I asked her how Man felt about her dating. “He’s anti-penis,” she said. “That’s not to say he’s pro-vagina. He simply doesn’t want anything or anybody to interfere with my golf.” That might be my favourite quote in 21 years of writing about professional golf……. Sports Illustrated golf writer, Alan Shipnuck, talking to Christina Kim back in 2004.
The Man referred to above is her father, an overprotective coach/caddie/agent who may be the Korean equivalent of the Asian Tiger-mom.
Shipnuck was so taken with Kim that he collaborated with her to write Swinging From My Heels, which chronicled her tumultuous 2009 season. But 2009 is only part of her story; a story that explains why her November win brought so much tears of joy to so many, including her competitors.
In 2003, Christina Kim, making her first start on the LPGA Tour, shot a third round 62 at the Welch/Fry Championship. She went on to finish 4th. Back then, that amounted to one big statement of arrival from the teenage phenom. The Mitchell Company Tournament of Champions, in November 2005, was to be her last victory until last month’s Lorena Ochoa Invitational. The nine year hiatus between wins had been one big struggle.
In December 2012, Kim courageously agreed to an interview with Golf Digest during which she opened up about her battle with depression. For the first time in her career, she would need to go to Q-school in an effort to regain playing rights for the following year.
Life for Kim had been a bit of a struggle given she had been winless for five years. But in the autumn of 2010, it was about to get a whole lot worse. During the LPGA Tour’s visit to Malaysia, she suffered a freak back injury whilst having a massage. The consequences were career-threatening.
Immediately Kim noticed two changes; she couldn’t play without pain, and she had lost the equivalent of two and a half clubs of distance. Yardages that had been ingrained into her consciousness for the last 13 years became a distant memory. Self-doubt attacked at every turn.
The offseason that followed saw Kim try to rediscover her previous natural power. As she said in her interview, in December 2012, “I started running and training and it just never came back,” she says. “I was disheartened because my ball-striking was something I’d never had to work at. All of a sudden, I put more time and effort into it than I had in my life, and I wasn’t seeing results. I started getting short with people. I snapped at my family, and then I became a hermit. The only time I left the house was to practice. There, I’d see the ball end up way too close to me, and I’d get really crabby and scuttle back home. My social life took a beating. I didn’t want to see anyone because I was always crying, always frustrated.”
Kim’s depression got to the stage where she contemplated suicide, on more than one occasion. The closest she came to ending her life was in April 2011, when at the Ladies European Tour’s Nations Cup in Alicante, Spain. One evening she became so overwhelmed with despair, she left her boyfriend, Duncan French, a caddie on the LPGA Tour, at the player’s function and found herself staring down at the ocean below, contemplating.
The US National Institute of Mental Health states that 14.8 million American adults – 6.7% of the population – suffer from Major Depressive Disorder, with more than 30,000 Americans committing suicide every year. Dr Michael Lardon, a California-based clinical psychiatrist who specialises in working with professional athletes, has been treating tour players, including several major champions, for twenty years plus. “Mental illness is a huge disease, similar in scale to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Unfortunately, it too often lives in the background.”
Dr Lardon encourages his patients to come out and tell their stories of depression and treatment. One of those who have, John Daly, puts it thus, “You’ve got to be open about it to someone–your family, maybe not to the world like I am, but to somebody. Live in the future. I can’t live in the past–hell, I’d have committed suicide if I’d lived in my past.”
Kim stated her own blog, using it to do what Dr Lardon suggested, talk about it. Go to thechristinakim.wordpress.com/category/depression/ and witness her openness and honesty.
In 2013, Kim’s fitness started to return. In 2014 she began to pick up some top-tens. At the prestigious Lorena Ochoa Invitational, where all the world’s best were gathered, something akin to her old game finally returned. All those years of frustration and self-doubt were wiped away by an awe-inspiring display of talent and will. When she eventually won, in a play-off against the in-form Shanshan Feng, and broke down during the champions interview, many present swallowed hard. They knew what she had been through.
The year’s most heart-warming victory? It’s got my vote.