Gina Kim, Epson Tour Graduate, made 12 cuts in 13 starts on the Epson Tour in 2022, recording four top-10 finishes to earn membership for the 2023 LPGA Tour Season. In addition, she picked up her first career Epson Tour victory at the Inova Mission Inn Resort & Club Championship.
Seeing Things Through
I'm living my best life.
In my brief time as a golfer, I've won several tournaments, including the 2019 NCAA Championship with my team at Duke, and will now join the LPGA Tour thanks to my performance on The Epson Tour.
When I look back on things and add up all my blessings — it's hard not to be overly joyful and grateful.
Memories of yesterday
When I reflect on how I got here, it's funny to think it started with not wanting to hurt my dad's feelings.
My father was a huge golfer and always took my sister and me to the course.
One day, my sister admitted that she hated it and didn't want to play anymore, which broke my father's heart.
He kind of sunk within himself, and his face turned somber.
I felt so bad, I decided I wasn't going to tell him I felt the same. Besides, it was a way to bond with him. I figured I would tough it out a bit more so he could have fun.
Then, at eight, I entered a tournament and won.
That changed everything.
I was hooked on the adrenaline of victory. From that day forward, I was focused on being the best golfer I could be and never looked back.
A lot of athletes with professional ambitions focus solely on the pursuit of their athletic goals. I was fortunate enough to see some great success in my golf career early on, winning the Junior Ryder Cup in 2016 or the Junior Solheim Cup in 2017. But you never know what happens in life, so I always had my eyes on earning a degree, too.
It was something I cared about. My parents are both college professors, so the path of higher education was always as natural as eating in our house. So, as an American, continuing my golf ambitions as a college athlete was an obvious choice. And once I visited Duke for the first time, I knew where I'd want to pursue my dreams.
I got a lot of sideways looks when I chose Duke, not because of the school or the program, but because my parents are professors at the University of North Carolina. Everyone knows Duke. It's a prestigious university due to its excellence in both athletics and academics. But if you know anything about college rivalries, there are few bigger than Duke and UNC. The campuses are only 10 miles apart in what is known in that area of North Carolina as the Research Triangle – Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. My sister when to UNC, so a lot of people expected that I would as well.
But I couldn't resist Duke. The history, the tradition, the team, the coaches, they were all perfect for me. Being a Duke student-athlete was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I wasn't one to pass it up.
Winning it all and staying for more
2019 was my favorite year at Duke. That year, we won the NCAA National Championship in dramatic fashion with match-play victories over Arizona in the semifinals and Wake Forest in the finals. Our semifinals victory turned on my match against Bianca Pagdanganan. I was fortunate to win that one 1-up to get us into the finals. But our team was phenomenal.
We had great chemistry, and everyone was close to each other that it felt more like a sisterhood than a collection of golfers.
Winning it all was surreal. I'd won tournaments before, but that feeling of reaching the highest goal possible as a Duke student-athlete filled me with an ineffable joy. It's why we work so hard and sacrifice so much time. We just want a chance to do something bigger than ourselves. That year we did.
Coming back to campus, knowing we brought it home for our university, gave us all a great sense of pride.
While that National Championship in 2019 was the pinnacle of my athletic success at Duke – we got our championship rings recently - academically, my pinnacle came when I got my degree at the end of 2021.
Being a student-athlete is not for the faint of heart. It's like having two full-time jobs and working hard at both. I was already playing golf professionally, but I stayed at Duke to finish my degree.
Earning that degree mattered to me. It's what I came to school to do, and it's something that can never be taken away.
The transition from student-athlete to pro golfer was tough. On the one hand, having the academics out the way really opened up my schedule. On the other, it was a wake-up call on everything I had to take care of to ensure I was prepared to play at the highest level possible.
Nutrition, training, travel schedule, and even figuring out my life outside of golf were all on me. I didn't have the Duke resources or community to lean on.
Golf is an individual sport. I had to figure it out myself. The golf course was still where my biggest challenges lay.
In my first pro golf tournament, I missed the cut in Hawaii. It was weird being in a beautiful place and falling short of my goal. It wasn't a turning point or anything like that, but it was a reminder of what this level was like.
I had work to do. But luckily, I don’t shy away from a challenge.
As part of The Epson Tour, I won the Inova Mission Inn Resort and Club Championship early in the season, which helped propel me to the top ten rankings. I'm a big believer that positive energy can lead to more positive energy, and I took that win, that moment, and propelled it into a great year as part of The Epson Tour.
I consistently was in the top ten in the rankings. When the dust settled, I was one of the ten gofers who punched their LPGA card.
Attitude of gratitude
Earning my LPGA status made all the years of sacrifice worth it. From begrudgingly playing the game so that I didn’t hurt my dad's feelings to now competing at the highest level, life has been a wonderful journey of pushing myself beyond what I thought was possible.
Let's see what this next chapter brings.