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Anthony Kim returns to golf


After nearly 12 years away from the game, golfer Anthony Kim is returning to the green. He teed up for his first professional tournament in more than a decade on Friday at a LIV Golf event in Saudi Arabia. The return ends a long stretch of, if not quite a reclusive retreat from the game, enough of an absence that Sports Illustrated once called Kim golf's yeti. Injuries stretched into years and years and years away from competition and the spotlight. And Kim, who started his career so promising, seemed to be done for good until now. Andy Johnson is the founder of Fried Egg Golf, and he joins us now to discuss this unexpected comeback. Andy, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ANDY JOHNSON: Hey, Scott. Thanks so much for having me on.

DETROW: So this is something that a lot of the golf world is excited about, has been paying attention to. But I don't know if non-golf people know Anthony Kim's backstory as much. Can you explain just what was going on and where he was at his career when he went away and why he went away?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Anthony Kim, in the late 2000s, early 2010s, was one of golf's most promising phenoms. He had a flair. He was really fun to watch play, and he had extraordinary talent. He won a handful of times. He won the 2008 Wachovia Championship, the 2008 AT&T National, and then the last one of his career was the Shell Houston Open in 2010. He was becoming one of the most popular players in an era that was kind of the end of Tiger Woods' dominance over the sport. So he had become one of these names that were thrown around as the next big thing.

So in 2012, he had some injuries that kind of forced him to step away from the game. And then, you know, we really haven't seen him since. The long rumor was that Kim had taken in an insurance policy on his body and the insurance policy paid him out a, you know, eight-plus-figure sum of money. And if he ever played in a professional tournament, he'd have to pay that back. So that kind of explained the absence. And the injuries, there were a lot of them. He had an Achilles problem, a wrist and hand injury, a back injury. All these things mounted. And, you know, with the insurance rumor, you know, he was just gone.

DETROW: Yeah. And you mentioned that the insurance policy has often been a rumor, speculation. But, I mean, you mentioned Tiger Woods before. Tiger Woods is one of many examples of people who have gotten so many injuries and have mounted comebacks each time or tried to get back in the game. Did Kim ever try to return to the PGA Tour, or was it just kind of like, there he went? Where'd he go?

JOHNSON: Yeah, it was kind of like, there he went. You know, really, like, the thing that's amazing with Anthony Kim is during this 12-year stretch, he's been glorified. It's always been the - looking back on the great Anthony Kim years - and - oh, it would be amazing if he came back and played. And social media would go crazy at even the rare picture of Anthony Kim. You know, this guy went completely into hiding. There were, you know, only a handful of pictures in the last 12 years of Anthony Kim in public.

DETROW: OK, so here's the turn in the conversation, though, because there's this really intriguing backstory. There's all of these questions. And like you said, the golf world just kind of speculated about him for a decade. Now he's back. How has this tournament gone so far?

JOHNSON: Yeah. So he's back with the LIV Golf League, which is the Saudi Arabian-backed golf league that's really disrupted the game of golf. It's taken a substantial amount of talent away from the PGA Tour. And the avenue in which that they've taken this talent is that they have offered them guaranteed contracts. So if you think about Anthony Kim and how he could possibly return to the game is paying back that insurance money. So a league that offers upfront money could potentially get him back. And that seems to be the case of how they've gotten him back. So he's been away from the game for 12 years. Not surprisingly, it hasn't gone great.

DETROW: I do have to ask, has Kim ever directly addressed the insurance policy speculation?

JOHNSON: He hasn't. And this week, he didn't talk to reporters. There was just a few videos that were out and, you know, him talking about - this is all about golf; I'll talk about my story getting here at a later date.

DETROW: Yeah. What are your realistic expectations for him as he plays the season in the LIV circuit?

JOHNSON: I think they're pretty low. I've been thinking about this for, you know, since the rumors started and - a few months ago. I don't think any professional athlete has taken 12 years off a sport and come back and had success.


JOHNSON: The game's changed a lot since. He's 38 years old now. He's had a lot of injuries, and, you know, he hasn't been training or practicing at the level of these other athletes. Not to mention, when he left, he was a young player in a sport that was getting younger. The sport's only gotten younger, faster, stronger. And now he's old. Now, he might get faster. He's going to get less rusty. He's going to improve. But it's hard to imagine that he would ever - you know, it would take a long time for him to crack where he might be one of the 200 best players in the world.


JOHNSON: Right now, you know, based off of - the results of this first tournament are what you would expect if you took a top-level, you know, 38-year-old amateur who plays at a local club and put him in the tournament.

DETROW: That's Andy Johnson, founder of Fried Egg Golf. Thanks so much.

JOHNSON: Thanks, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUA LIPA SONG, "TRAINING SEASON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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