Christina Kim’s 21st season on the LPGA Tour had no guarantees. Falling to 221st on the priority list, she failed to local qualify into this year’s first two domestic events. But the tour is in Hawaii and it’s the week before the season’s opening major, meaning several players opted to rest. So the Lotte Championship gave the 39-year-old a lifeline to potentially help revitalize her season.
Kim’s five-under 67 Friday at Hoakalei Country Club delivered her fourth made cut over her past 15 starts, as the California native sits at six-under par and in contention for the first time since 2020.
“Stuff is scary. I still want it so bad, and so the first eight holes or so yesterday I was white-knuckling it,” Kim said. “It was just amazing to be so terrified.”
In a reminder of how much her LPGA world shifted, Kim purposefully chose to not play at Hoakalei last year, a choice she had given the number of guaranteed starts she had earned. She ended up playing 19 tournaments in 2022, finished 168th on the CME points list, and failed to retain her status for this season.
“I did have to take last year off for a number of reasons,” Kim said, “Your girl was going through it.”
Kim’s fire was apparent playing alongside Mel Reid, who was mic’d up for Golf Channel Wednesday. Her loud conversations with her golf ball were caught on Golf Channel’s microphones, as she beckoned it to obey her wishes. So far this week, it has, with a chip in on No. 15 for birdie Wednesday and a hole-out from 168-yards for eagle on the sixth Thursday.
She credited part of her success to remembering a conversation with her pro-am partner EJ, who coaches kids nearby and reminded Kim that anything short never goes in. It helped her stop strangling her putter and focus during the rest of the opening round, a mentality she carried into Thursday.
“Today was just the same thing: Just ride it and enjoy the ride,” Kim said. “Just keep doing what you’re doing. I’ve been doing this for so damn long, and I love the fact that it still terrifies me.”
Changes away from the course also allowed Kim the space to be herself as a person. After 19 years, Kim moved from Orlando to Gainesville over the offseason and joined Golden Ocala Country Club.
“When I’m home it’s sometimes hard to feel like I’m being seen as Christina Kim the human being,” she said. “It’s always Christina Kim the golfer, especially being in Orlando.”
While practicing her short game there is important, it’s secondary to spending time with close friend and Epson Tour member Destiny Lawson, going out to a pirate bar called Mutiny, exploring a newfound love of whiskey and rocking Doc Martens boots.
Now, fighting for an LPGA career that is old enough to drink, Kim’s focus on enjoyment away from the course is paying off on it. Even being the player with the second most experience in the field behind Cristie Kerr—who started her LPGA career in 1997—Kim shows youthful exuberance on the course. She has the founder of Oahu Golf Apparel, Tim Hazelgrove, who rocks an eight-inch mohawk, on the bag. They laugh together often.
Instead of thinking of the opportunities a strong finish can provide for her future, Kim is playing a round at a time, amped for the opportunity to play.
“At the end of the day, I mean, got 18 tee boxes, 18 greens, give me a tee time,” she said, “let’s go.”