Dave Reardon: Kim carried by love of golf as career winds down

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Apr. 14—In two decades on the LPGA Tour, Christina Kim has learned to cherish the good times that aren't as common as before, and even to embrace the nervous energy that comes with contending to win a tournament.

In two decades on the LPGA Tour, Christina Kim has learned to cherish the good times that aren't as common as before, and even to embrace the nervous energy that comes with contending to win a tournament.

"Just ride it and enjoy the ride, " said Kim, after shooting 5 under par at Hoakalei Country Club on Thursday. "Just keep doing what you're doing. I've been doing this for so damn long and I love the fact that it still terrifies me."

Kim's scary-good second-round 67 put her at 6 under and two shots off the lead midway through the Lotte Championship.

Her colorful attire and personality have always stood out. And during the early part of her career Kim was also usually easy to find on the leaderboard ... because she was often near the top.

She was a star on the rise in 2005, with two LPGA wins in her first three seasons and representing the U.S. on the first of three Solheim Cup teams. At age 20 she became the youngest woman to earn $1 million playing golf.

But her third and most recent victory didn't come until 2014, and this is Kim's 2023 tour debut. She made a career-low five LPGA cuts last year, in 19 tries.

"(Lotte ) was the first event I've gotten into (this year ), " Kim said. "I've had to do qualifiers for the last couple events, so this was the first tournament that I was entered and got in to play."

At age 39, and with just $27, 653 of her $6, 142, 110 in LPGA career earnings coming last year, Kim's love of the game keeps her going. She felt the nervous excitement of a rookie during Wednesday's first round.

"Stuff is scary. I still want it so bad, and so the first eight holes or so I was white-knuckling it, " she said. "It was just amazing to be so terrified."

Kim relaxed enough the rest of the way Wednesday to break par in a Lotte round for the first time since 2018.

The 67 on Thursday is her best round and second in the 60s in her eight years playing in this tournament. Kim has made the cut four times, with a best placing of 27th in 2014.

Thursday's round featured a 168-yard shot that found the cup for eagle on the par-4 No. 6.

"I had a dog yapping in the middle of my swing, so I was very happy to make contact, " she said, adding that the angle was awkward.

Then, after describing technical aspects of the shot : "I was very pleased with that. I was like, 'I don't have to putt.'"

She also had five birdies, including on her last hole of the day.

Kim said a recent move from Orlando, where she lived 19 years, a few miles up the road to the quieter town of Ocala has helped her re-set. She doesn't ride horses, but her home course is now at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club.

"My best friend, my ride or die, Destiny Lawson plays on the Epson Tour and is from Ocala, and it sounds crazy, but she brought me to a pirate bar named Mutiny, and that's my jam now, " she said. "So I've, like, rediscovered myself.

"When I'm home it's sometimes hard to feel like I'm being seen as Christina Kim, the human being. It's always Christina Kim, the golfer, especially being in Orlando, " she added. "For me, the biggest discoveries were enjoying working on my short game over at Golden Ocala, whiskey and Doc Martens. That's about it."

If you venture out to Hoakalei today or Saturday, Kim will be easy to find. Look for her in her trademark beret, or for her caddie with the 8-inch Mohawk, Tim Hazelgrove.

And today you can find her name among the leaders—like it used to be, a lot.