Just as he did nearly 10 months ago after winning his first PGA Tour title at the John Deere Classic, Michael Kim flashed that ear-to-ear grin that was so prevalent last July in his return to TPC Deere Run on Monday.
Kim returned to the site of his historic victory for the annual media day festivities and had nothing but fond memories of his run through Deere Run to become the 22nd player to win his first Tour title in the Quad-Cities.
He was thoroughly impressed with the newest addition to the JDC champions bobblehead collection that debuted on Monday.
“It's great. I love it, actually,” Kim said with a grin as he checked out the figurine on display in front of him on the dais. “They've got all the details down, nailed. I never thought I would have my own bobblehead. It's quite a unique perk being the winner here. I mean, it's pretty cool.”
The 25-year-old also is understanding the perks of being a PGA Tour winner. Last July's victory earned him a spot into the following week's British Open Championship where he finished T35 as JDC runner-up Francesco Molinari was winning his first major title.
It got him into the Masters this spring where he said he was awed by the facility. And maybe more importantly, it bought him time — a two-year exemption on Tour — to continue working on the swing changes that began with his JDC breakthrough.
“Yeah, I actually feel like my game is definitely turning around,” said Kim, who has struggled without a Top 25 finish since his JDC win. “I had switched swing coaches about a month before the tournament, kind of called it the honeymoon phase, and the win allows me to kind of make changes that we felt that were needed. There are definitely some growing pains, but I feel like I turned the corner with my game, and really looking forward to this second half of the season.”
The second half, he hopes, has to be better than the first. He is 214th on the FedEx Cup points list and is 366th in the Official World Golf Rankings. After tying for last in the 32-man field at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii where there was no midway cut, he has missed 13 straight cuts, including at last week's PGA Championship.
He admitted that he has checked out some video highlights of last year's victory in hopes of finding something that gets his game clicking again.
“it's obviously the best golf I've ever played for a week, and once in a while ... I'll just go on YouTube just to remember that it actually happened, the highlights, and it's kind of unique and fun to see," said Kim. “But you know, I definitely remember trying to see what I was doing with my putting when I was there that week and just see if anything was different than how I'm putting now. But at the end of the day, it doesn't really help too much. But it's just cool to see, cool to see that.”
Kim said he was excited to be back in the Quad-Cities despite his harrowing travels from New York after last week's PGA Championship. According to JDC tournament director Clair Peterson, Kim was in a minor car crash in New York over the weekend, had his flight out of New York “dramatically delayed” and did not get into Chicago until 10:30 p.m. Sunday, missing his connecting flight to the Quad-Cities.
He finally arrived in the QC's around 2:30 a.m. Monday. His luggage, of course, wasn't with him.
So there was some sort of karma with Kim sporting golf attire from the Deere Run pro shop, which had him wondering about a sponsorship deal with the club.
“I'm very excited to come back to TPC Deere Run, where I got my first victory,” Kim said. “It's quite cold here. I've never been here when it's been this cold. … I did watch on Instagram when it was snowing here and that was crazy to me.”
Also crazy was Kim shooting a tournament-record 27-under-par 257 and winning by a record eight shots.
Being back at the site of his first Tour victory obviously brought back fond memories and an appreciation for what this tournament does in terms of charitable contributions — $13,455,351 last year alone and $107 million since the inception of the Birdies For Charity program — and what it means to the area.
“This is kind of unlike any other tournament. It's such a tight-knit community. You can definitely really tell how everyone in the community really backs the tournament,” Kim said. “It's such a strong showing with the spectators and the crowds, so yeah, I'm excited to come back as the defending champion and see what that experience is going to be like.”
Monday morning's festivities were a major marker to the July 8-14 event. The countdown for the tournament is now just 48 days away.