Christina Kim’s victory at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational might not be the biggest story of the LPGA’s blockbuster season, but in my book, it’s certainly the best one, not to mention the most feel-good (tissue, anyone?). It’s also definitely a fan favorite, as Kim wins hearts and minds everywhere she goes, whether it be an exchange on Twitter or an encounter at a tournament — she’s one of the most popular figures in women’s golf.
After overcoming a nine-year victory drought and a slump a couple of years ago that coincided with her battle with depression, Kim is once again a winner on the LPGA Tour. Heading into the final round with a five-shot lead, she posted a respectable one-under 71, but it wasn’t enough for the outright win.
Shanshan (Jenny) Feng tied Kim by chipping in for birdie on the 15th. Kim responded with a birdie of her own on 16. Feng birdied the par-5 17th and Kim drained a clutch four-footer to also card a birdie, which gave her a one-shot lead heading into the 72nd hole. However, Kim missed the 18th green in regulation and failed to get up-and-down, sending the tournament into a playoff.
“Many expletives,” said Kim when asked what was going through her mind at that point. “I had a very short putt on the last hole of regulation to win the tournament outright. These greens here at the Golf Club de Mexico – they’re so incredibly difficult, but I just had a little bit of a – my brain just didn’t work right there.
“But it was something that I’ve been looking forward to for a very long time. I was just honored to be a part of playoffs. It’s been a very long time coming. So I said as long as you just give yourself a chance, keep the ball in front of you, just try your hardest, and there’s nothing more you can do.”
Between the end of regulation and the start of the playoff, Kim took a few minutes to collect herself.
“All the last four days I was thinking, ‘What would Lorena do?’ said Kim. “She would gather herself. She would know that she has the ability to make more birdies and just play her best. And whatever happens, happens.”
Both parred the par-4 18th in the first extra hole, which included Kim rolling in another clutch four-footer to force it back to the 18th tee once again. Kim safely found the fairway off the tee, while Feng pulled her drive and ended up in tree trouble, forcing her to punch out backwards. Kim’s approach shot landed about pin-high 20 feet from the hole. Feng’s third stopped just outside Kim’s near the fringe and she missed the outside chance for par when her putt burned the edge. Now, Kim only needed two putts to end it and secure her third-career victory on the LPGA. She rolled her birdie putt to tap-in distance and easily made par for the win.
The 30-year-old American turned to the crowd and celebrated with several vivacious fist-pumps and hip-thrusts. She was embraced by her boyfriend Duncan French, who caddies for Michelle Wie, and then by Wie herself — both girls had tears of joy streaming down their faces.
“I can’t put into words how I’m feeling right now,” said Kim in her post-round presser. “I’m still riding so many emotions. It feels surreal. I can’t explain. I’m so overwhelmed right now. I’m so proud and honored to be a champion for such an incredible tournament.”
It had been a long time coming for Kim, whose last victory on the LPGA was over nine years ago at the 2005 Mitchell Company Tournament of Champions. Kim also won the 2004 Longs Drugs Challenge.
In an emotional post-win interview with Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz, Kim was asked about the demons she battled just a couple of years ago. She said that a bit of advice her mother gave her has helped carry her through those tough times — “No matter how dark the nights are, the sun will always rise in the morning.”
Kim also said she tried to channel “her inner Lorena (Ochoa)” all week and hopes “she did her proud.” I’d say, without a doubt, she achieved that goal.
With her winning check of $200,000, Kim jumps to 26th on the LPGA money list, with $555,658 in earnings this season.
Kim calls the present her “second act.” Perhaps the floodgates will now open and this will be the first of many victories in this new era.
Many congrats to Christina Kim, one of the most gracious, generous, and big-hearted people that I’m honored to call a friend.