In 2017, In-Kyung Kim’s special season started in New Jersey.
This week, she returns to the Garden State as defending champion of the ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer. Her victory last season became the springboard to her career best year on the LPGA Tour. Kim won twice more over the next two months at the Marathon LPGA Classic presented by Owens Corning and O-I and her first major title at the Ricoh Women’s British Open. But it was her victory in New Jersey that she points to as the turning point to her year.
“I didn’t start off that fast last year, but winning this tournament gave me a lot of positive confidence going into the season,” Kim said Thursday. “This tournament is pretty tricky. I think you really have to play well, or you might not win.”
Kim won the three-day event with rounds of 66-67-69 and ended Anna Nordqvist’s hopes of a three-peat by finishing two-strokes ahead of the Swede.
“Having one good round, really sets [you] apart, one low score. You got to have them, otherwise you don’t really have a chance to win it,” Kim said about finding success at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club.
Like last season, Kim has gotten off to a slow start in 2018. She has two top 10s to start the season.
But that’s not entirely her fault.
In January, the seven-time winner on the LPGA Tour began her season at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic. On her way home to San Diego her clubs went missing. The incredible story of how Kim recovered her clubs has been well documented. In short, a few fans who saw her pleas on social media asking for help, found her clubs at a used sporting goods store in the San Diego area and returned them to the major champion during the week of the Kia Classic.
It had been eight weeks since Kim last saw her clubs.
The major champion had already spent countless hours working with club manufacturers to try and recreate the mix-matched set that earned her three wins last season. The week her clubs were recovered, Kim finished runner-up at the Kia Classic. She already invested so much time tweaking her new clubs that there was no point going back to her old ones. Kim has spent the last two months continuing to get comfortable with her new gear.
“I think I can be a club fitter now,” Kim joked about the amount of time she spent working on her clubs. “Everything seems like a more upgraded version of what I had. It just takes time to trust the club and fully get used to it.”
From new clubs to her new title as a major champion, there’s a lot in Kim’s life that still requires adjusting. But this week she had a chance to reconnect with a group that has been a constant in her life for nearly a decade. The Special Olympics is an important part of Kim’s life. In 2010, she donated her entire earnings from winning the Lorena Ochoa Invitational to the organization. In 2012, she was named an ambassador for the program. This week, Kim hosted a clinic with friends she’s made through Special Olympics, who regularly make the trip to the tournament to spend time with her.
“There’s a couple people who come every year, so it’s kind of our annual thing. It’s really nice,” Kim said. “Their Summer Games are in Seattle this summer. Hopefully, I can make it.”
The Special Olympics USA Games get underway July 1 in Seattle. The next week, it’s off to Toledo where Kim will try to defend. Two weeks later, she’ll be headed to England in search of her next major title.
It’s going to be a busy summer for In-Kyung Kim. But it could also be very special.