RIDGELAND, S.C. – Tom Kim will be the first to admit that he asks a lot of questions.
“I just always want to get better, whether it’s golf or it’s life,” he said. “I want to develop as a person and as a golfer. It’s just kind of in my DNA.”
Kim’s mind was working overtime Thursday at the CJ Cup, where, for the first time, he was paired with one of his boyhood idols, Rory McIlroy, and a resurgent Rickie Fowler.
Kim and McIlroy each fired stress-free 66s to open the week at Congaree, which left them ample time to get to know each other.
They talked about fast food. (McIlroy suggested Kim try Popeyes, since it’s “better than Chick-Fil-A.”)
They talked about the 20-year-old’s new place in Dallas.
And they talked – not surprisingly – about distance, after Kim watched in awe as McIlroy led the field in driving distance with a measured 352-yard average.
“He was sort of picking my brain a little bit about speed training,” McIlroy said, “and I’m like, No, no, no, no!”
After all, McIlroy was thoroughly impressed with Kim, who earlier this month became the first Tour player since Tiger Woods to win twice before the age of 21.
“He didn’t really miss a shot out there,” McIlroy said. “He’s a very, very solid player, plays to his strengths. Makes the same swing at it pretty much every time – like it’s very, very consistent, very steady.”
And that’s why McIlroy cringed at the thought of Kim tinkering with what clearly works so well.
“I think as he gets a little older and maybe a touch stronger, he’ll get that naturally,” McIlroy said. “But I was like, Do not go down that path – you’re good the way you are.”
McIlroy was speaking from experience, of course.
Despite his compact frame, McIlroy has always been one of the game’s longest hitters, but even he caught himself pursuing speed in the wake of Bryson DeChambeau’s massive gains. It resulted in a lost summer in 2021, and a realization after the Ryder Cup last fall that he needed to return to what worked best for him.
Now, he’d offer the same advice to Kim.
“He hits it far enough,” McIlroy said of Kim, who averaged 289 yards off the tee in the first round at Congaree, which put him 64th in the 78-man field. “I think when I was 20 and then got to 22 or 23, naturally, I just got a little more speed.
“Just based on my own experience, I don’t think it’s something that he needs to chase right now because he hits it so well and his fundamentals are so good that if he starts to chase it, I worry that that would get off and then it affects the rest of his game.”
Asked if he could compare the rising star to any of the other players he’s seen come through the game over the past several years, McIlroy offered: “Hideki [Matsuyama] was that good at that age, but maybe a little more consistent.”
“But we don’t need to make comparisons quite yet,” McIlroy said. “Just let him turn into the person he’s going to be, and I think that will be good enough to have a hell of a career.”