Christina Kim is channeling her inner Lorena Ochoa this week.
That’s never a bad game plan, especially when you’re playing the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.
With a 7-under-par 65 Thursday, Kim is the first-round leader in Mexico City, a shot ahead of Azahara Munoz and three ahead of Lydia Ko.
Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park opened with a 70. No. 2 Stacy Lewis, who arrived in Mexico feeling ill after the long trip from the event in Japan last week, struggled to a 76.
Kim said she is inspired this week by memories of Ochoa, a player she knows well with their roots so interwoven as fledgling pros. They were rookies together when they joined the LPGA. They were also rookies together on the Symetra Tour, where Ochoa beat out Kim for that tour’s Player of the Year award.
“I tried to emulate her today by having a sense of peace,” Kim said.
Ochoa, host of this championship, was at Club de Golf Mexico Thursday, watching the action. She won 27 LPGA events with a gracefulness of swing and spirit before retiring to start a family four years ago while still holding the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.
“I’ve personally gotten a lot of inspiration from being fortunate enough to play in the same era that Lorena played in,” Kim said.
Munoz has a million reasons to step up pursuit of Kim on Friday. Munoz is 10th in the Race to the CME Globe points standings. The top nine going to next week’s CME Group Tour Championship will have a shot at the $1 million jackpot at the conclusion to the season-long points race. Munoz needs to finish T-4 or better this week to crack the top nine.
For Kim, the Lorena Ochoa Invitational may end up being an endurance test. She is playing for the seventh consecutive week, having competed in all six events in the LPGA’s fall Asian swing. Mexico is the sixth country she has visited in that seven-week odyssey.
“It’s a really, really special event,” Kim said. “More than anything, I’m just thrilled to be here.”
Kim, who turned 30 earlier this season, is seeking her third LPGA title, her first since 2005. She’s making her way back from some tough detours in her career. She stumbled to 106th on the LPGA money list two seasons ago, forcing a return to Q-School. She has been open about struggles with depression in her recent past, and there have been injuries, too. She’s coming back this year from a torn tendon in her right elbow and forearm, an injury that plagued her most of the last three seasons and finally sidelined her for four months through late last year and early this year.
Thursday’s hot start gives Kim her first lead in an LPGA event since 2009, when she shared the second-round lead at the Kraft Nabisco.