Before playing alongside Nelly Korda and Sei Young Kim on Saturday at the Pelican Women’s Championship, Christina Kim joked that she was prepared to be outdriven by 160 yards by her two playing competitors.
The 37-year-old Kim exceeded her expectations.
“Honestly,” she said, “it was between, I don't know, 30 and 60 [yards], so I was actually pretty happy about that.”
Kim, who has averaged 274 yards off the tee through 54 holes, has had plenty of reasons to smile this week at the LPGA’s penultimate event. She arrived in Belleair, Florida, as first alternate, missed by a shot in the Monday qualifier, got in via a last-minute sponsor invitation, and now, at 14 under, she’ll enter Sunday’s final round just two shots off the lead.
“I'm just so happy to be here,” Kim said, “and obviously getting the opportunity to tee it up this week with the best field in women's golf, playing semi-late on a Sunday, is really, really amazing.”
Kim will go off in Sunday’s second-to-last group at 11:04 a.m. ET as she looks to not only capture her first LPGA title since 2014 but also keep her LPGA card. Kim finished last season just outside the top 50 in Race to CME Globe points, but the LPGA, in response to the pandemic, opted to carry over priority from 2019 to this year, and Kim had to play off her limited status from that season, which she finished No. 113 in points. She didn’t get into an event until March, and on the heels of five straight missed cuts, she entered this week’s tournament at Pelican Golf Club sitting just two spots inside the top 100 in points.
Assuming she avoids disaster on Sunday, Kim figures to easily maintain her points position. There's a chance, too, for Kim to qualify for the 60-player CME Group Tour Championship next week in Naples, Florida. A victory would make her the first sponsor exemption to win on the LPGA since Lydia Ko did so as an amateur at the 2013 CP Women’s Open.
At the very least, Kim won’t have any issues finding reasons to be happy. Kim may be a self-described “Instant Pot, where you just need to hit that manual release for the pressure,” but so far, she’s not showing any signs of stress.
“It’s a beautiful day,” Kim said several times in her post-round interview on Saturday. Never mind that rain had delayed play just a few hours prior.
There was also the shank she hit on the par-4 11th hole – and this explanation of it: “It wasn't like an [Ian] Poulter shank or a Webb Simpson shank, but nicked the hosel, so it did end up on the green. I had way too much club, and I was like, I don't want it to fly too far, so I am going to make sure I avoid the center of the club face.” Kim two-putted from 45 feet to save par.
Oh, and don’t forget her high praise of Korda. It was the first time, Kim said, that she had ever played with the world No. 1, and she didn’t hold back.
“I might be her biggest fan,” Kim said. “Obviously, her golf, you can hand her a frying pan and she'll be able to do anything with any club. But as a human being, like the grace that she has, she was super patient with me because I was like, let's talk, and she was just totally open to it.
“She's got a beautiful laugh, beautiful smile. Just really, really warm heart. I was like, Girl crush. Like I'm absolutely just in awe of her. I told her. It almost brought a tear to my eye knowing that the future of the game, next generation is in her hands.
“It's just like – I almost swore. It's freaking awesome.”
Kim may be bummed that she’ll be playing behind Korda, the co-leader with Lexi Thompson, on Sunday, but that won’t stop her from having some fun.
All week long she’s celebrated the small victories:
Just getting into the field.
Making the weekend.
Playing with Nelly.
Committing to every shot despite her “octogenarian age.” (Never a dull moment with Kim.)
Even staying dry. She's made just three bogeys in 54 holes, too.
It’s likely, though, that she’ll be thrilled to concede the latter should she snap her seven-year win drought and prompt the champagne showers on Sunday. Then again, if Kim doesn’t win, she’ll probably still be part of the celebration.
“Tomorrow is just going to be an awesome day,” Kim said. “I can only control what I can control, and even at times that doesn't include the golf ball, so I'm just going to go out there and really focus on my process, continue to trust it, and have a great day.”