Joohyung Kim rewrote the record books with his five-shot victory at the Wyndham Championships in August 2022. He became the second-youngest player in almost 80 years to win a professional golf event in the US, but was also the first born in the 2000s.
The 20-year-old tells RSNG.com about how thrilled he is to be making his mark at the top table of the sport, even if he may have to lose his underdog tag.
RSNG Was it more a feeling of elation or relief to get your first win on Tour under your belt?
JOOHYUNG KIM, GOLFER “A bit of both. I think you don’t really think you have truly arrived until you finish in the higher positions of a tournament.
“No-one wants to be an also-ran, so it was a relief to find myself doing so well on the course in Greensboro. So yes, I was relieved. Obviously as the tournament went on that relief changed to a real desire to get over the line first, so the elation followed.
“Now, looking back, it feels like such a dream for me, and I’m looking forward to the next challenge.”
RSNG Is it amazing to think that you started the tournament with a quadruple bogey eight?
JOOHYUNG KIM “Yes, that was a crazy way to start. I wonder if anyone has come back from such a bad start in the past – I would be very surprised.
“Sometimes it helps when you start badly because the pressure is off, and I think that’s what happened to me. Instead of looking at where I was on the leaderboard – I kind of knew! I could just play through the next few holes and see where things took me.
“Obviously, I recovered from that poor start and got myself to a place where I would need to be thinking a bit more about my shots and where I was in relation to other players. It was a real rollercoaster.”
To be honest I have always thrived on the pressure – I’ve often liked the feeling of being the underdog
RSNG It was not only about getting your first win on Tour, but getting your card to play – how was the pressure?
JOOHYUNG KIM “Yes there’s always that added pressure, but it worked out for me.
“To be honest, I have always thrived on the pressure, and I’ve often liked the feeling of being the underdog. I’ve been that most of my life and after a while you acclimatize to that way of thinking and behaving.
“What do they call it in business – a disruptor? I have liked being a disruptor in the golf I have played up to this point.”
RSNG Yet you probably won’t have that privilege in future, if you are now a winner?
JOOHYUNG KIM “Yes, that did cross my mind, and really for the first time in many years since I was just starting out with youth golf tournaments, I am having to think of myself as less of an underdog and more of a genuine contender.
“I’m not sure I have fully come to terms with that yet, and how I will approach the next challenge, because it is a new mindset, albeit a nice problem to have to think about.”
RSNG Does that mental side of how you present and how you view yourself have a big impact on how you play?
JOOHYUNG KIM “Definitely. I am battling everyone else but constantly pushing myself and challenging the image I have of myself. I like to be in a mental position where I feel it is war, in a way, and that is always a strong galvanizing emotion when you are playing as an underdog. That’s just how it is.
“I remember Rory McIlroy saying it took him a while to get used to the fact people were coming for him when he started winning, and it was actually a lot more comfortable the other way round, when you are the person chasing someone else.”
My nickname of Tom is from Thomas the Tank Engine – I was hooked on it as a kid and I still love trains and travel!
RSNG Your performances in 2022 were enough to see you selected to represent the International team at the Presidents Cup. How did that feel?
JOOHYUNG KIM “It was another big thing for me – a real honor. To play internationally is really the pinnacle for any player – you can’t go above that. It’s just been an incredible year.”
RSNG Players and pundits know you as someone who is fun, a character and who likes a joke. Is that a fair assessment?
JOOHYUNG KIM “I think because at pretty much every tournament I go to I am the youngest, or one of the youngest, I get a bit more license to play the joker.
“Maybe some of the more serious players don’t like that side of things, but that’s just me. You can only be yourself. I am here to win things, but I’m here to enjoy the ride as well.”
RSNG Speaking of a ride, can we look forward to you arriving on a Thomas the Tank Engine train at any point?
JOOHYUNG KIM “Haha! People think this is very funny, but my nickname of Tom is from Thomas the Tank Engine. I was hooked on it as a kid, and I still love trains and travel.
“It is a strange one to some players – they don’t get it; especially some of the Americans, but the train is a global institution, and I was a fan. That’s about it really. I know it sounds crazy. I will always be Tom!”
RSNG With a lot of players leaving the PGA Tour for LIV Golf recently, where do you see yourself playing in the future?
JOOHYUNG KIM “I will be honest and say the PGA Tour was the holy grail for me when I was growing up, and I am still in awe of it.
“It is an honor to be a part of it and it has been so good to me in a short space of time.
“I don’t have any other alternative goal right now. I am happy. I do hope the politics sorts itself out though because golf is very political at the moment, and I know most players just want to get back to hitting a ball. I’m sure in time, we will.”
WHAT NEXT? Another young player on a journey up the rankings is Cameron Young. Read how he became the best rookie in world golf in this RSNG.com interview.