Beyond the Course: Vol 5.

Eclipse of a Star: The Anthony Kim Comeback

The career of Anthony Kim perfectly mirrors a solar eclipse. First we see a captivating rise to stardom that fully captures the attention of even the most casual fans. His Ryder Cup performances, on course charisma, exceptional talent, flair, and aggressive playstyle were consistently one of the most interesting storylines to follow. His career was full of promise and in many ways he illuminated the golf world, much like the bright lights of the sun at the onset of an eclipse.

As quickly as he rose, casting a vibrant light of excitement across the golf world - he was gone.

The literal and figurative star that Anthony Kim had become, the electricity and energy he provided to golf fans was growing dimmer as he faded into obscurity. It was like it happened overnight. With all eyes on him, Anthony Kim had completely vanished from the public eye, just as the sun that illuminates the sky vanishes behind the moon. This period of darkness was filled with rumors of comebacks and speculation of injuries, but mostly silence. It was the eerie, dark, calmness during a solar eclipse’s peak. The golf world seemed to have been in a period of suspense and speculation as if a shadow of mystery had been cast over a once luminary figure in the sport.

However the eclipse wasn’t brief. Like the world holding its breath in the dark, the golf enthusiasts awaited, hopes dimming as the eclipse went on.

The longer the darkness persisted, the most it seemed like the light might never return. Eventually you’d become used to it and would only occasionally think about it.

And then, as it always does in an eclipse, the light would be start to peek through on the other side. Anthony Kim’s return to professional golf is akin to that first sliver of sunlight, piercing through the darkness, reigniting the golf world’s hope, excitement, and curiosity. While we’ve only got a glimmer right now, that very glimmer comes with hope, the hope that the brilliance that once captivated fans can be reignited. Will the light that returns on the other side of the eclipse be the same light that entered? Did the light lose some of it’s luster while it was gone? We’ll have these answers in the near future, but one thing is for sure, the light is peaking through on the other side.

Even after the longest eclipse, the light can still return. This week, the light returns.

For the uninitiated, Anthony Kim, now 38, is an elite talent who was overflowing with confidence and swagger on and off the course. You could see it in his walk, you could see it in his game, all of it really. There was no shot he didn’t have in the bag, and no moment in which he wouldn’t attempt them all.

Kim was a promising amateur golfer having set the Oklahoma school record for scoring average in relation to par and representing the US team in the 2005 Walker Cup, though nothing indicated how quickly he’d rise to stardom as a professional.

After qualifying through Q-School, AK joined the PGA Tour in 2007 and by 2010 was top 10 in the world. He finished tied for second in his PGA Tour debut, and would go on to win 3 events from 2008-2010. Kim became a fan favorite and was often heralded as the US version of Rory McIlroy.

He brought a certain energy to the US team at the 2008 Ryder Cup where he secured 2.5 points for the US side. One of those points came from beating prime Sergio Garcia, who has won two majors in as many years leading up to Valhalla, 5&4 in singles. Same thing at the President’s Cup one year later, secured 3 points.

He’d then go on to finish solo 3rd at the 2010 Masters where he would record a record setting 11 birdies in the second round. Losing only to Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood. One year later, T5 at the Open Championship.

Injuries had played a role in his short PGA Tour, but they really seemed to take over in 2012 when Anthony had a terrible start to the 2012 season. His best finish in his first 6 starts that year was a T42. Mixed into those 6 were to withdrawals and four missed cuts.

His 7th start was the the Wells Fargo where he would shoot an opening round 74.

He withdrew and hasn’t played a single event since, rarely even being seen in public.

Over 10 years went by and we heard nothing except for the occasional spotting at a driving range, word of a surgery, or picture of him out on the town. From time to time we’d hear the sporadic rumbling that he was playing some cash games with friends, and winning.

Now as LIV Golf heads into their third event of the season this week, Anthony Kim will be making his return. The two sides anticipated a return in Mayakoba, which was then pushed to Las Vegas, then again to Jeddah. But now it’s time for Jeddah, and it’s not getting pushed back again, it’s happening.

The details of Anthony Kim’s contract are interesting.

His departure from professional golf saw him cash in on an insurance policy that most players have. Essentially, if a player suffers a career ending injury, they can cash the policy, though it comes with the caveat that the injury must actually be career ending.

Think of it this way, if you collect a payment on a totaled car, but are then seen driving that car, the insurance company is going to want that money back.

That very same issue was plaguing AK. He had got his game to a point where he felt he could bet on himself, but he’d have to pay back this policy to the tune of $10 million.

So how does this deal happen then?

When the golf world started hearing rumblings that AK was gearing up for a comeback, obviously LIV Golf was interested. They know with Anthony Kim comes eyeballs. Sponsors on the PGA Tour would have jumped at the opportunity to have them in their events as well, but that didn’t solve the insurance payout issue. LIV Golf at least made that issue a bit smaller. It’s no secret that LIV offers signing bonuses to their players, and have seemingly unlimited cash. However they weren’t just going to throw money at someone who hadn’t played tournament golf 10 years.

A few things needed to happen for the deal to get done:

  1. Anthony would have to accept that he needs to bet on himself. He was going to have to take a risk because he wasn’t going to get enough of a signing bonus to cover the payback. Additionally, each LIV event only pays last place $50,000. So if he didn’t believe he could play, this wasn’t some fully guaranteed thing.

  2. He was going to have to negotiate with the insurance company to reduce what he would owe. These conversations have happened and though no specifics are available, this weeks return of AK suggests that they found some middle ground.

  3. Finally, there would need to some risk protection for both parties.

For this reasons, it’s believed that Anthony Kim’s contract has specific provisions built in as follows:

  • Signing bonus between 5-7.5 million

  • Only signed for a handful of events as a wild card, potential for mid-season extensions if he is playing at a high level.

  • If he proves he can return to the level he was at over a decade ago, Anthony Kim will be offered captaincy and equity in a LIV Golf team.

These provisions provide protection for LIV and Anthony Kim. If he is still the player we last knew him as, he will be rewarded with team equity and captaincy, but the up-front cost from LIV remains small for a player that drew as much attention as he did.

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