GLEN COVE, N.Y. – Wednesday’s Round-of-64 match at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship between August Kim and Alison Lee had a David-vs.-Goliath undertone.
Lee is No. 3 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ while Kim is 756th. But Kim was ready to test herself, ready to see where her game is and where she needs to improve.
Lee eventually prevailed, 3 and 2, after Kim previously rallied from a 3-down deficit to square the match after 12 holes. Lee, a member of the victorious 2014 USA Curtis Cup Team, rolled in two birdies in winning Nos. 13-15 to close out the match.
Despite the defeat, Kim saw this championship as another building block for her collegiate career.
“I knew today would be a challenge because Alison is a great player,” said Kim, 19. “I also knew I had nothing to lose in this match.”
Kim grew up 15 minutes from Nassau Country Club, in Searingtown, N.Y., and outside of a two-year stint in Phoenix, she spent sixth grade to her junior year of high school on Long Island. She learned to play golf with her dad while the family was in Arizona.
When they moved back to Long Island, Kim and her father played regularly on the Red Course at Bethpage State Park. She broke 80 for the first time there at age 13, beating her dad.
A few years later, her father moved his business – Vulcan Renewables, a plant that uses recycled wood waste to create fuel for power generation – to St. Augustine, Fla. The move south allowed him to access 700 acres of land for his business and also provided a year-round place for his daughter to work on her game.
Kim posted two junior victories in 2012, which helped earn her a golf scholarship to Purdue University. She also posted a 4.5 grade-point average in advanced-placement classes at Nease High School in St. Augustine, so it wasn’t a reach when Kim declared her major in biochemistry as a freshman last year.
Kim is not your average amateur golfer. A gifted cello player, she likely was the only teen in the field this week that warmed up to the symphonic strains of the London Philharmonic Orchestra on her iPod.
And she’s likely the only competitor who can’t wait for college classes to restart this fall to begin her undergraduate position as a cardiovascular diseases research assistant. A dean’s-list student, the sophomore is eager to see what the new year brings.
Kim brought that same sense of eagerness into Wednesday’s match against Lee, saying she was ready to gain more match-play experience. Her first taste of match play came in June at the Women’s Western Amateur, where she advanced to the quarterfinals.
“I like how match play is a one-on-one battle, hole by hole, to see who’s mentally better,” said Kim, who received two birdie concessions from Lee for shots within 2 feet of the hole.
Kim faced her own challenges last year as a freshman in a top-level program that won the 2010 NCAA Championship. She had undergone swing changes last summer and was struggling to find her consistency by the time school started in the fall.
Even with a winning history, Purdue had lost four of its top five players, and Kim felt her game wasn’t quite ready to help lead the team.
“It was definitely a growing year,” she said. “I wished I could have played better.”
But rather than sulk over a lackluster college debut, Kim focused on what she could do to improve this summer. She not only advanced into the quarterfinals of the Women’s Western, but she posted a wire-to-wire win at last week’s Women’s Trans-Amateur Championship in Elgin, S.C.
“That was a steady experience and it showed me how much course management and the mental part of golf come into play,” said Kim.
Qualifying for her first U.S. Women’s Amateur last month in Georgia also built confidence. She survived a two-hole playoff among five players to earn a spot in the championship.
Those accomplishments didn’t go unnoticed by her coach at Purdue, who will add two top international freshmen to the program this fall.
“August has worked her fanny off this summer to improve and her confidence has grown because of the hard work,” said Purdue coach Devon Brouse. “To see her improvement, I think she will play a big part in getting our team back on track this fall.”
Kim admits she wants to see how far she can take her game. She plans to complete her degree and hopes to someday explore the medical field, perhaps after playing professionally.
But first things first. Her younger sister, Auston, 13, is playing in an AJGA tournament this week a few miles down the Long Island Expressway in Smithtown, N.Y.
Kim also hopes to visit old friends from Long Island and enjoy the region’s pizza and bagels before heading to Florida for two weeks with her family. She’ll then pack and return to West Lafayette, Ind., to begin the fall semester.
“She’s really, really got it going in the right direction at the right time for our program,” said Brouse.
And just like her beloved Bach cello concertos, if Kim plays the way she thinks she can play as a sophomore, it will be music to her ears.
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.