Kim Defies Laws Of Age
By Ken Klavon, USGA
North Plains, Ore. – Kimberly Kim walked off the 18th green of Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club's Witch Hollow Course Sunday and leapt into the arms of history.
Actually, she leaped into the arms of her father. That’s beside the point. Why let figurative prose get in the way of a receptive story? Kim, for the time being, did something no one else has ever done in the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship: win it at 14 years old. Fourteen years old. Aren't most kids that age preoccupied with video games, iPods and the like?
She erased Laura Baugh’s name from the record book, which had remained stained with ink since 1971 when she won at 16 years, two months and 21 days.
“I’m shaking. I’m shaking,” was all Kim could say after plopping in her ‘take this’ 6-foot putt on top of Katharina Schallenberg’s 25-footer from off the green. Kim’s putt was crucial, because had she missed it, the championship would have been left to chance on extra holes.
The past two days have been as much about the golf as they have been about managing Kim’s psyche. The Hawaiian kid from Hilo had more moxie in her than her age suggested. After the first 15 holes, she trailed Schallenberg by five holes and started feeling sorry for herself.
“Usually when I get down, I get really upset and want to give up,” said Kim.
However, her caddie, Oregon State student Frank Nau, wouldn’t have any of it, cajoling her to stay positive. On the range during the lunch break, Nau implied that it was time to “play smash-mouth golf.” In other words, get more aggressive and go at the flagsticks.
Kim’s statistics belied her unsuccessful showing through the first 25 holes. To that point, she had missed just a single fairway and found 17 greens. (She wouldn’t miss her second fairway until the 29th hole).
“But stats don’t always tell the story,” said Nau of Kim’s pedestrian 70 score (with match-play concessions) in the morning session. “The back 18, that did tell the story.”
Kim came out undeterred in the afternoon, halving the 19th, 20th and 21st holes. The fresh start sent Schallenberg a message: she wasn’t about to relent. Kim finally caught Schallenberg at the 26th hole when she dropped in a 12-footer for birdie en route to a 67. The momentum had been seized, while Schallenberg’s gusto had been broken.
At the 30th hole, Kim came up clutch again with an 8-foot make for birdie and her first advantage. Schallenberg started reeling, losing the next hole as well when she couldn’t get up and down from the front edge of the green. She was able to cut into the deficit, however, setting up one of the more climactic finishes in any championship.
Over the final four holes, the pressure began to intensify. At the par-3 15th (33rd hole of the match), Kim pulled a 39-footer that left her grabbing at the brim of her hat. The 3½-foot comebacker was tricky, as she backed off repeatedly to alert Nau that she wasn’t comfortable with the break. Nau told her to take a normal stroke, like she had been doing all along, to shake off the jitters. She salvaged the halve.
Sensing that Kim was becoming untangled, Nau tried an unconventional approach to calm her down. He ran off to a port-a-john and, on his way back, had an idea that was cloying for the moment. She had missed her previous two fairways and he thought he could conquer two tasks at once.
“On the way back, I grabbed four blackberries off a bush and handed them to her. I said, ‘These are ‘Go-straight berries.’ It was something to lighten her up, get her mind off being nervous,” said Nau.
Kim wasn’t exactly straight again, dumping her drive into a right fairway bunker. Schallenberg, trying to rally, found the green in two, her ball stopping 10 feet below the target. Kim, grabbing a 7-iron with 149 yards to the hole, came through with an exceptional shot designed for distinctive circumstance. Kim thought about her sister, Christine, and how they would play care-free golf. For whatever reason, it helped her concentrate. The ball looked as though it might kiss the blue sky above until it fell indiscriminately on the green 14 feet above the hole.
“I was never really a clutch player,” said Kim. “But I was clutch on that.”
Kim took the first swipe, nailing the 14-footer that put the pressure squarely on Schallenberg to convert hers. Miss and the championship was Kim’s. Schallenberg equaled Kim’s birdie.
What to do for an encore? How about the 36th hole? There must be something mystical about Witch Hollow’s No. 18, considering that in the 2003 U.S. Women’s Open Angela Stanford and Hilary Lunke made inconceivable putts on the hole in the 18-hole playoff.
Why would this be any different? Just off the green, Schallenberg’s ball had a bead on the hole 25 feet away until it unbelievably fell in.
Schallenberg was “not any more nervous than the one on 17,” she said.
All eyes found Kim, who either had to make her 6-footer or the match was headed for extra holes. Kim said she couldn’t remember much about it, the line, the read, anything.
“I was shaking so much, my knees were shaking,” she said.
When the ball dropped in, a smile colored her face while her father, Young Soo, came racing onto the green. He walloped her with a bear hug. Schallenberg stood off to the side, 10 feet from where she struck her putt, and openly wept with her caddie and coach, Marcus Nuemann, rubbing her back.
“Most of the tears are for disappointment,” she said. “She finally succeeded in reading the greens better than we did.”
Soon the ornate Robert Cox Cup, almost as tall as Kim, was put in her arms. She quivered as she spoke.
“There’s no way to explain the way I feel right now,” said Kim. “Golf is my life, so I’m really happy that I won.”
And with that, Kim grew up a little more this week.
Ken Klavon is the USGA's Web Editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.