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Can LIV Golf’s Bid to Bring Back a Retired PGA Tour Star Succeed?

  • Anthony Kim, once a promising young American golfer, is joining LIV Golf.
  • Now 38, Kim hasn’t competed in almost 12 years due to a lucrative injury insurance policy.
Anthony Kim
LIV Golf

There will be yet another trick up LIV Golf’s sleeve when the controversial league tees it up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, this weekend for its third tournament of the year.

After a nearly 12-year absence from the sport, Anthony Kim, once seen as the brightest young star in American golf, is joining LIV as a wild-card player for the rest of the season. The 38-year-old will compete for a guaranteed portion of the $20 million individual purse but not the $5 million up for grabs for the top three teams. 

The financial figures are key for Kim, who last played in 2012 after sustaining multiple career-threatening injuries. He has long been reported to have a $10 million–plus insurance policy with the PGA Tour that would be voided if he returned to professional competition. “I’ll tell my story when it’s the right time, but right now I’m focused on golf,” Kim said in a video posted by LIV’s social media accounts. “I’ve missed the competitive part of the game.”

It’s unknown how much LIV is paying Kim, but the league reportedly dished out $10 million signing bonuses to Belgian player Thomas Pieters and American Pat Perez (who was 45 at the time), so a similar fee for Kim doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Big Game, Bigger Persona

With a cocky attitude and flashy style of play, Kim was ranked as high as No. 6 in the world in September 2008, at the ripe age of 23. After two wins on the PGA Tour that year, he was a key part of Team USA’s Ryder Cup victory that fall. He made the ’09 President’s Cup team and was a star athlete on Nike’s golf roster (Sports Illustrated reported he made $6 million in endorsement income in ’09). 

“His persona was perhaps bigger than his game, and his game was quite good,” golf analyst Peter Kostis, who worked for CBS during Kim’s prime, tells Front Office Sports. “He was a personality that the Tour hadn’t seen before.”

The 2010 season started out hot with yet another PGA Tour victory and a third-place finish at the Masters. Then the injuries started. He missed several months of play in ’10 and was left off that year’s Ryder Cup squad. In ’11 he finished 79th in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. By spring ’12 he had made $12,206,409 in career earnings but didn’t look like his former self on the course. After withdrawing from the Wells Fargo Championship that May, he left the game—until now.

Too Little, Too Late?

Golf fans of yesteryear will no doubt be interested in simply seeing Kim swing a club in a competitive environment. “For people on the inside of golf, it’s pretty much going to be must-see golf,” says Kostis, who still coaches LIV’s Paul Casey and cohosts a podcast with fellow former CBS analyst Gary McCord.

But with an eight-hour time difference between Saudi Arabia and the Eastern time zone, can that translate to a larger audience? LIV is streaming Friday morning beginning at 3 a.m. ET, and on tape delay Saturday and Sunday afternoon on The CW.

Then there’s the question of how much cachet Kim actually still holds. “There’s a whole generation of golfers that have come and gone since he’s been gone,” Kostis says. “There are a lot of people that don’t even know who Anthony Kim was.” If Kim ultimately starts contending at LIV events, it certainly wouldn’t hurt the league’s momentum. But how much impact his return can really have is the big unknown. Only time will tell.

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