Monday, March 24, 2014

Christina Kim

I first kept score for Christina Kim  in the 2009 J-Golf tournament at Papago.  That was the "old" Christina, famous for her attire, for hitting the ball a country mile, and being free to express her feelings.  She was fun to walk with and it was fun to watch her play.  She had been on the Solheim Cup Team in 2005, and would be again in 2009 and 2011 (some thought she should have been a Captain's pick in 2007), and was one of the top 30 players in the world.

In Fall 2010 her back was injured during a massage.  She lost 2-1/2 clubs distance and in 2011 struggled to play without her customary length.  She made only 14 of 21 cuts, had no top-10s, earned just over 1/3 as much as 2010, and fell from 26 to 58 on the money list.

2012 was even worse.  She made only 8 cuts, her best finish was a tie for 49th, her scoring average went up more than a full stroke, and she had to return to Q-school, where she qualified in category 16.  What that meant is that if the field were 156 players, and 83 or so of the ones ahead of her didn't want to play, she was in.

Christina was diagnosed with depression.  She took medications for a while, and then stopped, and (it seems to me as a non-medical professional) has found within herself the courage and strength to cope with her condition, at least partially.  Her game is better now, though not up to her previous standards.  In 2013 she finished 76th on the money list.  The top 80 earn full status on the LPGA Tour.

Christina has a blog that has not seen updates for quite a while, and is active on Twitter.  The blog includes her perspective on her illness.  She writes very well, and has authored an autobiography.  Twitter is not worthy of her writing talent.  She took some flak for saying this, but it is indicative of her wit, imagination, and verbal skills that she once described a fellow-competitor as "slower than evolution".

Christina shot 69 on Thursday, 3 under par, and worked hard to shoot 37 on the front nine Friday afternoon.  At the turn it was looking quite sure that the cut line would be -2, and she was right on it.  She 3-putted #10 for bogey, and after getting up and down for par on 11 and 12, made a birdie on 13 to get back to -2 for the tournament.

On 15 she hit her 2nd shot to the par-5 into the desert left of the green, and then hit a provisional to about 12 feet.  As we walked up to the green, the discussion was about whether or not she even wanted the first ball to be found.  Before this, I would have said that it's never an advantage to not find a ball.  If this one were found, and was unplayable, her best option may well have been to take the stroke and distance penalty, because the places to drop and get a good lie and room to swing in that area of the course were precious few, and her chances of improving on, or even duplicating, her provisional shot were not high.  Thursday, on 5, Xiyu Lin had played a ball from under a bush in the desert, and succeeded only in getting it into an unplayable lie a few feet away, and made double bogey.  Christina opted to try the par putt, and yelled to the marshals to please, stop looking for her ball.

Her back nine so far had been peppered with cries of anguish at her missed shots, which mostly missed only by a little bit (except for the 2nd at 15), but were, nonetheless, misses by pro standards.  That would continue.

She missed the par at 15, but came back with a birdie at 16 to get back to -2.  Par at 17, and then up-and-down from the fringe at 18 to make the cut on the number.

Lee Trevino was asked about the pressure of playing in the final group on Sunday.  He dismissed it, saying famously that pressure was playing a $5 Nassau with $2 in your pocket.  Christina's back nine on Friday was some of the gutsiest golf under pressure I've ever seen.  She proudly tweeted that she was 1-for-1 in cuts made this year.

Christina was in the first group out on Saturday, and shot 70-70 on the weekend, finishing T50.

I'm going to try to reach her on Twitter so she can read this, because it is to her as much as about her.  I have long admired your game, Christina, and now your writing (I wish you would continue the blog) and most of all your personal strength and courage.  The LPGA frowns on walking scorers hugging the players, so I give you a hearty virtual hug, filled with encouragement.  You rock.

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