No matter how the rest of her LPGA season plays out, pro golfer Lauren Kim will always have the U.S. Women’s Open. The Los Altos native competed in the tour’s most prestigious event two weeks ago at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in North Carolina.
“It was a real positive, even though the season has not gone as well as I hoped,” she said. “It’s a special tournament that everyone wants to qualify for and win every year.”
Although she didn’t make the cut – only 70 of the 156 qualifiers did – Kim won’t soon forget her two rounds at Pine Needles.
“It’s perfect and immaculate,” she said of the course, which she compared to nearby Pinehurst. “They really know how to host a tournament.”
Making the Open for the first time in her six years as a pro, Kim shot rounds of 70 and 79, leaving her 7-over-par June 3.
“My first round was pretty solid; it was better than I had played all season,” she said. “My second round was not great. I should have slowed down – that probably contributed to my higher score.”
On the first day – playing in front of a large crowd that included family members – Kim twice drained difficult putts she ranked as her best shots of the tournament. On the fifth hole, she sank a 30-foot putt for birdie that dropped her score to 1-under-par.
“My mom caught it on camera,” Kim said. “It was really fun to make a putt like that.”
Then on the 14th, she got out of a tricky situation by making a nearly 12-foot putt that kept her scorecard at even.
“It was a left-to-right, up-the-hill putt for par,” Kim said. “It was one of those fist-pump moments.”
There were fewer of those the second round, however, and Kim found herself on the outside looking in by the end of the day. The graduate of Los Altos High and Stanford University has missed the cut at all seven tournaments she has entered this year.
“It’s been a rough season,” she said. “I’m not sure what’s causing it. I’m just trying to take as many positives as I can from it.”
Positives such as the Open, which Kim qualified for in dramatic fashion almost a month earlier at Morris County Golf Club in New Jersey. Playing 36 holes in one day – and overcoming strong winds and bumpy greens along the way – she made some big shots down the stretch to finish with a 1-over-par 145. Kim birdied her 34th hole, parred the 35th and also shot even on the 36th by making an approximately 10-foot putt.
“My caddy and I looked at each other, and he said, ‘You needed that putt to qualify,’” Kim said. “I felt a wave of relief.”
Perhaps a clutch performance like that – along with her first round at the Open – will lead to a better second half of the season for Kim. But whatever happens, the 27-year-old will always relish her time at Pine Needles.
“I enjoyed competing on that stage – everything is just heightened,” she said. “I failed the test, but it was a great experience. I hope to qualify for it again.”