Candid Kim Youngest Finalist Ever
By Ken Klavon, USGA
North Plains, Ore. – Kimberly Kim was lying around Friday night watching highlights of the championship, when suddenly a commercial caught her attention.
The advertisement plugged the Women’s Amateur.
“I didn’t know this was that big of a tournament,” she said through her braces-filled smile after surviving a 1-up victory over Lindy Duncan Saturday in the semifinal round.
This, coming from the 14-year-old phenom who can boast of competing in this year’s Women’s Open and making the cut? So what are her criteria for a big tournament, or championship?
“It has its own commercial,” she added laughing.
The Hawaiian native comes across as a free spirit. As the youngest finalist in the 111-year history of this event, she’s completely oblivious to her achievements thus far. Maybe the fact that she craves sleep like a sweet tooth pines for candy has shifted her brain into under-drive. We shouldn’t be too harsh. She’s a vibrant 14 year old unaware of her lot, a kid stuck in the “you knows” and other clichéd vernaculars used to describe her emotions.
Act, or the real deal?
“Everybody knows how big this tournament is,” said her 20-year-old caddie, Frank Nau. “It just didn’t hit her until [last night]. She knows. Trust me.”
There is some truth to what he pontificates. Kim entered the match as nervous as any time in her life because she knew Duncan could be equal to the task. In the back of her mind, Kim stuck her concentration in a mental vise not because she was determined to win. Using a little Casey Stengel logic, she simply thought it’d be embarrassing to lose to someone close to her own age.
“It was like she's 15, I'm 14,” said Kim of Duncan. “So like if I lost to some 20 year old, it would be like, ‘Oh, she's just 14.’ But she was 15. So I really wanted to win.”
So with the help of Nau, she identified areas of her game that needed to serve as reminders, almost like electro-shock therapy. Kim grabbed a pen and scrawled three keys on her left wrist. They read: 1) Take away; 2) Go thru (sic) and 3) Straight thru (sic). All had to do with her swing. The first focused on not taking the club inside and rolling her wrists, which had been causing her to hook various drives. The other two were a combination of hitting toward a target, on a flat line. She had developed a tendency during match play to pull off some of her swings.
It certainly didn’t have anything to do with using just 13 clubs. Prior to the championship, with the blessing of Nau, she yanked her 5-wood out of the bag. There’d be little use for it since it would cause confusion if she was between clubs or trying to decide between a long iron.
That aside, anxiety nearly overcame her Saturday.
“I was so nervous over every one of my shots,” said Kim, who never trailed. “Yesterday I didn’t care. I had fun. Today I felt the pressure.”
That naturally had to do with Duncan, a competitor in the round of 16 at the Girls’ Junior this year. Duncan had squared the match on No. 14 when she holed out from a front bunker a solid 30 feet away. “Fortunately I hit it perfect and it rolled right in,” said Duncan. “I never holed a bunker shot in that type of situation.”
Kim lost the hole but calmed herself down by remembering her father, Young Soo, had emphasized to be humble on such instances. There were a few times that angst had gripped her so much that Nau thought she might cave in.
“I told her, ‘If you give up now, you’ll feel good for a little while, but later you’re going to dwell on it,’” said Nau.
No doubt, Kim dodged some arrows too. Duncan had a golden chance to square the match again on the penultimate hole, the 17th, standing over a 6-foot putt, but couldn’t navigate the proper break. Head bowed, a slumped Duncan knew then she had blown it.
If Kim had been nervous before then, the 18th would test her unlike anything before. Clinging to a 1-up advantage, Kim followed Duncan in clearing the hazard before the green. Duncan chipped to 8 feet of the flagstick, Kim to 6.
Duncan surveyed her putt and nailed it.
“She was like fist pumping and I was like, ‘Oh … my … gosh,’” said Kim.
Kim stepped up and then eased her mind into a daydream. She remembered a refrain from the children’s story ‘The Little Engine That Could’ and told herself, “I think I can, I think I can. I was trying to convince myself,” said Kim.
Her stroke pushed the ball in.
“I was really thinking she was going to make it,” said Duncan.
Now Kim heads to the final as though much of the pressure, believe it or not, has been lifted. She’ll take on uber German amateur Katharina Schallenberg, 26, in the final. Schallenberg said she’s curious to see how Kim plays so well at such an adolescent age.
Kim admitted she knew about as much about as Schallenberg as she did the The Cox Cup, one of the rewards for winning the Women’s Amateur. Someone asked Kim if she’d like to see it, which has been on display in the Witch Hollow clubhouse all week.
Kim giggled, perhaps recognizing the difficulty of one final hurdle.
“If I could take it right now …”Ken Klavon is the USGA's Web Editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.