'Today, I knew I was behind by about three strokes, so I wanted to finish strong,' said Kim, 18, an amateur from Seoul, Korea who spent most of last year at International Junior Golf Academy in Hilton Head Island, S.C.
So Kim stayed patient and birdied three of the last four holes to win the eighth annual Duramed FUTURES Tour Qualifying Tournament at Cleveland Heights Golf Course. Kim's final-round score of 68 allowed her to finish at 281 (-7), edging Paige Mackenzie of Yakima, Wash., by one stroke. Mackenzie also posted a four-under-par final round score of 68 to finish at 282 (-6), but bogeyed two of the last three holes.
'I was disappointed with how I finished,' said Mackenzie, 23, who finished solo second this week and who capped off her amateur career by anchoring the winning U.S. Curtis Cup team earlier this summer. 'I had two bad yardages that I mishandled at a bad time today. It's just disappointing to end on that note when I was in a good position.'
Playing in the final group with Kim, Mackenzie did take charge on the back nine with a string of birdies on holes 11 through 15. The former University of Washington All-American stuck her approach shots to one foot on the 13th and 14th, then drained a 25-foot downhill birdie putt on the 15th.
'Paige birdied five in a row and it made me focus,' said Kim, who won the 2005 U.S. Girls' Junior Championship and advanced into the round of 16 in this year's U.S. Women's Amateur. 'I knew I wasn't finished yet. I didn't give up.'
While Mackenzie was trying to close out the tournament, Kim was trying to focus on what she needed to do to fight back. That opportunity came when Mackenzie gassed a 'soft 9-iron' over the 16th green and didn't get up and down for par. On the par-three 17th, she missed a 10-foot birdie chance, and then on the final hole, her 48-degree wedge out of the rough landed short of the green and again, she didn't save par.
'My wedges are generally my strength, but I was disappointed down the stretch,' said Mackenzie, who hit 14 greens in regulation and used only 28 putts. 'There were a lot of birdies in this group. When [Kim] birdied 17 and 18, I knew we were close.'
Kim's performance on her closing holes was indeed timely. She rolled in a four-foot birdie on the 15th, hit her 6-iron to set up a birdie putt on the 156-yard, par-three 17th, and then drained an eight-footer for birdie on the 18th hole for the win.
'I knew I had to make that putt on 18,' said Kim, a 2003 and 2004 member of the Korean National Team and a friend of Song-Hee Kim (no relation), who won last year's Duramed FUTURES Tour Qualifying Tournament and later finished as 2006 Player of the Year.
'I know Song-Hee from Korea and I hear about her everywhere,' added Kim, who will graduate from high school in February 2007 and who, like Mackenzie, also has advanced into the final LPGA Q-School later this month, where she plans to turn pro.
Another amateur, Ji-Young Oh of Seoul, Korea, carded a 69 in the final round to tie for third with professional Marcela Leon (70) at 284 (-4). The product of the David Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Fla., posted a three-birdie, bogey-free final round.
'I am very happy,' said Oh, 18, also a member of the Korean National Team. 'My putting wasn't very good, but I hit my irons well.'
Having recently finished her fourth season as a professional on the Duramed FUTURES Tour, Leon was perhaps the happiest finisher all day with her share of third. The native of Monterrey, Mexico has spent the last two years struggling with a foot injury and confidence in her game. With a final round that included five birdies, two bogeys and a par save from 18 feet on the ninth hole, Leon called this week's event a turning point.
'I'm happy to finally see the results and hopefully this will continue next year,' said Leon, 25, who played her junior golf with LPGA Tour star Lorena Ochoa. 'I have always expected to be in the top five and now it's a good goal to go for next season.'
Former Auburn University All-American Maru Martinez of Maracaibo, Venezuela, carded a two-under-par final-round score of 70 today to move into a tie for sixth with Hanna Kang (69) of Seoul, Korea, at even-par 288 -- two shots behind fifth-place finisher Na-On Min (71) of Seoul, at 286 (-2). The 2006 Southeastern Conference (SEC) Player of the Year and five-time collegiate winner, posted three birdies and one bogey today, but could get no closer to the leaders. Now playing as a professional, Martinez struggled on the Bermuda grass greens in Thursday's third round, carding six three-putts on a day she said was 'like somebody else putting.'
'I felt good today, but I just couldn't go any lower,' said Martinez, 22, who also will play in the LPGA's Final Qualifying this month. 'I played solid and I had a chance [to win] all week. It may take some time to figure it all out, but that's why I'm here.'
Players competing in the annual 72-hole event to gain or retain playing status for the Tour's 2007 season rotated to three courses this week. The event attracted 269 contestants from 23 nations and 39 U.S. states and was held simultaneously at Cleveland Heights Golf Course, Huntington Hills Golf & Country Club and Schalamar Creek Golf Club in Lakeland. Following the player cut after 54 holes to 90 players and ties, the field returned to Cleveland Heights for today's final round.
And while the tournament's winner was more than happy to share the details of her day that included 14 greens and 12 fairways in regulation, as well as 29 putts for the round, Kim admitted there was one little concern that still warranted her attention.
'Well, my [travel] visa expired today and I'm flying back to Korea tomorrow for a week,' she said. 'But I had to play the final round.'
And Kim certainly did, finishing strong. Just as she planned.