She didn’t even know she’d won. Not that it mattered. The only goal at last week’s first stage of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament was to survive and advance. First or eighty-first were no different. Moving on was all that counted. But it was still a nice feeling.
“I didn’t even realize that I’d won until one of the ladies in the scoring area was like, ‘I think you just won,’” said Gina Kim, the Duke University senior who shot 67 on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills last Sunday to finish 15-under par for the week and in first place at the opening stage of Q-School. “It was unexpected. I was just trying to make the top 95. That’s it. But it’s a great confidence boost going forward, that’s for sure.”
It was one of many such boosts Kim has experienced this year. She won the Atlantic Coast Conference individual title in the spring, followed by a fifth-place finish in the NCAA Championships. Then she won the North & South Women’s Amateur, one of the most prestigious events in the world, dating back to 1903 whose past champions include Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Peggy Kirk Bell, Glenna Collett-Vare, Hollis Stacy, Brittany Lang, Morgan Pressel, Yani Tseng and Ally Ewing, just to name a few.
Kim blinks when hearing her name mentioned in that company. Then she smiles, knowing that she enters the next qualifying stage – the next phase of her life as a golfer – with the wind at her back. She was low amateur at the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open at Charleston Country Club in South Carolina a week after clinching the final match for the Duke Blue Devils in their NCAA National Championship title. Kim wore braces on her teeth back then. And she looked like a kid at Christmas every time she teed it up.
“I wasn’t so sure how my game stacked up [against the best players in the game] in 2019,” she said. “I told myself, just go have fun. Now, coming to this point with Q-School and the Curtis Cup and the rest of it, I’m starting to believe that I’m pretty darn good at what I do, that I definitely do belong with the big girls. I believe it’s only a matter of time before I’m able to get out and compete with them week-in and week-out.”
Speaking of the Curtis Cup, Kim didn’t have long to celebrate her victory in Rancho Mirage, California. Within minutes of signing her card and locking up medalist honors, she was fighting traffic on the 10, trying to get back to L.A. for a Monday flight across an ocean.
“My goal [at Q-School] was to have a strong start so that I wouldn’t have to worry about the final round,” Kim said. “I followed through with that so that the final round was really stress-free. It was more about, okay, let’s have fun and wrap this up nicely, get this over with quickly, hop on that plane and hook up with this [Curtis Cup] team as quickly as possible.
“As soon as I was done with my final round – there’s no such thing as an award ceremony there; they just let you know how you finished and what to do for the next stage – I was trying to get my stuff off the cart and get ready to bus myself over to L.A. Everybody was like, ‘You won! You won!’ I was like, ‘That’s great, but I need to go to Wales right now.’”
After a quick night’s sleep near LAX, Kim boarded a flight to Chicago where she met up with several of her Curtis Cup teammates. Then it was off to London and from there to North Wales – a 5,400-mile journey with no rest in between.
“From London, it was a 6-hour bus ride,” Kim said. “It’s technically a 5-hour drive but they have a rule [in the U.K.] where the bus driver has to take a mandatory 45-minute break, which is a good rule if you think about it. But [the trip] takes longer.
“As soon as we got to Wales after the 6-hour bus ride, we got to the hotel, changed within 10 minutes, and got to [Conwy Golf Club] and walked the back nine. Then we did a castle tour.
“[Wednesday] we played our first full 18 and then had the opening ceremonies. I played with Allison Corpuz, Rachel Heck, Rose Zhang and Megan Schofill. We played a fivesome. Even though we’re exhausted, not just me but a lot of us, we all have a ton of adrenaline pumping and keeping us fired up.”
You would think that Kim would try to get to bed early to adjust to the time difference and catch up on her sleep before representing the USA is amateur golf’s ultimate team competition. But that would be selfish. And for Gina Kim, there is no greater sin.
“I’m going to stay up a little later to make our team meeting [at Duke] to talk about our upcoming season,” she said. “I love my team and Coach [Dan] Brooks has been very understanding about the whole process of Q-School and everything that I’ve done this year. The least I can do is contribute in the best ways I can. I’m doing everything I can to still be a part of my team at Duke from over here.”
Yes, she’s got an outstanding game, and, sure, she’s got a magnetic smile. But it’s that last part, that innate selflessness, that makes Gina Kim worth following; worth knowing; and worth rooting for, now and throughout the rest of her career.