ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – The gasps echoed beyond Mission Hills and through golf’s history of tortured finishes.
If you were there five years ago, you can still almost hear them.
If you were there, you can still see In-Kyung Kim covering her mouth in stunned disbelief after missing that 14-inch putt that would have won her the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
It was more painful to watch than Scott Hoch’s short miss when he lost the Masters to Nick Faldo in 1989, shorter than Doug Sanders’ miss when he lost the British Open to Jack Nicklaus in ’70 and shorter than Sam Snead’s miss that would have won his first and only U.S. Open in ’47.
It was the shortest miss that would have won a major in the history of the game.
You knew the failure would follow her everywhere she went, making any future journey at a second chance to win a major so much harder.
But now here she is.
And, wow, is she making this Ricoh Women’s British Open look easy.
With a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, Kim shot to the top of the leaderboard at Kingsbarns Golf Links. At 17-under 199, she set the record for lowest score through 54 holes of this championship since it became a major in 2001. She’s six shots ahead of England’s Georgia Hall (70) and Thailand’s Moriya Jutanugarn (67). She’s just two shots from equaling Karen Stupples’ 19-under record as a Women’s British Open champion.
After Saturday’s round, Kim didn’t dance around the shadow that follows her. She didn’t deny the scar. She talked about how she had to learn to stop beating herself up over it in order to move on with her golf life.
There was elegance in the way she explained it.
“I think I'm finally able to let go of that, like the title, not having won a major,” Kim said. “I think that's why that I'm playing so well.
“I think I was quite disappointed at myself after 2012, when I made the mistake. Everybody makes mistakes, but I think it was nobody else's problem. It was my problem. I really criticized myself a lot, and it's not very healthy. So if you have any problems, just let it go.”
Kim said she got a lot of help from coaches who confront demons like that, from Vision54s Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott, from former Olympic gold medalist sharp shooter Lanny Bassham and from NASA specialist Mathew Park.
“All I have to say, it's been quite tough, but I started to work on myself, not only on the golf course, but off the golf course,” Kim said. “Just be nice to myself, and able to have some kind of compassion and gentleness with myself. I think it's really helping me to play better.”
Kim lost that 2012 Kraft Nabisco in a playoff to Sung Young Yoo after missing the 14-inch putt that would have won her first major. She slowly slipped from No. 5 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings to a low of No. 76 late last summer, but she never completely lost her game. She just seemed to lose the edge that got her in contention so often.
Through these last 10 months, Kim has never looked better. She won the Reignwood Classic last fall, her first victory since the Kraft Nabisco loss. And she has won twice this season, giving her six career LPGA titles. She has climbed to No. 21 in the world now.
Kim, 29, says she meditates and has more peace of mind in dealing with the cruelties of this game. She says she has learned to enjoy the game again.
“If I love myself, I will let it go,” she said of the disappointments. “I will live today as fully as I could. Because, some things happen, and it's not in my control, but I can control my state of mind right now. I can be positive now, and that's what I'm doing. Just one day at a time.”
If she closes out Sunday, Kim will script a nice tale of resolve and resilience.
No matter what happens, though, she’s ready to accept it.
“I know the expectation, and I will make bogeys, yeah, and things like that,” Kim said. “But I feel like I think I should give myself a little bit of credit, and enjoy tonight, and then whatever happens tomorrow, I'll take it tomorrow.”