Jordan Spieth and Tom Kim

The Odd Couple

New Dallas neighbors Jordan Spieth and Tom Kim have formed an unlikely friendship, the ‘old’ guy serving as willing mentor to a rising star while learning a thing or two himself

By Alan Shipnuck

KAPALUA, Maui—In these troubling times, Jordan Spieth-Tom Kim is the wholesome golf bromance the golf world desperately needed. Spieth is a onetime boy wonder who this summer will turn 30. (Gulp.) Eight years ago he had a season for ages, and he has been at the front ranks of the game ever since. This old soul has developed an unlikely kinship with his new Dallas neighbor Kim, 20, the most exciting young star to reach the PGA Tour since, well, if not Spieth then definitely in a good long while. After battling the irrepressible Kim at the Presidents Cup, and in practice rounds on Tour and casual games around Trinity Forest, Spieth couldn’t resist taking on a mentor role he hadn’t really been seeking.

“It’s fun to be around his youthfulness, seeing how much he’s enjoying the newness of his position, how much he’s enjoying all of it,” Spieth said on Friday after his second-round 66 at the Tournament of Champions, which left him in fourth place, three strokes behind Collin Morikawa. “It’s like a road back to how I remember it feeling.”

“It’s so special to have someone like Jordan as my friend,” Kim said following his Friday 69, which left him one shot behind Spieth. “He’s not old but he’s like old, it that makes sense. I ask a lot of questions. It can definitely be exhausting for him, but I’ve already learned so much.”

It took some serendipity to bring them together. Kim set his sights on the PGA Tour after leading the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit in the 2020-21 season. Last May, Kim played the Byron Nelson and was charmed by the robust Asian community he discovered in Dallas. “It doesn’t make me feel so far from home,” says the native of Seoul. In a pairing with Scottie Scheffler, the Dallas resident raved about the city’s geographic centrality and quality golf courses. So Big D became Kim’s adopted home and he began haunting Trinity Forest. Before long, he was working with Cameron McCormick, Spieth’s lifelong swing coach. On the range and in the short-game practice area, Kim quickly became like a pesky little brother to Spieth, the future Hall of Famer.

“Sometimes when we’re practicing together we’ll fire balls at each other and try to catch them, ” Kim says.

“He’s mature in the way he handles situations, but he’s like a little kid in his enthusiasm,” Spieth says.

Kim plays an old-fashioned game, relying on precision instead of power; had he completed enough rounds last season to qualify for the PGA Tour’s statistics, he would have ranked 177th in driver clubhead speed (110.09 mph) but fourth in driving accuracy. A young slugger like Cameron Young is impressed by Kim’s ball control. “What’s not to like?” Young says. “He’s so solid all the way through the bag. He always plays within himself. He knows what he can do. He knows where he is going to miss. He’s never in trouble. It’s like he’s allergic to bogeys.”

Throw in a flammable putter and Kim is always a threat. At the Wyndham Championship, in August, he produced maybe the round of the year on Tour, a closing 61 for a breakthrough victory. A month later he was the star of the show at the Presidents Cup, with brilliant golf and endearing theatrics. And then in his next start Kim went 72 holes without a bogey to win in Las Vegas. “He has all those special intangibles you look for,” says Kim’s caddie Joe Skovron. “He’s got that killer instinct, he loves the big moment and he’s burning to win.”

Planting more roots in the Lone Star State, Kim applied for membership at Dallas National. A letter of recommendation was required, so he asked Will Zalatoris to type one up. “It was like two sentences,” Zalatoris says. “Like, He needs to be here. He’s the best. We need to have him. He’s a guy that I feel like I’ve known forever.”

As a reward for a breakthrough season, Kim earned a spot on Tiger Woods’s buddies trip to the Bahamas, the World Challenge in early December. Spieth invited Kim to fly home on his plane, what the kid calls “Air Jordan.” Spieth asked about his plans for the Christmas holiday, and Kim said that, with his parents back home in Seoul, he was planning to spend the day practicing. Spieth insisted that Kim come to his house for the holiday. 

“What could I possibly get Jordan Spieth for Christmas that he doesn’t already have?” Kim says. So he ordered from Korea a custom set of silverware with a royal lineage and had the pieces embossed with the names Jordan, Annie and Sammy, covering the whole family. He presented the belated gift to the Spieths this week in Maui. Kim has already bonded with Sammy, who is 14 months old. “I was 24 when [caddie Michael Greller] brought his son here when he was three months old, and there’s a picture of me and I didn’t know how to hold him,” Spieth says with a laugh. “I was afraid of dropping him. Tom is so comfortable with Sammy, it’s really cute.”

Jordan Spieth and Tom Kim

The closeness between Spieth and Kim was on display during the first round of this Tournament of Champions, when they were paired together. Spieth made a mess of the 16th but holed a high-risk flop shot for a par, what he called one of the top 10 shots of his life. “That’s a 4, Tom!” he shouted across the green. “That was really cool,” Kim says. “I’ve seen him do Jordan Spieth things on TV, but up close it’s even more impressive.” After making two eagles in the second round, Spieth is looking to win for a second time around Kapalua. (He blitzed the field by eight shots in 2016.) He welcomes the opportunity to battle Kim in crunch time, especially after the Christmas board games got a little heated. “Ohmygawd, it was so fun, we had some good trash talk,” Kim says.

After his rousing rookie year on Tour, Kim signed a blockbuster deal with Nike to wear the apparel from head to toe. Spieth is monitoring his protege closely. He says, “The one thing I’ve told him is, ‘Don’t change. Ever. There are gonna be people coming at you all the time, telling you to do this or that with your swing, your equipment, your agent, your schedule. You’re happiest right now because you’re playing good golf. Change as little as you possibly can, so you can keep playing golf like this.’ For me, I didn’t have anybody telling me that. I had to make my own mistakes. Now I’ve seen both sides of things, not just from myself but from peers too. You see careers get derailed because guys are chasing money, from equipment deals to appearance fees. It’s easy to lose sight of what matters.”

That is why it’s so important to have someone guiding the way. As much as Kim enjoyed Annie’s cooking on Christmas, his favorite part of the day was when the host took him on a tour of the house, which included a stop in an expansive trophy room. “Oh gawd, that was so cool,” Kim says. “I looked at all those trophies and I tried to imagine what he experienced, what he felt when he won them. It gave me motivation to work even harder and try to have a career like that.” 

Kim may not know it, but he is playing an important role in Spieth’s life as he begins the second act of his career. “Being around him has been so refreshing,” Spieth says. “It’s like everything is a blessing to him. I think when we’re out here on Tour for a long time we get so lost in not approaching things that way. It’s cool that he’s learning things from me, but honestly, I’m getting back just as much.”

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