How a round with Max Homa brought Michael Kim out of his social media shell

SAN DIEGO – Michael Kim has carved out his own piece of the internet pie due to his elevated presence on social media over the last couple of years.

As a one-time winner on the PGA Tour back at the 2018 John Deere Classic, the 30-year-old isn’t used to being recognized by fans off the course, let alone on it. Despite boasting a following that continues to grow week after week, he still gets brought back down to earth. This week it was the PGA Tour who checked his ego. Kim, who went to Torrey Pines High School, was left off the list of San Diego natives in the field for the 2024 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines (South Course).

“I’m kind of looking at the list and I see Charley Hoffman, yeah, I get that. I see Xander Schauffele, yeah, I get that. I see J.J. Spaun, I’m like, ‘Hmm … I don’t know, if you remember J.J. you probably should remember me,’” he joked. “And I see Cameron Sisk and I’m like, ‘Who the hell is Cameron Sisk?’ Funny enough, I actually ran into him on the range just earlier and he had a picture. He caddied for me like 10 years ago when I was playing this event as like a First Tee like walk up 18 and he sent me the picture. It was kind of funny, it was kind of one of my first old veteran guy moments, I guess. I still feel I’m one of the younger guys out here, but seeing that was kind of funny.”

Kim doesn’t know the exact moment when he decided to ramp up his game online, but he did credit former Cal teammate and social media star Max Homa – the Farmers defending champion – for opening his eyes to the good that can come from an active internet presence.

“I guess if there was one moment, I played with (Homa) at the Safeway not this last one but the one before that and for whatever reason Max and my career, we never really matched up. When I was playing well, he was playing bad and when he was playing well, I was playing bad,” Kim explained. “So I hadn’t really seen his following grow as much. I think that week was a big eye opener in seeing the following that he had, seeing the crowd that he drew.

“Certainly that was a bit of a catalyst for make thinking maybe I can use Twitter or X as something to grow, quote unquote, my brand,” he continued. “That was probably the biggest start point of it all.”

Farmers: First round tee times, how to watch

Most fans these days know Kim for his humorous and knowledgeable online posts and are quick to forget his on-course accolades. As a member of Cal’s golf team, Kim won the 2013 Haskins Award as the men’s college player of the year. That same year he represented the United States in both the Palmer Cup and Walker Cup. He graduated from the Korn Ferry Tour in 2015 and earned his first PGA Tour win three years later.

Then came the spiral. From the 2019-2021 seasons, Kim made 71 starts, missed 51 cuts and never finished inside the top 25 en route to losing his Tour card. He was forced to return to the Korn Ferry Tour for the 2021–22 season, but immediately regained his Tour card for the 2022–23 season, where he missed just two cuts over 32 starts and earned four top-10 finishes.

“It has been a pretty big rollercoaster ride. When you show up to — when you grow up hoping to someday play in the event, you don’t really — you only think about the good things that might happen, you don’t necessarily think about all the bad things that might happen,” said Kim. “During those ups and downs I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a person and as a golfer. Surely much more knowledgeable about my mental game, my full swing and all that. Hopefully I can use those ups and downs to further my career starting now.”

This week Kim will make his eighth start at the Farmers, where he has a best finish of T-23 back in 2018. Even though he has plenty of fond memories of Torrey Pines, he rarely thinks of his own game when he returns to the William Bell design along the Pacific Ocean.

“Whenever I come back I remember mostly (Tiger Woods) shots, some of his most famous shots out here and me trying those shots, mostly the putt on 18 when he won the U.S. Open, or to get into the playoff in the U.S. Open,” said Kim, who played Torrey Pines two weeks later and tried to recreate the putt. “The cup wasn’t exactly there, so I put a tee down … I took a couple tries at it and I probably imitated Tiger’s fist pump and then looked around to see if anyone was watching. I probably wasn’t the only person trying that putt after that.”

Much like Homa was desperate to win his hometown event at the Genesis Invitational, Kim is hoping to follow suit here in San Diego.

“Yeah, this tournament is obviously really special for me. Torrey Pines is where I grew up playing, went to Torrey Pines High School. So I’m always excited to come back to this event and it’s almost a dream come true,” he said. “Dream is to actually win the thing, so we’ll see.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek