While the 2011 season was her career-best year on the LPGA Tour, Mindy Kim is quick to call her young professional career a “process.”
And that “process” began when she showed up on the LPGA Futures Tour in 2007 as a 17-year-old professional. As a teen, she played in 12 events, made 10 cuts and posted one top-10 finish that first year as a pro.
The next year, she returned to the Futures Tour one year older and wiser, and now, with a real plan for her future. A tightened focus translated into 11 top-10 finishes in 17 events with three wins. She also posted a scoring average of 71.12 at age 18, and finished second on the 2008 Futures Tour’s money list with earnings of $79,270.
By virtue of her top-five finish on the Futures Tour’s season money list, Kim “graduated” to the 2009 LPGA Tour with full playing privileges. It was a big step for the Californian before she was even old enough to rent a car.
But rather than buckling down and fine-tuning her game a little more for her LPGA rookie season, Kim made a rookie mistake of thinking only about the fact that she had made it to the LPGA, rather than on how she planned to play once she got there.
“I’m not going to lie,” said Kim, 21, of California. “I didn’t practice that much my rookie year and second year on the LPGA Tour. I thought I was a hot shot. A lot of the time, I should have been practicing, but I went out with my friends.”
Still, the talented young pro got by, recording a season-best tie for 10th at the 2009 Wegmans LPGA and carding a season-low round of 66. Kim’s scoring average slid to 72.41 that first year, and inflated again to 73.05 in 2010.
“I partied pretty hard that off-season when I was a rookie and I think that was the biggest mistake I’ve made,” admitted Kim. “When I look back now, I know that if I had paid more attention and worked harder, I would have played better earlier than finally having a good year in my third year out here.”
Kim buckled down after the end of last year and worked hard prior to the start of the 2011 season. She went home to California and worked with putting guru Ron Stockton. She also tweaked her mental game.
When she returned this year, Kim posted top-10 finishes in her first two events and recorded four top-10s in her first seven tournaments. Among them was her career-best tie for fifth at the 2011 LPGA State Farm Classic.
“The difference between this year and last year is more about the mental side than the physical side,” said Kim. “My short game and shot-making are better and my overall game is more consistent, but the biggest difference is my mental approach. I’m more confident and I’ve started believing that I am one of the better players out here.”
Admittedly, negative thoughts still creep in, said Kim. And that was evident when she missed five tournament cuts right in the middle of the season when she should have been hitting her stride. In her last six tournaments, Kim only managed a 29th-place finish at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.
“I started out the season pretty hot, but toward the end of the year, it kind of fizzled out,” said the fifth-year pro. “This was an OK season, but I want to win. I have to keep improving on my mental side and I need to get even better.”
At least now, Kim has a better understanding of what she needs to do to find success on the LPGA Tour. She knows that top-ranked Yani Tseng is not going to slow down, nor will experienced LPGA pros such as Suzann Pettersen, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr and even up-and-comers like 2012 LPGA rookie Lexi Thompson.
Entering her fourth season, Kim knows that on the LPGA, if you want to be among the best, it’s going to be a fight all the way to the top. There are no short cuts and definitely, no time to skip practicing, even in the off-season.
“I made some mistakes early, but now I know that I want to be one of the best players in the world,” added Kim. “To get there, it’s going to take some hard work and a lot of sacrifice, and I have to keep improving on my mental side.”
It’s a process, for sure, but Kim’s revamped focus likely will continue moving forward in the coming year, inching her closer to her goal of winning on the LPGA.
- By Lisa D. Mickey
Topics: Kim, Mindy