Christina Kim’s long, hard climb is taking her closer to a special place.
With a 4-under-par 68 Saturday in Mexico City, she moved into position to claim her third LPGA title, her first in nine long years, the last few filled with the challenges of physical and emotional pain.
With a hot putter, Kim didn’t just hold off a stellar cast of challengers in the third round as she seeks to claim a wire-to-wire victory at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, she also pulled away from them. At 14-under 202, Kim is five shots ahead of Shanshan Feng (68) and six ahead of Azahara Munoz (71), So Yeon Ryu (69) and Pornanong Phatlum (71). Kim built on her one-shot lead through two rounds to secure the largest 54-hole lead on tour this season.
Kim, who played with Ochoa in her rookie years on the Symetra and LPGA tours, says she loves playing in Mexico in front of Ochoa this week.
“I've been really, thoroughly enjoying myself,” Kim said. “This is honestly one of my favorite countries on Earth. Between the tequila and the tacos and the guacamole, and just the wonderful mindset that the people have - they have such a lovely lifestyle – it’s just something that I really embrace.”
Kim, 30, made a name for herself as one of the most colorful players on tour, a vibrant personality quick to joke with fellow players and fans, but she confessed in a Golf Digest story two years ago that she was battling depression while struggling through a back injury that zapped her of strength and power. She told the magazine that she even battled thoughts of suicide but says she’s in a better place today. Physically, she’s in a better place, too. She missed four months late last year and early this year recovering from a torn tendon in her right elbow and forearm.
Kim says she learned a lot in her struggles.
“I've come to realize that it's just a game, and that golf is what I do, not who I am,” Kim said. “I just turned 30 in March. I know it was like eight months ago, but life has just begun. So, for me, this is like my second act, and I really feel excited for what's in store for me, and being able to see the future of the game, and the kids outside the ropes, not to mention the kids that are inside the ropes, like Lydia Ko. It's just something that I would love to be a part of for the rest of my life.”
Kim is prevailing this week in what must feel like an endurance test for her. She’s playing for the seventh consecutive week after playing the entire fall Asian swing. She’s in her sixth country in those seven weeks. She says she played pretty well on Sundays in Asia and has been tricking herself this week into thinking every day is Sunday. If she keeps her strong “Sundays” going, she'll be awfully tough to beat.