ak

It seems like only yesterday when Anthony Kim was one of the top golfers in the world, winning at two of the hardest courses on tour, dominating the Ryder Cup, and contending on a weekly basis.  In reality, he hasn’t been relevant since the first week of January, and even worse, that was the lone bright spot since last August, and has been about as shaky as it gets for an “elite” golfer.

For a kid who got so much ink last year and was covered on a Tiger Lite basis on the Golf Channel, our expectations were raised.  And why wouldn’t they be?  AK won at two major worthy courses and played like a seasoned vet in the Ryder Cup, so of course we thought big things were on the horizon.  Should we have viewed his future with some temperment?  Probably, but in this day and age of instant gratification when it comes to information, AK doesn’t have that luxury.  Tiger ruined that grace period that kids get, and now, we’re all openly wondering what’s wrong, if this is just a blip in the radar or if AK is going to join the numerous uber-talented wunderkinds who never made much of a splash after showing a lot of early promise.

And then came news that he’s withdrawing from Bay Hill…and the slope just keeps getting steeper.

I guess some of this is our fault.  We all had him annointed as the next savior, the challenger to Tiger, the new Tom Watson to Tiger’s new Jack.  Is this a fair load to heap on the shoulders of a 23-year old?  Probably not, but I don’t think that the golf-loving public is the root of the problem, I think it goes deeper.

AK has always been one of those guys who isn’t a range rat.  I’m not saying he needs to be like Vijay or Nick Watney and spend hours upon hours at the range, but at the same time, his work ethic has ALWAYS come into question.  He has always relied on his precocious talent and confidence to get him through competitive golf, and has famously clashed with coaches who weren’t pleased with his practice.  At Oklahoma, he had numerous incidents with the golf coach there about getting his work done, and frankly, loved to party.

ak-partyBut last year seemed to change all that, not drinking as much and really putting in the effort in the gym, on the range and it paid off.  Unfortunately for AK, his confidence soared, and I say that’s unfortunate because every time he opened his mouth, he reminded us all about how he stopped partying and got serious.  So why is that a bad thing?  Because that makes you accountable, and when pictures show up of you partying with Ben Roethlisberger (scum of humanity) and your on-course performance is nothing short of a train-wreck, people are going to make assumptions.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and make some proclamation about what AK is doing or not, because I don’t know.  For all we know, he could be putting in 8-hour days and in the best shape of his life, but it’s not showing up on the course.  Then again, maybe if he SHOWED UP on a course, we’d have a clearer picture of where his game stands.  A simple reversion to the mean is expected for a player of his age, but when there are numerous pictures of you partying, a bunch of injuries sustained during recreational events like surfing and horseback riding, and you struggle breaking 75, things aren’t exactly rosy.

Golf isn’t major league baseball or the NBA.  You can’t get by on sheer talent alone because talent is such a small part of the equation.  The life on a professional golf tour is more about consistency than flares of brilliance as each day isn’t brand new, it’s part of something bigger.  AK has as much talent as anyone not named Tiger, Phil or Sergio, but when you look at the disappointing golfers, they’re NEVER the guys who work hard and play consistent, they’re the guys with incredible talent that don’t know how to play the game…Adam Scott and Justin Rose are two of the best examples.  But for every Adam Scott there’s a Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk, a guy who can’t hit it that much better than a scratch handicap, but works his ass off and doesn’t leave a stroke out on the course.

See, I do worry about AK’s future because I’m a golf fan, and even the most novice fan can see that this kid is something special.  There’s something that seperates him from the other talented guys like Sergio and Adam Scott, something that makes us think he can be an all-timer and multiple major winner.  And he’s having his coming out party about a decade after Tiger blew up and gave us a blueprint as to how a young gun is supposed to get it done…huge stars in other sports don’t have such a distinct blueprint.  LeBron James didn’t have such a plan as how to achieve superstardom the right way, neither did Adrian Peterson or Tim Lincecum.  Superstardom in a sport isn’t about commercials and endorsement dollars because the bottom line is that nobody will give a shit unless you’re as good on the field as promised.

As LeBron, AD, and Lincecum have shown us, it’s about putting in the work and having to grow up faster and get past all the immaturity that befalls a lot of young talents.  All these guys were gaurantee’s when they hit their respective sports, guys with talent so tangible that, even if they were lazy and bored, they’d still succeed.  But what seperates a LeBron from a guy like Josh Smith is that extra intangible that’s hard to describe, but instantly recognizable, and it seems that AK has that.  But it also seems that AK doesn’t have the work ethic that those other young superstars have, and it’s kind of discouraging.

I could be making a mountain out of a molehill here.  After all, AK did finish in 2nd at Kapalua with a ridiculous shot on 18 that, if not for Watney’s pitch at Doral, would be shot of the year.  But still, to call his season disappointing so far would be an understatement.  When you see a kid like Nick Watney playing like this, and other noted young range rats like Sean O’Hair and Rory McIlroy start having success, you begin to wonder why AK isn’t doing more.

And it’s not just the fact that he’s disappointing, it’s the fact that AK isn’t even really playing.  When was the last tournament he tee’d it up at?  Was it in Indonesia?  Australia?  When was the last time he played in the US…was it the FBR?  It’s understandable to not see Sergio out there all the time because, despite his youth, he’s seasoned and knows what he wants to do with his schedule.  But AK isn’t established like Sergio, and we’re pretty deep into the season to NOT have a plan for the season.

The Masters and Players are coming up, so how is skipping Bay Hill with the flu really going to help?  How is it that Tiger can win at Bay Hill by 11 strokes with food poisoning that put his wife in the hospital and Phil can win at Doral while throwing up, but you can’t fight through the flu AS A 23 YEAR OLD, when you haven’t played a decent golf course since Tiger’s tourney at Sherwood?  Fair or not, these are the kind of things we’ve come to expect from champions, and I’m pretty sure we all expect AK to become a champion.

The expectations were lofty, and almost impossible to live up to, but AK needs some life to be breathed back into his golf game.  He needs to remind us why we all annointed him the next big thing.  He needs to show us that he’s not just another Adam Scott, a guy with a pretty swing and the ability to go low, but doesn’t have the mental makeup required to take him into that next stratosphere.  We’ve all gone down this path before, and I’m afraid we’re going to dismiss him quickly if we don’t see what we came to expect.  It’s not especially fair, but greatness is an addiction to a golf fan, and when we get a taste of it, we expect a whole lot more.  And when that greatness doesn’t come, we simply move on, and we move on faster and faster as we flip through the various young stars.

I really like AK and root for him, but I’m losing faith rapidly.  We need to see something big, and soon, something to show us our faith wasn’t misplaced.  And while Phil turned a 180 at the flick of a switch, he’s a surefire Hall of Famer and maybe a top 10 golfer of all time and who’s career gave him the benefit of the doubt.  AK doesn’t have that luxury, so he better get his shit in gear soon.