Defending Champion Kim Not Feeling Pressure To Repeat
By David Shefter, USGA
Carmel, Ind. – Call it youthful ambivalence. Or just a bit of naiveté.
Spend some time around 15-year-old Kimberly Kim and you would hardly know she’s the defending champion of the world’s oldest women’s amateur championship. Not by the way words emanate from her mouth or the way she struts around the golf course.
But make no mistake; Kim’s game is very much top notch. Don’t let the sheepish grin or humility fool you. What she accomplished last year at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club outside of Portland, Ore., was remarkable, if not unbelievable. At 14, the Hilo, Hawaii, native became the youngest champion in the 111-year history of the U.S. Women’s Amateur, rallying from a 5-hole deficit to defeat 26-year-old Katharina Schallenberg of Germany, 1 up, in the 36-hole championship match.
The warning signs were there. Two months earlier, Kim advanced to the final of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links at Walking Stick Golf Course in Pueblo, Colo., only to run into the buzz-saw known as Tiffany Joh in the 36-hole final (6-and-5 defeat). But that week Kim showed her game was more than ready for the national stage.
Whether she actually believed it was another matter. Then again, it’s hard to get an exact beat on what Kim actually is thinking. Her laissez-faire personality doesn’t exude an air of arrogance or self-righteousness.
“I never gain confidence,” said Kim on the eve of her title defense at the 2007 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Crooked Stick Golf Club. “But I guess it’s good because I never have a cocky attitude. I never really expect anything out of myself, so when I do well I’m just happy.”
When Kim arrived at Pumpkin Ridge for the 2006 Women’s Amateur, she didn’t even think she would survive the cut for match play. But then she started winning matches and suddenly found herself in the final. And early on it looked like Schallenberg was going to do to Kim what Joh accomplished at the WAPL. The German had a 5-up lead through 15 holes, but the margin was trimmed to two holes when Kim won the final three holes of the morning 18. She took her first lead at the 30th hole, then held on by making birdies at the final two holes, including a 5-footer at the 36th to seal the title.
Since then, Kim’s stature has grown exponentially, even if Kim remains the same easy-going teenager. She was selected to represent the USA at the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in South Africa, where she fired a team-low 66 in the third round to help the team place ninth. The 66 matched Sweden’s Caroline Westrup and Chinese Taipei’s Pei-Lin Yu for the lowest round of the competition.
At last month’s U.S. Girls’ Junior in Lakewood, Wash., she carded a 10-under-par 62 in the first round of stroke-play qualifying to tie the 18-hole championship record and break the competitive Tacoma Country and Golf Club mark by three strokes. She would eventually lose in the quarterfinals to fellow Hawaiian Stephanie Kono in a 23-hole thriller.
Kim has also won three American Junior Golf Association events, finished as the runner-up at the prestigious PGA Junior Championship and Kathy Whitworth Invitational, and represented the West at the Canon Cup.
This week, she will try to become the first back-to-back winner of the Women’s Amateur since current LPGA Tour player Kelli Kuehne in 1995-96.
“I don’t think people treat me differently like other defending champions,” said Kim. “I think there is a difference. I’m 15 and nobody recognizes me. When I wear my Turtle Bay hat like I did last year [at Pumpkin Ridge], there are a whole bunch of people who will recognize me. But if I wear any other hat, nobody recognizes me.”
Kim didn’t even take the trophy back to her temporary residence in Arizona. Kim moved to the Phoenix suburb of Queen Creek last year to make it easier for her to travel to golf events on the Mainland.
So after taking a few portraits with the Robert Cox Cup, she shipped it back to Hapuna Golf Course in Kona and to the Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu as a way to pay homage to the facilities that have helped her along the way. Turtle Bay actually had a nice framed case for the hardware, along with a letter that Kim wrote about what winning the Women’s Amateur meant to her, and a photo of her and older sister Christine with the trophy.
If there’s the proverbial bull’s-eye on Kim’s back, she doesn’t notice it. She says her ball-striking is more consistent than at this stage last year, but she doesn’t feel any undue pressure. After all, her name is already on the trophy.
“I don’t have any [expectations],” she said. “I just want to make the cut first.
“If I was older, I would expect [more] and would be thinking about turning pro and stuff. But right now, I don’t even think about any of that stuff. I guess it’s good to be young right now.”
David Shefter is a USGA staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.