U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
2000 U.S. Girls' Junior Finalist Kim Rediscovering Passion for Game August 7, 2017 | Chula Vista, Calif. By David Shefter, USGA

After an 11-year hiatus, 2000 U.S. Girls' Junior runner-up Ina Kim has rekindled her love for competitive golf. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

U.S. Women's Amateur Home

Ina Kim glanced at the assembled field in this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at San Diego Country Club and wondered if she’d been sent back to the future.

As she prepared for her first USGA championship in 16 years, Kim couldn’t help but have flashbacks. Watching young and talented golfers with idyllic swings and fearless attitudes brought a smile to her face.

Two decades ago, Kim, who turns 34 next month, was walking in their shoes. She was the hotshot with a national ranking, coveted by some of the best college programs. In four U.S. Girls’ Junior starts, she finished as the runner-up (2000 at Pumpkin Ridge), reached the quarterfinals (1998 at Merion Golf Club), and lost in the Round of 32 to eventual runner-up Nancy Abiecunas (1999 at Green Spring Valley Hunt Club).

In 2002, she enjoyed more success in Oregon by advancing to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links at Sunriver Resort, losing to eventual champion Annie Thurman, 2 and 1. 

Kim's 2000 run was so long ago that the Los Angeles native admittedly has forgotten some of the opponents she vanquished en route to that final. One of those 2000 foes, 2016 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur runner-up Shannon Johnson, was defeated in the Round of 32 (5 and 4). Another victory came against the defending champion and the country’s top junior, Aree (Song) Wongluekiet, in the Round of 16.

Time and a successful business career have a tendency to fade memories.

Kim, however, didn’t take the same path many from her generation and beyond have followed. Even as her game blossomed during a highly successful junior and college career, Kim dreamed of dominating the board room instead of the LPGA Tour.

While virtually every top Division I women’s program coveted her, Kim chose Northwestern over perennial powerhouses Stanford, Texas, Duke and UCLA, not only for its challenging academic program, but because her older sister Hana had enrolled there a year earlier. The thought of playing together intrigued the younger Kim, and she remained in the program even after Hana transferred to UCLA following her sophomore season. After graduating in 2004, Hana qualified for the LPGA Tour in her first attempt, but eventually her professional golf career was cut short by injuries, notably an ACL tear.

Ina’s goals were completely different.

“This might sound stupid, but I always wanted to wear a business suit and put on beautiful high heels, and walk into meetings,” she said. “I always had that vision in my head. That’s what I strived for.”

Mid-Amateurs in the 117th U.S. Women's Amateur Championship
Name Age Hometown How They Qualified
Lauren Greenlief 26 Oakton, Va. 2015 U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur champion
Shannon Johnson 34 Norton, Mass. 2016 U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur runner-up
Ina Kim 33 New York, N.Y. 75 in Monroe Township, N.J., sectional qualifier
Meghan Stasi 39 Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 73 in Lawrence, Kan., sectional qualifier

So after graduating in 2005, Kim stored the clubs away and set out on what would become an 11-year journey that took her to four major U.S. cities and two foreign countries. She went from Chicago to Los Angeles to San Francisco and then across the Atlantic Ocean to London.

While working for BlackRock Financial in London for 5½ years, she met her fiancé, Ian Schaad, and was reunited with her sister when Hana enrolled in the London Business School. Hana has since regained her amateur status and become successful in the tech world. Ina, meanwhile was recruited by Jefferies, another financial firm, and relocated to Hong Kong, where she managed to maintain a long-distance relationship with Schaad, who had since moved back to New York, where Ina would eventually be transferred.

It was Schaad, a 2 handicap golfer himself, who rekindled Kim’s love affair with golf after an 11-year hiatus, so much so that Kim left her lucrative position at Jefferies in May 2016 to essentially play amateur golf full time.

She had come full circle from her junior golf days.

Schaad, who is caddieing for Kim this week, also introduced her to Georgia-based instructor Jeff Paton. Paton’s clients include current PGA Tour pros Chesson Hadley and Roberto Castro, along with up-and-coming Web.com Tour player Anders Albertson.

