It’s been nearly a year since Lauren Kim contemplated giving up golf – at least professionally.
The Los Altos native had finished her round at a tournament in Sioux Falls, S.D., when she got the call every competitive golfer dreads: She had been disqualified.
“It was a traumatizing experience,” Kim said. “I had never been DQ-ed from an event before. It was a mental lapse, I wrote down the wrong score, and I was in tears after the call. It showed that I was not focused.”
That call from a tournament official punctuated a rough rookie season for Kim, who primarily played on the developmental Symetra Tour. After a stellar career at Stanford University, Kim was struggling as a pro and falling out of love with the game she took up at 9 years old.
“I was so close to quitting golf altogether,” said the 2012 graduate of Los Altos High. “I was not playing my best, and I questioned whether I wanted to continue. In my mind, I had lost the reason why I played golf in the first place.”
Nearly 11 months later, Kim is in a much better place – professionally and personally. To put it in golf terms, she’s gone from the sand trap to the green. Kim won the first Symetra Tour event of the season and was promoted to the LPGA Tour a month later.
But none of this would have happened if things hadn’t gone south in South Dakota at last summer’s GreatLIFE Challenge, according to Kim.
“I was so unhappy at the time, but it was a blessing,” she said. “I was forced to think about my situation, and I re-evaluated everything. I couldn’t give up – I was determined to find ways to get better.”
Kim did much of that in the offseason when she returned to Los Altos. She described those two months as “a time to rest and work, and make changes to improve my game.” Kim also sought advice from Anne Walker, her coach at Stanford, and former LPGA star Juli Inkster, a hall of famer who lives in town.
After going through LPGA Tour Qualifying School last fall and earning a partial tour card again, Kim attacked this season with renewed vigor.
“I came in mentally refreshed,” she said. “This year has been more of a mental reflection, and I’ve realized why I love the game.”
Opening the season with her first pro win – thanks to a strong finish at the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic March 18 in Winter Haven, Fla. – “was really important,” Kim said.
After making the cut at LPGA events in Hawaii (31st place) and Dallas (57th), Kim improved her tour-card status.
“Then I played well in the next stretch, and that got me full (LPGA Tour) status,” she said.
Kim’s highest finish came at last month’s ShopRite LPGA Classic in New Jersey, where she tied for 17th to earn $19,002.
Last weekend, Kim’s final-round rally catapulted her to 47th place at the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic in Wisconsin. Kim collected $6,862 and has now made nearly $58,000 on the LPGA Tour this year.
“It’s been a good year so far,” she said. “I’ve kept my expectations low, and I think that’s really helped, and I’m not putting pressure on myself on every shot.”
Kim is in Ohio this week for the Marathon Classic, which caps a marathon six-week road trip for the Stanford grad.
“It’s my longest stretch ever,” Kim said. “It’s tough to be on the road for so long. Flying, driving and playing takes a toll on the body. I spend a lot of time in the (physiotherapy) trailer.”
Kim arranges her own travel – flights, rental cars and hotels – and doesn’t have an agent to help her secure sponsors and endorsements.
“It’s kind of crazy sometimes,” Kim said of tour life, “but you get the hang of it.”
As Kim has shown on and off the course over the last year, she’s resilient.