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Duke's Gina Kim among several collegians making early jump to pros

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Gina Kim will have a unique tournament-week routine for the next few months.

The Duke senior, who on Wednesday announced that she will forego her final semester with the Blue Devils and accept LPGA membership this season, has one more class remaining toward her bachelor’s degree in Psychology – a two-and-a-half-hour lecture that meets every Monday morning … in person.  

“After I’m done with tournaments [each Sunday], I will have to fly back to Durham,” Kim told GolfChannel.com on Friday. She plans to stay based near campus at least through graduation in May, and she’s already been granted permission by her professor to miss two weeks later this month so that she can play a pair of Florida-based Monday qualifiers, for the Gainbridge LPGA in Boca Raton and LPGA Drive On Championship in Fort Myers.

“It will be good for me to feel like I’m still a normal college student, and then it’ll be like, ‘OK, time to go to the office,’” Kim added. “But there may also be some times where I might not be able to go to an event. I want that degree, and obviously I need to make sure I leave the campus on a strong note.”

Golf-wise, at least, she’ll have no trouble. Kim ends her college career with two wins, eight total top-10s and a 72.92 scoring average in 24 events. She was a two-time All-American, including a first-teamer as a junior, while helping the Blue Devils win the 2019 NCAA Championship. She notched top-10s in both of her starts at nationals, and last season won the ACC individual title while leading Duke to its 21st conference crown in school history.

Kim was also a standout amateur with victorious appearances at both the Curtis Cup and Arnold Palmer Cup this year. She received low-amateur honors at the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open, tying for 12th.

“It was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make in my life,” Kim said of turning pro. “I had to think about what I was giving up in this spring semester as an amateur, and I think just being able to look back on what I’ve manage to achieve within the past three and a half years here at Duke – like my NCAA title, my ACC title, Curtis Cup, going to ANWA, you name it … I don’t think I’ll have regrets moving forward.”

Kim added that she also didn’t want to have to go back to Q-Series, an experience she characterized as “long and tough.” Kim navigated all three stages of the LPGA’s qualifying tournament, including winning Stage I, before tying for 35th at the eight-round Q-Series and earning LPGA status for this year. She’s not sure what events her priority ranking will get her into yet, though she expects that she’ll also have to play part-time on the Symetra Tour, especially during the LPGA’s Asian Swing in March.

So, why not defer her status? After Q-Series, Kim weighed her decision with help from her family, coaches, teammates and some Duke alumni, including Virginia Elena Carta and Jaravee Boonchant. Thanks to an LPGA rule change a few years ago, Kim had an option to defer her LPGA membership until after the spring college season – Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi took this route, though most players have not, including no others who had earned LPGA cards.

Kim recalled Carta, who delayed turning pro after graduating from Duke in 2019 to further her education at Oxford, asking Ki about her degree plans. After Kim explained that she was on track to graduate this spring, and that finishing school was “non-negotiable,” Carta responded with, “Well, then there’s no wrong decision. You’re just trying to make the best decision for yourself.”

For Kim, the right decision was taking the next step. While she closes her amateur chapter well-decorated, Kim will most cherish her time with her teammates. She still laughs at a team discussion on who would fly back with the NCAA trophy as their carry-on (the Blue Devils ultimately ended up shipping the hardware back home), and she looks back fondly on her last tournament with her current teammates.

In the hours after wrapping up Stage II last October, Kim hurried to pack and then drove from Venice, Florida, up to Atlanta for the East Lake Cup. Even though Kim wasn’t competing, she didn’t want to miss it.

Looking back, she’s glad she was there.

“I didn’t realize it then because I hadn’t played Q-Series yet, so I didn’t really quite know what my plans were for the future, but just being able to watch them and see them play without me, it was bittersweet,” Kim said. “It was crazy to see what it would look like without me. … I don’t think anybody out there should worry about my team because they’re great and they’re going to be just fine.”

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Duke, which still boasts a talented lineup led by Erica Shepherd, won't be the only team having to replace a star player this spring. Kim’s announcement comes a couple of weeks after Houston junior Karen Fredgaard revealed that she was turning pro. Fredgaard, a first-team All-American last season as a sophomore, earned Symetra Tour status after her T-70 finish at Q-Series.

“I’ve had an incredible two-and-a-half years at UH and I can’t thank my coaches enough for always having my back and believing in me,” Fredgaard wrote on Instagram. “UH gave me the opportunity to grow as a person and a golfer, playing against some of the best schools in the country. To the girls on the team: Thanks for all the laughs, hilarious moments, and for always being there for me. I leave UH with a family and lifelong friendships.”

Of the seven college players who teed it up at the eight-round Q-Series last December, four now have opted to forego the remainder of their college careers – Arizona sisters Yu-Sang Hou, a fifth-year senior, and Vivian, a junior, announced their plans to turn pro shortly after earning their LPGA cards – while two players, Alabama senior Polly Mack and Florida State senior Beatrice Wallin, have decided to defer their Symetra status until after the spring season. Both Alabama head coach Mic Potter and Florida State head coach Amy Bond confirmed their players’ decisions to GolfChannel.com.

That leaves one player who has yet to reveal her plans – Arkansas senior Brooke Matthews. Matthews, a two-time winner last fall for the Razorbacks finished T-30 at Q-Series and therefore has LPGA status. The Razorbacks’ designated sports information director confirmed to GolfChannel.com that Matthews had made her decision but had yet to decide when to formally announce.