“Golf had that constant pull for me,” said Kim, who has set a January wedding date in Carmel, Calif., where the couple is planning several rounds on some of the country’s iconic courses. “Ultimately, like most A-type personalities, if I am going to do something, I want to do it well.”

Paton immediately saw the natural gifts that had made Kim a highly sought-after recruit. The rust came off the full shots quicker than the finesse ones. Short game, especially putting, remains a work in progress. But shortly after returning to competitive golf, Kim won the 2016 Women’s Metropolitan Golf Association Amateur and was the runner-up to Meghan Stasi in the 2017 Florida State Golf Association Women’s Mid-Amateur, losing in a sudden-death playoff that lasted two holes.

Stasi, a four-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion, and Kim, coincidentally, are the only two mid-amateurs in the U.S. Women’s Amateur field to have successfully navigated sectional qualifying. The other two – Johnson and 2015 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Lauren Greenlief – are exempt.

“She works as hard, or harder, than any tour player that I’ve worked with,” said Paton, who has been teaching the game for nearly 30 years. “Her work ethic is amazing. She’s in great physical condition [and] has a great diet regimen. She has the conditioning of a 22-year-old, and for that reason, she can catch up pretty quickly.”

Ina Kim rekindled her passion for golf through her fiance, Ian Schaad (right), who is serving as her caddie this week. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

Putting might be the only thing holding Kim back, Paton said. He wants Kim to have a clearer mind on the greens, and if that can happen, he sees no reason why she can’t qualify for match play, where he knows Kim could be a tough out.

“When you are a good junior [player], there’s no fear,” said Paton. “You don’t fear a 40-footer, downhill-breaking putt. You don’t fear a 3- or 4-footer either. But as an adult, you figure out there are consequences to missing them. She’s got to get that fearless junior attitude again with the putter.”

Added Kim: “Match play is very forgiving with the inconsistencies I have with my game.”

Seventeen years ago, Kim certainly proved to be an exceptional match-play competitor.

That year, both Ina and Hana, who turns 35 this month, qualified for the U.S. Girls’ Junior, one of three sister combos that week. The highly-decorated Wongluekiet twins, Naree and Aree, were ousted in the Round of 32 and Round of 16, respectively, while the Grzebiens, Anna and Mary Ellen, were gone in the Round of 64 and Round of 32. Hana got beat in the Round of 16 by future USA Curtis Cup competitor Elizabeth Janangelo.

Ina, having the time of her life and the support of big sis, just kept winning until she ran into Lisa Ferrero in the final.

Kim recently watched footage of the match with Paton.

Ferrero, of Lodi, Calif., buried a couple of cross-country putts at the outset and Kim never recovered from the early deficit, losing 3 and 1.

Ferrero went to play at Texas and still competes professionally. Future U.S. Women’s Open champion Brittany Lang also was in the field, but was eliminated in the Round of 64. Virtually everyone else from that draw no longer competes in USGA events. A few, such as Annie Thurman Young, now coach. Others have just faded with time, lost in careers and raising families.

Kim fit neatly into that former category. She loved globetrotting and hobnobbing in the world of high finance.

“Some people travel, I said I wanted to play golf,” said Kim.

Early next month, she will attempt to qualify for her first U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, where the field’s demographics will change drastically. That’s OK with Kim. She’s fine competing against teenagers, seniors and everyone in between.

The fact that 28 competitors in the 117th U.S. Women’s Amateur weren’t even born – and a host of others were either in diapers or just learning their ABCs – when Kim lost in the 2000 U.S. Girls’ Junior final brings some perspective. More mind-boggling is the fact that the field’s average age of 18.86 almost matches the years since her championship-match defeat.

One thing is certain: Kim is more than excited to be playing in her first Women’s Amateur since 2001 (missed cut), especially since it's not far from where she grew up. Her parents have made the three-hour drive from Los Angeles. Hana likely will come if Ina can somehow advance deep into match play. But just getting the chance to compete against the game’s best female amateurs is gravy.

“The game is much more enjoyable,” said Kim, a smile widening with each word. “I don’t let it define me. This is something I am doing for myself. As long as I can keep it fun, it’s great.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

More From the 117th U.S. Women's Amateur

More from the USGA