CHARLOTTE — It's Monday afternoon at the Quail Hollow Club, and Anthony Kim is on the practice range, hitting balls when he isn't helping pro-am partner and NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson with his still-young golf swing.
Johnson is trying to look invisible, wearing khaki shorts, a blue shirt, dark sunglasses and a cap that's pulled down over his whiskered face.
Beside him there's Kim in cream-colored slacks, a white belt and red shirt, impossible to miss.
In the turf, Kim has carved two long slender rows of divots, almost surgical in their crispness.
He's working on a third as he rolls one practice ball after another between two rods he placed on the ground to help with his alignment. Each iron shot whistles away into the sun-kissed distance.
When someone on the range remarks that Kim's recent commitment to working out shows in his waistline, Kim looks up from the shot he's preparing to hit and says, "Wait'll you see me in two months," smiling and flexing.
It's not easy being 23, wealthy and sublimely talented.
But there are worse things.
Quail Hollow isn't where it all began for Kim -- there's a long backstory cluttered with family matters included in his biography -- but this is where he burst into the international golf consciousness a year ago.
Kim didn't just win the Wachovia Championship last May, he dominated it. He set the tournament record by shooting 16-under-par 272, a performance that resonated like a thunderclap.
High-fiving fans as he marched along the final day, Kim played with a contagious joy on that Sunday, his game as brash and striking as the oversized rhinestone belt buckle he wore.
Two months later, he won again at the AT&T National, and he went from being a sensation to being a star.
Finally, at the Ryder Cup last September, Kim was a firestarter for the American team. Phil Mickelson asked to play the first match with him and fed off the energy, which was almost palpable in the thick Kentucky air.
On Sunday, when everything was turning red, white and blue, it was Kim who started it, flattening Sergio Garcia 5 and 4 in singles, a victory that had the effect of an early knockout punch.
Kim is still growing into all of this, both golf and life.
"He's like a wonderful piece of clay," Golf Channel analyst Frank Nobilo said. "I don't want anyone to make something small from him.
"He's finding his way. Conformity is great in some things, especially driving the speed limit and gun control, but not for golfers of that age."
Watching Kim play golf, he makes it look easy. He chokes down on every club he hits, a habit he developed as a kid when his clubs were too big, and he plays with a natural style grounded in feel more than technique.
When he did a clinic with Tiger Woods last year, Woods asked Kim to hit a right-to-left shot and explain how he did it. Chuckling at himself, Kim couldn't adequately explain it, saying he just felt it.
He doesn't pretend to have all the answers.
That doesn't mean he isn't confident. Kim made 11 birdies in the second round of the first Masters he ever played three weeks ago, setting a tournament record that might stand forever.
Timid souls don't make 11 birdies in 18 holes at Augusta.
Still, Kim is finding his way.
This is someone who didn't speak to his father, Paul, for more than two years after the push and push-back between them overflowed when Kim was in college at Oklahoma.
The family circle has been rejoined now, something for which Kim is grateful.
During a visit to Quail Hollow last month, Kim looked every bit the 23-year-old. He wore a grey sweater, khaki pants and white sneakers while sitting among a group of tournament officials in blue blazers.
Relaxing on a leather couch in the clubhouse, Kim talked about trying to grow up without sacrificing his youth.
"It's been a blast," he said of his year since winning at Quail Hollow. "To be 23 and traveling around the world playing golf, it's been surreal. But not just to play golf, pack up and go do it again, but to have two-week breaks to see my friends and be a kid.
"People say stop and smell the roses. I smell the roses every day."
There's a trade-off Kim still wrestles with.
It's no secret that his dedication has not always matched his talent. He admits as much.
He has often told the story on himself about coming in from another long night his rookie year, hustling to make his tee time after too much fun and not enough sleep, only to see Woods hard at work hours before his tee time.
It was a jarring reminder to Kim that his approach wasn't working.
"My rookie year , I enjoyed every second of it, and I think everyone who played golf on tour knew I did," he said.
Kim and caddie Eric Larson have been together for more than a year. Larson is 48, more than twice Kim's age, and he served 11 years in prison for his part in a cocaine-selling conspiracy.
The Wachovia Championship last year was their second event together.
"He's a dear friend," Kim said of Larson.
"There was a lot of respect for what I've been through," Larson said. "For 23, he's grown up a lot and been through a lot. He's made a lot of progress."
On tour, Kim has sought the counsel of older players, specifically 52-year-old Mark O'Meara and 43-year-old Todd Hamilton, whom he met when the former Oklahoma golfer returned to campus for an outing.
After a series of injuries that stalled his start this year, Kim flashed back with his second-round 65 at the Masters. It was classic Kim -- hammering tee shots, playing aggressively and making birdies.
"His game, though he may score the same as another guy, is more Hollywood-like. There's a wow factor," Hamilton said.
"He's not vanilla. He's Neapolitan, strawberry and everything."
That's where Kim is at his best, comfortable in his own skin. It's taken him this far -- with some adjustments along the way.
"When you're making your career, you have to stay close to your personality," Nobilo said. "He's hard not to like."
On the range beside Johnson Monday afternoon, Kim continues hitting iron shots as a handful of people gather around him.
Waiting to see what's next.
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