Updated October 9, 2022 - 10:12 pm
Max Homa called Tom Kim a rock star even before the first shot was hit at the 2022 Shriners Children’s Open. He more than lived up to the billing.
Kim fired a 5-under 66 on Sunday to finish at 24-under 260 for the week, good for a three-shot victory over Patrick Cantlay and Matthew NeSmith. Also a winner in August at the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina, Kim is the first player since Tiger Woods in 1996 to earn two PGA Tour titles before his 21st birthday.
Kim was flawless from start to finish, playing 72 holes at TPC Summerlin without a bogey on his scorecard. No winner on the PGA Tour had accomplished that feat since J.T. Poston pulled it off at the Wyndham in 2019.
Not bad for someone who had never played a full round at TPC Summerlin until Thursday morning.
“I felt like the course really suited me well,” he said. “It came to my eye, and I felt like if I just strategized my course around it here, around the course here, I could have a good week, and that’s exactly what I did.”
Kim and Cantlay began the day tied for the lead, and while other players lurked throughout the afternoon, it pretty much turned into a match-play scenario by the end of the front nine.
The two went to the 72nd hole tied for the lead when Cantlay made his one crucial mistake of the week, pulling his drive left with the ball plugging at the base of a bush in the native area. He tried to chop the ball out, moved it only a few inches, then took an unplayable drop. Hitting his fourth shot from the native area, he left it short and in the greenside pond. Cantlay eventually made a 36-footer for triple bogey.
“I made a bad swing, and it went where it went,” a dejected Cantlay said after exiting the scoring trailer. “After it was kind of in the bush there, I figured the only chance I had to stay in the tournament was to try to get it back in the fairway. Obviously, I couldn’t get it back in the fairway.”
It ended a phenomenal run for Cantlay, who had birdied four of the previous seven holes to catch Kim, who plays nothing like a normal 20-year-old.
“He’s great, man. He’s really lively. He’s superpolite. He likes to have fun out there,” said NeSmith, who had a front-row seat in the final threesome. “He’s a dang good golfer, too. I’m sure we’ll see many more of these as his career gets going. But he’s a great dude.”
Similar praise came from Homa, who battled Kim at the Presidents Cup last month and played the first two rounds with him in Las Vegas.
“I think first and foremost, he’s an amazingly nice person,” Homa said. “He’s got like that fresh outlook on the game of golf, which is cool.”
And it goes well beyond Kim’s obvious talent, Homa said.
“As competitive as golf is, and that’s why we play it, part of it is entertainment, and I feel like he also has that extra kick of being very entertaining and lovable and somebody you want to see succeed,” Homa said.
And succeed he did in Las Vegas: 24 birdies and 48 pars over four days in perfect conditions.
“I just told myself, stick with the game plan,” Kim said. “Whether I win or not, as long as I execute my shots and do what I need to do, that’s all I focused on, and I’m just grateful to be on top.”
That meant going head-to-head with Cantlay, the fourth-ranked player in the world who now has three runner-up finishes at the Shriners in the last five years.
“When you have a guy like Patrick coming at you, no lead is safe,” Kim said.
NeSmith had one of the best weeks of his career as he chases his first PGA Tour victory, playing his final 57 holes without a bogey.
“Yeah, I played some good golf,” the South Carolinian said. “I was really patient for four days.”
Patience also was the word Kim repeated often to describe his victory, a win that will only grow his legend and status in the game. All the attention over the past two months has felt like a whirlwind to Kim, but it has done nothing to slow him down or change his outlook on golf.
“I mean, I’m playing on the PGA Tour as a 20-year old. It’s hard to get tired from this,” he said. “I’m a 5-year-old at Disneyland for sure.”
Greg Robertson covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.