Los Altos resident Lauren Kim, who graduated from Stanford University in June, is about to join the workforce in one of the most competitive fields in the world – professional golf.
She recently earned partial status on the LPGA Tour, “which means I get into tournaments based on a priority number,” Kim said. The Los Altos High grad expects to play in eight to 10 LPGA tourneys this year, along with 10-15 events on the developmental Symetra Tour.
While Kim said she’s excited to turn pro and play against the top women golfers on the planet, the job is not without drawbacks. Traveling the country to compete in up to 25 tournaments will require her to essentially live out of a suitcase for the next nine months.
“I hate packing,” Kim said. “It’s equivalent to paperwork.”
Kim envisions going on the road for three to four weeks at a time, then returning to Los Altos for a week (“My parents are graciously letting me stay with them,” she said) to rest up and practice at the Stanford Golf Course.
Kim is willing to embrace the nomadic lifestyle for the opportunity to earn a living playing the game she fell in love with at 8 years old. The upcoming season “can’t come fast enough,” Kim said.
Her first tournament is likely to be next month at a Symetra Tour event in Florida, though there’s a slim chance Kim could be bound for the Bahamas next week to play in the LPGA Tour opener.
“I’m on the waitlist,” she said.
Kim came close to avoiding such a list. She placed 29th at last month’s third and final stage of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament; the top 20 finishers earned their full LPGA cards. Kim said she was tied for 21st entering the fourth and final round – and cracked the top 20 midway through it – but then ran into trouble on the 10th hole at LPGA International golf club in Daytona Beach, Fla.
“I hit a blocked shot to the right of the green and had a bad lie in the Bermuda grass,” Kim said. “I 3-putted for double bogey, and that was a real setback. I had a couple of bad breaks on the back nine and finished the last round 3-over (par).”
Luckily for Kim, her scores in the earlier rounds – highlighted by a 3-under-par 69 the first day – kept her in the top 30 overall. But Kim couldn’t help but wonder what might have been if she wasn’t derailed by that shot on hole 10.
“I was really disappointed, but it was a good learning experience,” she said of the qualifying tournament, which concluded Dec. 4. “But I played solidly the whole week and have nothing to really complain about. I’m grateful to get partial status.”
Only players who finished 21st through 45th earned partial status; the next 25 qualified for the Symetra Tour and the other 87 will have to try again next year.
Kim’s arduous journey to acquire her LPGA Tour Card began last August in Southern California. She was among the 347 golfers who competed in Stage I of the LPGA and Symetra Tour Qualifying School at Mission Hills Country Club. Kim placed ninth – shooting 4-under-par over four rounds – to easily make the list of 92 qualifiers for Stage II.
Kim ventured to Florida for the second stage, held in October at Plantation Golf and Country Club.
“I didn’t play very well the first few rounds and was on the bubble (to make Stage III),” said Kim, who as a junior helped Stanford claim its first national title in women’s golf. “I knew I had to play decently well the last round, and I shot 1-under (par) to finish 60th or so.”
After surviving two stages she described as “stressful,” Kim finally exhaled.
“For the third stage, I was more relieved and focused on playing well,” she said.
Now that Kim has passed qualifying school, her next goal is to earn full status on the LPGA Tour next year. She said that would require placing in the top 10 on the Symetra Tour money list or in the top 100 on the LPGA money list this season.
Making the latter list is somewhat out of her control, because Kim’s partial status limits the number of tournaments she will be able to enter. But if she excels in those events, Kim should get more opportunities.
“They reshuffle (the priority list) a few times a year,” she said. “So if I play well, I’ll get bumped up.”
Kim has already secured a sponsor, Bay Area software company Workday, and hopes to land others once she gets more exposure on tour.
In the meantime, Kim is grinding on the golf course after taking a break over the holidays for a family trip to Lake Tahoe. She’s practicing six days a week.
“It’s good to be back on schedule after the time off,” Kim said.