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No pressure, Anthony, but . . .

Kim, the youngest player on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, is feeling loose.

September 17, 2008|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- So the youngest player on the U.S. team is supposed to make the biggest difference in the oldest match-play competition in pro golf?

That's all there is to deal with this week for Anthony Kim, a Ryder Cup rookie at 23, a two-time winner in his first full year on the PGA Tour and the player who's probably having more than a few bricks of pressure heaved on his back.

He said Tuesday that he's ready.

"This is what I've worked toward," he said. "I feel like this is a huge accomplishment in my life, something I'll never forget, and I'm looking forward to having a great week."

Kim might need to be great if the U.S. is going to avoid a fourth consecutive loss to Europe and a third consecutive blowout.

He practiced Tuesday in a group that included Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan.

Born in Los Angeles, raised in La Quinta, a pro after three years at the University of Oklahoma, Kim has a chance to expand his horizons this week in Kentucky.

He may be inexperienced in the Ryder Cup, but Kim is already an experienced winner this year.

His victories in the Wachovia at Quail Hollow and in the AT&T National at Congressional -- regarded as two of the more difficult courses on the PGA Tour -- have advanced his reputation as a closer.

Kim has seven top 10s this year, earned $4.26 million and easily played his way onto the Ryder Cup team. U.S. captain Paul Azinger hopes expectations for Kim do not exceed his grasp.

"We all know how well he's played in the past . . . and I think he has a bright future," Azinger said.

"A lot of times our Ryder Cup is a steppingstone for guys to win major championships. He's young, but for expectations, you know, I don't think that's fair to do to anybody. I'm just the captain for a week.

"I think everybody probably expects Anthony Kim to be a great player for the rest of his career. . . . One week, I just look for [him] to be completely committed to the team concept and to trying to get ready to play."

Match play isn't a foreign concept to Kim, who was on the 2005 U.S. team that won the Walker Cup, the biennial competition between amateurs from the U.S. and a team from Britain and Ireland. J.B. Holmes, another Ryder Cup rookie this week, was a teammate.

"It was the most pressure I've put on myself, playing in the Walker Cup, and I know there's going to be more pressure [on this] stage," Kim said. "But I feel like I'm a more accomplished player [and] a more mature person."

The competition begins Friday, with two-man teams from each side playing better-ball and alternate-shot formats the first two days. On Sunday, there will be 12 singles matches to decide the Cup, which goes to the first team to 14 1/2 points.

Azinger sent out two more groups of four for practice Tuesday at Valhalla Golf Club. Holmes, Kenny Perry, Jim Furyk and Boo Weekley made up one and Stewart Cink, Chad Campbell, Steve Stricker and Ben Curtis made up the second.

There were four threesomes practicing in groupings devised by European captain Nick Faldo: Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Soren Hansen; Padraig Harrington, Henrik Stenson and Graeme McDowell; Paul Casey, Robert Karlsson and Ian Poulter; Justin Rose, Oliver Wilson and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Faldo explained his reasoning.

"I thought we'd play in threes on Friday," he joked.

At the same time, there is no joking about the need for someone to produce points in bunches for a U.S. team that has had no player do that since Mickelson won three points in 1995 -- despite sitting out the morning rounds the first two days.

That leaves an opening for someone this time, and Kim might be as good a possibility as anyone. He is unfettered by what has happened before, and that's a plus. Whatever misfortune the U.S. has experienced is not his responsibility, Kim said.

"I don't even know about the past," he said.

"This is a brand-new team. We're going to go out there, not worry about if a guy is hitting a draw or a fade. The only goal is to get the ball in the hole faster than the other guys, and I think we've got a pretty good shot at doing that."

--

thomas.bonk@latimes.com

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