Christina Kim’s emotions burst forth like fireworks after her final putt fell Sunday at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.
After tapping in to win on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff with Shanshan Feng, Kim couldn’t help herself. After briefly catching her breath, she began hopping giddily, like a kid on a pogo stick. The tears came pouring out of her after that, in raking sobs with her friend, Michelle Wie, racing out onto the green to hug her, and her boyfriend, Duncan French, coming out, too. French is Wie’s caddie.
There was pride for Kim knowing that Ochoa was there watching it all from a perch above the 18th green. They came up together as rookies on the Symetra Tour and rookies on the LPGA. Kim said she was “channeling her inner Lorena Ochoa” all week.
This victory, the third LPGA title of Kim’s career, was nine years in the making, some of it just plain hell.
Kim overcame daunting obstacles to hoist that trophy Sunday in Mexico City. She overcame a back injury four years ago. She overcame bouts of depression that followed the injury, dark moments so severe she confessed to Golf Digest two years ago that she fought temptations to steer her car into oncoming traffic and to throw herself over a hotel balcony. She overcame a torn tendon in her right elbow and forearm, an injury that kept her off the course for four months late last year and early this season.
Kim, 30, got herself to a better place long before hoisting that trophy Sunday, but the long, hard climb made the victory so much more rewarding.
“It’s just huge for me,” Kim said in a telephone interview with GolfChannel.com after the trophy presentation. “I’m overwhelmed.”
Kim said seeing Wie run out to greet her was emotional because they’ve shared similar pain. They were both written off as prodigies who were not going to live up to their potential. They are both broken players who put themselves back together this year.
“We’ve both been through a lot,” Kim said. “We’ve both sort of leaned on each other the last several years, and I know I wouldn’t be here without her because she wiped my blood. I would do anything for her. I would take a bullet for her, and I know she would do the same for me. It brings a lot of comfort knowing I have a friend like that out here on tour.”
Staying on script Sunday, Kim didn’t win without having to overcome some adversity. The five-shot lead she began the day with was gone with a two-shot swing at the 15th hole. That’s where Feng chipped in for birdie and Kim bogeyed.
Kim said she played with an inner peace knowing she was playing in Ochoa’s event.
“I played the whole week thinking, `What would Lorena do?’” Kim said. “I did that instead of, thinking,`What would Christina do?’ Because Christina would be bat sh-- about being in the trees. My goal all year was just to get to Lorena’s event, to be able to play in it.”
Two years ago, Kim was so off her game, she found herself back at LPGA Q-School, scrambling to win playing privileges back. A three-time Solheim Cup player, she had plummeted to 106th on the money list with those nagging injuries.
Though there were dark moments, Kim said her mother, Dianna, helped her get through them sharing stories of her own struggles trying to fit in as an immigrant to the United States after arriving from South Korea. Kim got herself to a better place learning to open up better with family and friends, “not bottling everything up,” she said. She said she also learned not to allow golf to consume her.
“I’m at peace with things more,” Kim said. “This is just a game. This is life, and things can be a lot worse.”
That perspective helped Kim not overreact to Sunday’s adversity. She won wire to wire, but Feng made her work for it. Feng came hard at Kim all day. Feng made eagle at the second hole and closed with a 6-under-par 66, the low round of the day by two shots.
Though Kim bounced right back at the 16th hole with a birdie to re-take the lead, there would be pain before joy again. With a 4-footer for par to win at the 72nd hole, Kim missed the putt, sending a groan through the gallery.
Kim and Feng both finished at 15 under overall, four shots clear of the field.
In the end, Kim won with a two-putt par after Feng pulled her drive at the second playoff hole under a tree and had to punch out, leading to a bogey.
“Winning Lorena’s event means so much to me,” Kim said. “I can’t put into words how I’m feeling. I’m riding so many emotions.”