Ask the majority of golf fans what they know about I.K. Kim and undoubtedly the answer will have something to do with “the putt.”
The one-foot putt that Kim missed on the 72nd hole of the Kraft Nabisco Championship back in March prevented the South Korean native from winning her first major title. It also made her a cover star of many golf publications as the world immediately sympathized with the shock shown by the diminutive, 5-foot-3 golfer.
But for those around the LPGA Tour who know Kim well, that putt is far from what defines her -- both as a golfer and as a person.
There is a thoughtful and inquisitive side to Kim that’s not immediately noticed at first glance. Sit down for one conversation with the soft-spoken Kim and it’s her contagious smile and classy demeanor which leave a lasting impression.
That’s why it came as no surprise that Kim handled what happened at Kraft with the same grace and open honesty that she’s shown throughout her career.
“I think sometimes we think about our work really too much,” Kim said. “We only live once and I want to enjoy my life. It’s a miracle. Golf is what I do, not who I am.”
While the putt has provided Kim with the biggest spotlight of her career, she wasn’t averse to having a little fun with her misfortune. She filmed short piece for Golf Channel on the many ways that she could make a one-foot putt, from sinking it with a wedge to drilling the putt from between her legs. It was one of the many ways she showed that while everyone else was worried as to how she’d react to that missed putt, she wasn’t going to let it consume her.
After all, Kim had far too many other interests keeping her occupied than to focus her energy on that missed putt. With a self-described thirst to learn, Kim has found ways to keep herself plenty busy while traveling around the world on the LPGA Tour.
In her rookie year on Tour, Kim was staying with a family and got the chance to play the guitar for the first time. It quickly became a newfound passion for Kim, who can now be found traveling with her guitar and plucking its strings to the tunes of some of her favorite artists like the Beatles and John Mayer. She’s also an avid reader who recently finished reading 11 Minutes by Paulo Coelho. And in addition to working hard on mastering English, which includes reading many books in the language to help her proficiency, she has recently been working to learn French as well.
“I enjoy playing golf but there is a lot of down time when you travel,” Kim said. “You never know what you like until you try it. So I like to try different things.”
Kim’s latest interest? Meditation. After playing in the KEB HanaBank LPGA Championship in South Korea last month, Kim went to meditate for four days. She had to be completely silent for that entire time and acknowledged that it was much more difficult than she imagined. But the always curious Kim was intrigued by what she learned over those few days. Since then she has picked up a number of books to read on meditation and she said she’d encourage others to try it.
“What I like about meditating is that you get to stay in the present and focus only on your breathing,” Kim said. “It helps to clear the thoughts.”
There has certainly been a lot on Kim’s mind this year when it comes to her golf. The missed putt was just the start of some adversity that Kim’s had to face in 2012. She had a sore left wrist that forced her to pull out of the Lotte Championship, the first event following the Kraft Nabisco Championship, and the injury has plagued her off and on throughout the season. But like she seems to do in every situation, Kim has used everything she’s been through this year as a learning experience.
“I will remember 2012 very clear,” Kim said. “It definitely changed my perspective.”
Kim may have used all of her experiences this year to grow as a golfer but there is no question that she has proven the strength of her game on the LPGA Tour with three wins and 49 top-10 finishes. Yet for all that Kim hopes to still achieve on the golf course, it’s the impact that she’s had off it which will certainly be her lasting legacy.
One of Kim’s longtime idols was Lorena Ochoa and after Kim won the 2010 Lorena Ochoa Invitational, she decided to donate her entire $220,000 first-place paycheck to charity. Half of that money went to Lorena Ochoa’s Foundation and hen this past June , Kim donated the other half of that winning check to the Special Olympics. True to her thoughtful nature, Kim had spent a lot of time considering which charity she wanted to build a long lasting relationship with and in the end, it became clear that the Special Olympics was the right fit for her.
“It’s been life changing,” said Kim, who has conducted several clinics with Special Olympic athletes and will take part in the 2013 Special Winter Olympics when it’s held in her native South Korea this January.
“The experience I’ve shared with the athletes is truly amazing. I’m never met anyone more loving and cheerful and inspiring. It is a great organization and I am very honored to be a Special Olympics sports ambassador.”
For Kim, golf is a special part of her life and something that she’s truly passionate about in her career. But the most important thing she feels she can do in life is to help others and that in the end will be what defines her.
“At the end of each day I ask myself if I did or hear something good today,” Kim said. “And if I did, I can tell myself it was meaningful day.”