July 25, 2016

Partly sunny

Kim prefers the junior spotlight

WESTFIELD CENTER — Not many teenagers have an opportunity to play in the Women’s U.S. Open. Even less come away with the feeling of simply wanting to get back to being a 15-year-old.

Kimberly Kim has played in not one, but two U.S. Opens. She made the cut and finished 66th in 2006, becoming the youngest player in the history of the event to make it to the weekend.

However, Kim prefers to live the life of a junior player and is doing it very well.

Kim, who is ranked second in the Golfweek junior rankings, thought the experience of playing with the pros was helpful, but didn’t act like a youngster who is itching to play with them everyday.

“It’s not very thrilling (playing on tour) because you realize how hard it is,” said Kim, who is leading the Westfield Junior PGA Championship at 3-over-par. “You have to work and work at it. People on tour are doing it for themselves.”

Kim, who says she “loves” her unique name, hails from Hilo, Hawaii, where her father grew orchid flowers.

To help concentrate on her golf career, Kim’s family moved to Temecula, Calif., and later to Queen Creek, Ariz.

Kim definitely wishes she was back on the Pacific islands, but realizes the opportunity she has in the continental United States. The nearest golf course was two hours away from her hometown.

“In Hawaii people are way more chilled out,” said Kim, who finished Thursday’s second round with a 1-over 72. “Mainlanders can be not so nice. Everyone in Hawaii is just laid-back.”

Kim has used that personality of home to her advantage and has become one of the top junior players in the world.

Along with the pair of U.S. Opens, Kim is the youngest player to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur.

Last year as a 14-year-old, Kim defeated 26-year-old Katharina Schallenberg 1-up to break a 35-year-old record in the event at Oregon’s Witch Hollow Course of Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.

Flash forward to American Junior Golf Association events this year and Kim’s name is third on the Polo Golf rankings. In six tournaments, she’s amassed a spectacular average finish of 3.2, which includes wins at the ReBath Heather Farr Classic and Thunderbird Junior Invitational.

Kim’s carried that momentum to Westfield Center, where she was steady all day until a double bogey on No. 18 put a damper on an otherwise positive round.

Kim was a bit down after failing to at least par the final hole, but knew how to handle the adversity after playing next to LPGA stars.

“I don’t think a lot of juniors know how hard it is,” said Kim, who is near the top of the Westfield Junior PGA leaderboard in total birdies with six. “It’s good experience for the future because when I screw up I notice tour pros keep calm. My bogeys come in strings, so I just laugh about it.”

No one will be laughing at Kim if she continues to stay atop the leaderboard.

Albert Grindle About Albert Grindle

Albert Grindle is a sportswriter for the Gazette. He can be reached at 330-721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.