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Q+A: Duke women's golf star Gina Kim talks decision to turn pro, favorite Duke memories

Gina Kim announced she would forgo the rest of her college eligibility and join the LPGA Tour.
Gina Kim announced she would forgo the rest of her college eligibility and join the LPGA Tour.

After a decorated career as a Blue Devil, Gina Kim is making the leap to the LPGA. The Chapel Hill native, who was a freshman on the 2019 national title team and last year’s ACC individual medalist, decided to turn professional and forgo her remaining collegiate eligibility. Kim will attempt to Monday qualify into her first two events, which are set to take place over the next two weeks.

The Chronicle spoke with Kim on her decision to turn pro, her fondest memories from her Duke career and her goals for her rookie campaign.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Chronicle: What were the factors that went into the decision to turn pro now?

Gina Kim: As an amateur golfer, I've managed to experience all the experiences I've wanted to do, play the tournaments I've always dreamed of going [to], like Curtis Cup, winning [an] NCAA title with my team, ACC title. So many other tournaments, just being able to play in them, win a few [and] enjoy my time there, I think I was able to be happy and content with what I've managed to accomplish within the past four years here at Duke.

One of my biggest questions that I ask myself before I make any decision is ‘Will I have any regrets with this?’ This is the same kind of question that I asked myself before I committed to Duke actually. So being able to say, ‘No, I don't think I'll have any regrets,’ was a huge factor for me, and it's what helped me look forward toward the future. Obviously, it's bittersweet to have to say goodbye a little early. But one of my main goals this year is to not go back to Q-Series, just simply because it's just a tough process. And so I thought to myself, I need to hit the ground running a little bit, try to get into as many tournaments as I can, and get some good results, so I can retain my status for next season.

TC: What part of college golf will you miss the most?

Kim: It's the people, I would say. That was one of the main reasons why I came to Duke, alongside the fact that coach [Brooks] is a great, legendary coach, and I wanted to be a part of his program. But yeah, I would say the people and the amount of support that you get as a Duke student-athlete, maybe I'm a very simple-minded person.

But I do like the little, small slices of happiness, just the little, normal stuff that you do as a college student, like pulling all-nighters in Perkins with my teammates, or running to go get coffee with them. Just those little things. And obviously, traveling with them, too, is going to be a really big absence in my life, just simply because I'm so used to doing it and now that I have to travel on my own. So, it's just being able to spend time with other people that I care about, that's what I'm going to miss the most.

TC: Do you have favorite on-course and off-course memories at Duke?

Kim: I would say 2019 nationals, obviously, that's just the peak of my career. I've never once thought otherwise. But I would also say the ACC title from last postseason. Just simply because it's a totally different roster from the 2019 [team], and yet, I still had just as much fun.

Our team was really solid that whole week, and just being able to see some really good golf and share some happy moments with each other, and just getting excited about being in contention for a huge title. Just feeling that rush of excitement again, two years after an NCAA title. I think that was just really huge for our team and for me as well.

TC: What was it like transitioning into a leadership role after your freshman year?

Kim: It was definitely a different feeling, a different perspective. I'm not quite sure when that transition started happening, but I started noticing, like, ‘Hey, these underclassmen are starting to look to me for advice.’ The fact that I managed to go through [a full season] once, obviously, the other time being canceled from COVID, but just being able to help these guys out and give my two cents whenever they needed it. It was a very satisfying feeling like, ‘Wow, I've managed to come this far as a person, as a teammate, as a golfer.’ So, you know, although it's very different people, very different vibes from the two teams, they're both very great and solid teams. I've had a lot of fun on both.

TC: Have you gotten any reactions from teammates, past and present, since you made your decision?

Kim: Yeah, I've had a lot of people reach out to me. But before I even made my announcement, I went ahead and told the team first because I thought they should hear from me first. I thought that was at least the level of respect I should show them because I don't want them to find out from other people and hear it through other people. So they knew beforehand, before I even made my decision, but they were extremely supportive and happy for me. That's what I saw, but I'm not sure how they feel when I'm not there. I'm sure there's going to be a gaping hole in the team.

But the fact that they were still supportive, and still were cheering me on, that says a lot about that team. They're very classy people. So it's going to be harder than usual to be able to leave a little earlier.

TC: Do you have any specific goals in mind for your rookie season?

Kim: Monday qualify in, try to get into as many tournaments as I can. And then we have a reshuffle in May, where they reshuffle all the priority ranking. So I'm just trying to do my best to kind of bump up my ranking a bit, so I won't have to Monday qualify in for the rest of this season. And then obviously, trying to make it to the European swing, which is in the summer, trying to make it to the Asian swing, which is toward the end of the season. And then finally, not having to go back to Q-Series again, just being able to retain my status for next season and just stabilize myself a little bit.

TC: You’ve played in LPGA events like the U.S. Open in the past. How much have those events prepared you for this opportunity?

Kim: They definitely helped me a lot. I think playing in multiple U.S. Opens helped me kind of calm down a little bit, and really see objectively on how pros work their way around the course and how they're able to handle so many weeks on the road. By the third U.S. Open I wasn't really wide-eyed and looking around like, ‘Wow, I'm hitting balls next to like, Lydia Ko or something.’ So I think that starstruck phase kind of managed to minimize itself. I'll always be starstruck, just simply because this was my dream ever since I was a little girl, but I think I've gained a lot of experience from that. How to handle yourself on the golf course, I think I'll be good with that, it's just a matter of, how do you handle months on the road and not being able to go back home? Just experience, other just long weeks of experience, I think that's what I need more. So it'll be a good rookie season.

TC: Which areas of your game have improved during your time at Duke?

Kim: Yeah, obviously putting was one of them. My ball-striking, I changed coaches in 2019 and I went through some major swing changes. But if you looked at my swing from 2019 nationals to now, you'd be thinking that it's two totally different people swinging the club. So I've managed to kind of become a lot more accurate with my ball striking. And mentally, [assistant coach Jon Whithaus], and Coach [Brooks] have played a huge role in this, but being able to stay mentally resilient, and being patient, regardless of the situation. And always being able to find an opportunity when someone else is kind of slipping a little bit mentally and making mistakes, and knowing how to grab those chances.

I think I've learned a lot, I've learned a lot how to not have mental breakdowns out there, and just being able to stay steady. So I have a lot to thank to my coaches for that, and that's something that I always try to share a little bit with my teammates who are maybe a little nervous with the match-play format. Especially playing on TV too, it's definitely a different experience. So I try to give them some advice too.


Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor for The Chronicle's 117th volume.

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