Kim overcome with emotion after win

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2014, 12:59 am

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.

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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 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.”

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”