Ricoh Women’s British Open: Kim’s Redemption
Posted by: mike August 8th, 2017
By Jeff Shain
Heartbreaking defeat can often be a touchy subject, but I.K. Kim had spent plenty of time making peace with her 14-inch torment.
What baffles her is encountering others still shaken by that long-ago missed putt at Mission Hills.
“In interviews it is OK,” the newly crowned Women’s British Open champion said Sunday. “But sometimes strangers cry in front of me about it. I don't know how to react to that.”
Hey, who would? Talk about awkward fan encounters.
On the bright side, be glad Kim’s name doesn’t rhyme with some synonym for calamity. Like, say, choke.
Maybe it would have been different, of course, had Scott Hoch captured a major championship after his 1989 Masters misfortune. That 2-foot miss would have been bumped down into supporting status, the setup to eventual triumph.
Didn’t happen, though. Ditto for Doug Sanders and that 3-footer that would have won the 1970 Open Championship.
Kim, though, authored the reversal of fortune that eluded the others. Even though her six-shot lead to begin the final round at Kingsbarns was whittled to two, a back nine of nothing but pars was enough to finally crown her a major champion.
“All anyone ever talks about is the one she lost,” said NBC/Golf Channel analyst and LPGA Hall of Famer Judy Rankin. “She now can give people something to talk about (in) the one she won.”
It might be hard to find a more heartwarming victory this year. The introspective Kim, who fine-tuned her game for two years on Hilton Head Island as a teen before turning pro, is well-liked among her peers. After a 2010 victory in Mexico, she gave away the entire week’s winnings – half to Lorena Ochoa’s fledgling school and the rest to Special Olympics.
And, of course, there was the classy way she handled the ache coming from the 2012 Kraft Nabisco Championship.
“Everybody who knows her couldn’t be happier for this young lady,” said NBC/Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz. “Nobody could have handled what she went through with more dignity than I.K. Kim.”
In the spectrum of golf’s most cringeworthy, avert-your-eyes moments – of which there are plenty – Kim’s 14-inch miss might be the one that evokes the quickest shudders.
Seeing her putt take a hard horseshoe back at her feet, Kim cupped a hand over her mouth as she looked back over her left shoulder, almost as if something had spooked her.
Maybe that look of shock is what makes it so indelible. Hoch and Sanders, by contrast, kept moving – Sanders stomped away chiding himself; Hoch gave his putter a flip.
Kim never got over the shock that day. Sun Young Yoo won on the first playoff hole.
“I really kind of criticized myself a lot,” Kim said. “And it’s not very healthy.
“I started to work on myself, not only on the golf course, but off the golf course. Just to be nice to myself and able to have some kind of compassion and gentleness with myself.”
One year later, Kim playfully indulged Golf Channel in a short bit about all the ways one can make short putts – one-handed, between the legs, leg wrapped around the putter. She bumped a wedge that sent the ball into the hole. She used her driver as a broomhandle putter, draining that one as well.
“When you see somebody have adversity and never complain and handle it beautifully,” Rankin said, “you gain an awful lot of respect.”
Over time, Kim wound up on a journey of self-discovery. Once a piano student before devoting herself full time to golf, she tapped into music as an outlet. She stepped up her involvement in Special Olympics. More than anything, she learned to be nice to herself.
“I think we judge ourselves a lot. Everybody does,” she said. “But for our own selves, I think sometimes you’ve got to have some self-compassion. We can make mistakes, but I hope that mistake will make a more positive impact in life.”
Nonetheless, it took four years for Kim to taste victory again, coming last fall in China. Then her offseason was derailed by a fall that bruised her back, not returning to full fitness until winning at Atlantic City in June.
Right now Kim might be the best player on a crowded LPGA stage. She’s the only one to record three wins thus far in 2017, all in the past two months. After entering May at No.32 in the world rankings, she’s up to ninth.
Since missing the U.S. Women’s Open cut, Kim has posted eight of 12 rounds in the 60s, including a 63 and two 65s. That’s despite the fickle Scottish weather of the past two events.
More than anything, she’s finally a major champion.
“Missing a putt is not the worst thing that could happen in life,” she said. “When I make a 3-footer, I’m quite rewarded now. I don’t take it for granted, either. When I make a 3-footer, I’m really excited about making the putt.”
And hopefully, any tears she encounters from strangers now will be those of delight.
Jeff Shain is a former Orlando Sentinel golf writer, part of nearly two decades covering the sport that includes other stops at The Miami Herald and The Island Packet in South Carolina. He's also a digital contributor to PGATour.com and Pro Golf Weekly, and co-hosts the Prime Sports Golf podcast at PrimeSportsNetwork.com.