Beware the Injured Golfer


Quail Hollow ChampionshipCHARLOTTE, N.C. –“It’s going to happen, just a matter of when?” Anthony Kim reasoned with a dismissive shrug of his shoulders.

No, the young American wasn’t opining on when he’ll land that coveted first major or his second title here at the Quail Hollow Club. Nor was AK talking about the Ryder Cup, although the biennial matches are never far from his mind, or the inevitable jetlag that is coming his way after an 18-hour journey on Monday from Korea to Charlotte.

The inevitable, at least in this case, is a surgical procedure to reattach a torn ligament in Kim’s left thumb, the byproduct doctors say of the wear and tear of the golf swing and a winching constant in his game for the better part of 16 months.
Anthony Kim
Anthony Kim won at Quail Hollow in 2008. (Getty Images)
Not that Kim had any interest on a stormy afternoon of passing the buck for a driver that’s gone sideways. That’s not how things work in the Kim household.

“You don’t want to make excuses,” Kim said. “If there’s anything my parents taught me it’s don’t make excuses.”

Truth is there’s no need for AK to make excuses. Not when your spring card reads runner-up-T-22-first-third with an Augusta National high-wire high-card.

“I take a lot of Advil,” Kim said. “Feel like I should have their logo on my bag.”

His play should be giving his fraternity brothers angina, particularly considering that the strongest part of Kim’s game, his driving, has been turned into a liability in large part because of his injured left thumb.

Kim’s uber-cool swing coach Adam Schreiber told that the problem comes with longer clubs. The extra lag causes the club to get stuck behind him and doesn’t allow Kim to fade the ball.

“When Anthony is playing well his strength is his driver,” Schreiber said. “He can drive it up the cart path. That’s what makes this so tough.”

For all those who have questioned Kim’s focus and dedication since he turned pro in 2006 consider this: for the past 16 months he’s been grinding away with a single-minded focus. Winning tournaments, majors? Sure, but what is driving Kim now from flinching swing to flinching swing is the chance to don his second U.S. Ryder Cup uniform later this year in Wales.

To hear Kim tell his tale he doesn’t have a choice.

“I’m not hitting it great but I am scoring well so I feel like I need to keep hammering away,” said Kim, a star of the 2008 Ryder Cup squad.

The math is simple, at least to a 24-year-old with a bag full of Advil. He wants to play all four majors, secure his spot on captain Corey Pavin’s team and, when the pain becomes too unbearable, have surgery on his thumb, a procedure that will take between two and three months to recover from.

They may not have believed in excuses in the Kim childhood home, and they must not have been big on calendars, either. Not when the last putt at “Glory’s Last Shot” drops 45 days before the United States and Europe resume the Transatlantic grudge match.

Even if he skips the PGA Championship and has the surgery following July’s British Open that would leave little time to rehab his thumb and his game for what is clearly the Super Bowl of Kim’s year.

“(The Ryder Cup) is the most important event of the year to him,” Schreiber said. “So for him to find this out in a Ryder Cup year, it’s pretty challenging.”

The alternative is pushing back surgery until after the Grand Slam and Ryder Cup season. Two doctors have told Kim that as long as he can withstand the pain he can do no further damage to his thumb or the ligament.

That explosive swing, however, requires another prognosis. As a rule, injuries create swing flaws, compensations that come naturally to a body instinctively seeking relief.

Kim admits he’s already started to acquire swing flaws as a result of his injury, which explains a driving accuracy percentage that has dipped from 60 percent in 2007 to 56 percent this year.

“He was making some adjustments, but now there are just a few compensations,” Schreiber said. “It’s good with his irons, 90 percent plus. It’s a challenge but the rest of his body is as fit as he’s ever been.”

If he were to lock up his spot on Pavin’s team, say at June’s U.S. Open or thereabouts, would he shut it down and have the surgery?

“Don’t know. I don’t even want to think about it,” he winces. “They pay us for a reason. You play hurt sometimes.”

As clichés go, the kid picked a good one.