BRADENTON, Fla. — Epson Tour graduate Auston Kim is making some noise in her first start as an LPGA Tour member this week at the LPGA Drive On Championship, carding a 3-under 68 in her opening round at Bradenton Country Club.
Starting the day on No. 10, the 23-year-old made seven consecutive pars before breaking through with her first birdie of the day on the par-5 17th hole, picking up another birdie on the par-4 18th hole to turn in 2-under. But Kim erased that front-nine effort with a double bogey on the par-4 2nd hole, one that saw her sky her 3-wood and wind up with a fried-egg lie in a bunker, every golfer’s worst-case scenario when playing from the sand.
Kim remained undeterred, digging her heels in and getting things back on track in her last seven holes, making birdie on the par-4 5th hole before recording a pair of back-to-back birdies on the par-5 8th and par-3 9th holes to post a 68 and sit three back of the first-round lead. While she’s a 2024 rookie, today’s 3-under effort is Kim’s lowest round ever on the LPGA Tour, besting her previous benchmark of 69 by one shot, which she last fired during the first round of The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican this past November.
Despite the slip-up on No. 2, Kim was pleased with her opening round in Bradenton, Fla., and was particularly proud of how she mentally recovered from her errors on her back nine, something that isn’t always easy to do, especially in the first start of a rookie season.
“I had five birdies today and a double. The double was a bit unfortunate. Just a couple of bad shots in a row,” said Kim, who hit seven of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens on day one. “As soon as I got my ball onto the green and I made my putt, I wasn't worried. I kind of laughed it off with my caddie. I just accepted the fact that I hit a bad shot. Bad shots will happen. I told myself that this morning before I started the round. Got a couple of bad shots out of the way, so that was oddly calming in a way.”
Kim isn’t a player who seems to need much help in the calm department. She radiates a cool composure that belies her LPGA Tour experience, but while it might appear to be the Vanderbilt University alum’s natural state, that attitude is something she has worked hard to perfect throughout her years as an amateur and professional golfer.
“It's not natural. It's a lot of work, a lot of good internal dialogue with myself, keeping myself calm, acknowledging what's happening,” Kim explained. “If a bad shot happens, I know that I want to be the best that I can, and if a bad shot happens, it's totally okay. It's up to the next one. I know that's a bit of a cliche, but it works. I feel like I’ve got a really good thing going.”
The Florida native is one of nine 2023 Epson Tour graduates in the field this week at Bradenton Country Club, securing LPGA Tour status for the 2024 season after winning the Epson Tour Championship last October to finish third in the Epson Tour’s Race for the Card. Kim has played in four Tour events throughout the last five years but has yet to make a cut in any of them, a trend she’s well on her way to bucking through 18 holes at the LPGA Drive On Championship.
She’ll look to do so on Friday with veteran caddie Sarah Bowman on the bag, who primarily loops for her wife, Epson Tour winner Alena Sharp. For many rookies, it’s critical to have someone who knows what it’s like to compete on the biggest stage in women’s golf carry your sticks during your first year on Tour, and Kim is appreciative of having a caddie like Bowman walking alongside her, one who can make even the most frustrating and stressful of moments light and easy.
“The experience is really important, but also, when I started the round today, (Sarah) was really calm and that affected me in a great way,” said the rookie. “After I made double, I looked at her and smiled and she smiled back. Helped me get over that a little bit better. I wasn't angry to begin with. It was nice having someone who believes in me, too, and can smile back in moments like those.”
The pair will be looking for more smiles on day two of the LPGA Drive On Championship, teeing off at 12:05 p.m. on Friday afternoon at Bradenton Country Club.