one of the biggest stars on the PGA Tour, so it seems like a natural progression for him to become friends with the league’s de facto leader: Rory McIlroy.
Kim is paired with McIlroy and Rickie Fowler for the first two rounds of The CJ Cup on Thursday and Friday, but before they tee it up together at Congaree Golf Club, the 20-year-old Kim got a chance to pick the 33-year-old’s brain in a unique setting.
In the days before a PGA Tour event, top players will sit for pre-event press conferences. McIlroy and Kim were slated to appear back-to-back in the media tent on Wednesday, so instead of just waiting in the shadows for his turn, Kim took a seat, grabbed the mic and asked a question, just like any other reporter:
“Rory, I have a question for you,” Kim began. “What’s it like having so much success as a young player? Coming out and many years on tour, how do you manage all that?”
There were smiles during the initial exchange, while the room quickly registered the cheeky interaction unfolding, and McIlroy leaned into that at first. But being the seasoned public speaker and leader that he is, the Northern Irishman also gave Kim a worthwhile answer.
“I didn’t have as much success as you’re having at such a young age,” McIlroy laughed. “Like I think when you start to have success at a young age, you’re going to – I think the biggest thing that I realized is managing your time. You’re going to be pulled in so many different directions.
“You’ve got one, two, three, four, I can see five sponsors on you at this point, right? So, it’s just trying to manage your time to realize what got you to this position, right? Why are you a two-time PGA Tour winner, why are you such a great player? And it’s the time that you put into it and it’s the practice, it’s not losing sight of that. I think that’s the thing.
“I was speaking here just before you came in that I’ve almost found it easier to get to No. 1 in the world than staying there. I think staying there is harder. I think you’ve got a bullseye on your back, you’ve got to work harder, everyone’s coming after you. That’s the one thing I would say is just managing your time and not forgetting why you’re in this position and why you’re so lucky to get to play with me the next two days.”
The last part was, of course, in jest; McIlroy observed that it seemed to go over everyone’s head.
After McIlroy finished with the press, the duo spoke briefly in passing, with McIlroy having his own fan girl moment as the two hugged.
“I was screaming at my TV during Presidents Cup,” the four-time major winner said. “I was like, ‘This is so good!’”
When it was his turn, Kim shared some insight into a nine-hole practice round the pair played together in Delaware a couple of weeks ago. Both players said it was the first time they got to really scope out each other’s game.
“It was the first time for me to kind of see Rory in action on the course, and he’s a different person really,” Kim said. “He’s an amazing ball-striker; everyone knows he’s an amazing driver of the golf ball. Obviously, I had a few nerves for the first few holes, but talking to him a little bit more got me into kind of being more comfortable around him, because he’s someone [I’ve] looked up to ever since I started golf. It’s going to be a really fun first couple days for me. It’s going to be a great experience, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
While Kim will be the first to tell you he’s a fan of McIlroy, Fowler and others on Tour, he’s also a competitor. As the sun began to set on the eve of The CJ Cup’s first round, the last player on the range was none other than Tom Kim – taking a role model’s advice to heart.