It is the hardest she has ever worked. It is the longest she has ever taken off. It is the most prepared and focused she has ever been. It is the most unsure and unscheduled time in her life as a golfer.
In a sweeping interview with Korea JoonAng Daily, three-time LPGA Tour winner and major champion Hyo Joo Kim told the news outlet, “since I became an amateur, this is the first time that I’ve rested for this long. I prepared a lot by training, but there are no tournaments.”
Before the coronavirus turned the world upside down, the 24-year-old had been more dedicated to her craft than at any point in her career. Kim trained in Thailand over the winter, expecting to start her season at the Honda LPGA Thailand before the LPGA Tour began to cancel events due to coronavirus fears. She then came back to America where she hoped to begin her season in Phoenix at the Volvik Founders Cup, an event she won in 2015. But those plans were also halted by the spread of the pandemic.
Now, back home in Korea, Kim is still working on her game with some specific and lofty goals in mind. She wants to represent her homeland in the Olympics. The Korean women’s golf squad might be the toughest of all Olympic teams to make. Kim, for example, is the 13th ranked player in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings and is currently second alternate for the Olympics. But Kim has been putting in the work, increasing her strength and stamina in preparation for the games.
“This was probably the very first time, since I started golf, that I’ve worked this hard at weight training,” Kim told Korea JoonAng Daily. “Some people told me that I looked like I’m ready to compete immediately. It is disappointing that the Tokyo Olympics have been postponed, but I consider it a good thing that I’ve got more time to prepare.”
In addition to working on her game, Kim has added two hours a day in the gym, six days a week. “Every day but Sunday,” she said.
“By getting bigger, I’m wearing bigger sizes (in clothes),” Kim said. “Also, by gaining power, I’ve gained about 10 meters (11 yards). I’ve gained confidence as well. …Whatever exercise it is, I want to be good at it. So, I try to do everything, without being picky.”
The quiet Korean earned LPGA Tour Membership by winning the 2014 Evian Championship with a major-championship single-round scoring record of 61 in the first round. She followed it up with a victory in Phoenix in 2015 and another at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic on Paradise Island in 2016.
Since then, she has had a number of near misses, most notably in majors. After charging from seven shots back in the final round to tie Ariya Jutanugarn in the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open, Kim lost in a playoff. Then, last year, she had three runner-up finishes, including at the Evian Championship where she made a final-round triple bogey on the 14th hole to all but hand the title to Jin Young Ko.
“Looking back at my time since I joined the Tour in the United States, I can only give myself a score of 65 (percent),” Kim told Korea JoonAng Daily. “Whether it’s big or small, whichever tournament it is, my goal is to pick up a win. By the end of the season, I want to give myself a score of 80.”
Like everyone else, she has no idea when the 2020 season will begin or end. But that hasn’t dampened her enthusiasm or slowed down her work.
“I want to see the increase in my shots at the tournaments,” she said.
The focus of a champion, even when the future remains vague.