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Dylan Kim: My road to the tour has been anything but smooth

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(Editor's note: This is a first-person article written by Symetra Tour player Dylan Kim. It originally appeared on LPGA.com.)

No one’s life is a straight line to success. Just like a round of golf, there are unpredictable ebbs and flows, ups and downs, challenges to be met and overcome, and elements that test your patience and resilience. And just like golf, when those challenges arise, you can’t get too far ahead of yourself. You have to put your head down, do the work, trust the process, remain positive and commit to your plan.  

Everyone learns this at some point. I am blessed to have learned it as a teenager.  

After a solid junior golf career, I signed with Baylor University. I started college a semester early, in what would have been the spring of my senior year of high school, because I wanted to play with and learn from a tremendous Baylor senior and three-time All-American named Hayley Davis. 

What I didn’t expect was to have a breakout semester, playing some of the best events of my life. I tied for fourth individually at the 2015 NCAA Championship, and our team finished runner up to Stanford. In fact, Hayley was in the final match with Mariah Stackhouse, the one that gets replayed every year when Golf Channel airs the NCAAs. 

Unfortunately for Hayley, the match didn’t go her way. I felt for her in that moment and we were all disappointed about losing, but I took so many positives away from that experience that I felt certain we would be back. That summer, I qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open and played well in several amateur events. I expected my personal trajectory to keep moving upward. After all, why wouldn’t it? 

Going into that fall, we had a coaching change at Baylor, which was a little bit of a transition. But that was part of life. I came back to school with a lot of expectations. Then during workouts one afternoon early in the season, we were doing prowler sled pushes and I felt something slip in my left hip. That is the word I always use because it was a weird sensation, kind of a bone-on-bone feeling that left me in quite a bit of pain. 


Hip surgery keeps Baylor's Kim out of action

Hip surgery keeps Baylor's Kim out of action

I told my coaches that it hurt, so they sent me to the trainer. I was limping badly for a few days until the coaching staff finally said it was time to get an x-ray. That x-ray showed a large, calcified mass in my hip joint. I knew nothing about radiology, but I knew that the large white blob in my hip joint wasn’t supposed to be there. An MRI revealed a calcified mass, which ended up being a benign tumor.  

My mom was a little freaked out. The doctor said the word “tumor” and she immediately thought, of “cancer.” But I was more worried about what it meant for my season. I was wondering what rehab would entail and how long the process would take, so my first questions were, “What do we do?” and “How do I get back?” 

The doctors told me that this was not a minor thing. The tumor wasn’t cancerous, but the surgery was major. They had to dislocate my hip, cut the hip bone, take out the tumor and replace the bone with two titanium screws. The rehab was going to be long and there were no guarantees that my golf game would come back. My hip might not move the way it had before. My golf game might not come back. I should certainly be able to walk again but turning into my hip during my golf swing was no guarantee. 

Again, I refused to believe the negative. The process would be long, but I looked at it like learning a new skill – one step at a time, each day building on the next. I couldn’t put any weight on my hip for six weeks. I started in a wheelchair, then moved to a walker and then to crutches. After that, I had to overcome atrophy and learn to walk again. 

My first feeling was surprise. I didn’t realize that something I hurt in a workout would become so big. Then I tried to downplay everything. I didn’t want to be overly dramatic about it. Rehab was lonely. I wasn’t practicing or working out with my teammates. But I was always adamant that everything was going to be fine, and I was going to play golf again. 

Obviously, this threw a wrench in all the good golf I had been playing. I slowly got back to putting and chipping. I hit my first golf shot seven months after my surgery. And the first big event I played was the U.S. Women’s Amateur late in the summer, which was weird because I hadn’t walked that many rounds – fewer than 10 – prior to qualifying for that amateur championship. It was definitely a physical and mental challenge. 

There were times when I felt down, when I thought, this sucks.  To have this happen to me at a time when I was carving a path toward my ultimate goal of playing professional golf? I felt as though my momentum had been stopped, my trajectory had been altered. I felt stuck. It was tough. But I had to dig myself out of that kind of thinking. Everybody has trials. This was mine. I believed that if I told myself I was going to make it back, then it would become reality.  

I played one more year at Baylor and decided to transfer to the University of Arkansas. That’s when I saw my results start to come back. I needed a fresh start, physically and emotionally. Arkansas and coach Shauna Taylor gave that to me. I had some amazing teammates, including current LPGA tour players Maria Fassi and Alana Uriell, as well as wonderful facilities. It was a new beginning.  

Now, I’m excited for another fresh start as a professional on the Symetra Tour. This has been my dream since I was a kid. I overcame the surgery and all the struggles so that I could be here. 

I don’t expect this season to be a breeze. It will be difficult. I had a lot of conversations with friends who have told me about the challenges of tour life. I’m as prepared for those struggles as I can be. But I’m also expecting it to be a lot of fun. 

This Symetra Tour season will be an uphill battle. I know that. But I am accustomed to those. My road has been anything but smooth and straight. Hopefully this season leads to gaining my LPGA Tour card. No matter the obstacles I face, I’m determined to stay focused on that goal.