By Karen Billing
Staff WriterProfessional golfer In-Kyung Kim of Rancho Santa Fe just won her third career LPGA title at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Guadalajara, Mexico. Putting her fortune to good use, the 22-year-old has committed to donating her entire $220,000 winning check to charity. She will give half to the Lorena Ochoa Foundation, which helps children in Mexico, and the other half to a soon-to-be-named U.S. charity.
“I really wanted to spend the money on something meaningful. I feel very happy with my life, I’m very fortunate and I feel very lucky to do what I get to do. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how lucky you are because golf is not a sport where you win all the time,” Kim said. “Giving half to Lorena’s foundation, she’s a great person who gives back to the community and those kids and I’m inspired by that and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted the money to mean more than just winning a golf tournament.”
Kim is currently ranked seventh in the world on the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings and since her 2007 rookie season she has won more than $3.5 million, including $1.1 million this year.
In addition to her recent win, her other two titles came at the 2008 Longs Drugs Challenge in Danville, Calif. and the 2009 LPGA State Farm Classic in Springfield, Ill.
Kim started golfing when she was 9 years old in South Korea, tagging along with her father to the golf course. She looked up to golfers such as Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and Tiger Woods, and as one of the few girls on the course attracted a lot of attention at the driving range.
She became pretty serious about the sport by the time she was 13, competing in tournaments and playing for the Korean National Team for two years. At age 16, she moved to the United States to attend the International Junior Golf Academy in South Carolina.
“The first six months were really hard,” said Kim, who knew basic English vocabulary but couldn’t really communicate.
As she was the only person who spoke Korean in the academy, she was forced to learn the language quickly, which she did.
Kim turned pro at age 18 and played her first tour match in Hawaii at the SBS Championships, finishing 17th. Her mother accompanies her on the tour, “the advantage of being an only child,” Kim says with a smile.
While golf can be a maddening sport for the amateur, Kim says it doesn’t work for her to get frustrated on the green.
“I try not to make the same mistake twice in a tournament,” Kim said. “You’re going to make mistakes but you have to come back strong. I’m not really trying to be perfect on the golf course.”
Golfing has taken Kim all around the world and her favorite places to play have been St. Andrews in the 2007 British Open and Oakmont in Pittsburgh, Penn., where she said the maintenance of the course was amazing.
“The atmosphere was one of respect for the golfers,” Kim said. “I was honored to play there and be a part of it.”
While she has traveled the world, Kim loves living in San Diego and gets homesick for the sunshine when she is away.
Kim lives off the golf course in Morgan Run but plays Fairbanks Ranch Country Club for its 27 holes. As she sat in the clubhouse decked out in her sponsor Hana Bank’s gear last week, members waved and offered their congratulations for her recent victory.
“We are very proud of her,” said one member.
She spends a lot of time at Fairbanks, training on the course and in the gym during the long LPGA season that stretches from February to December.
Next up for Kim will be the Tour Championship in Orlando and the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters, where she will defend her title from last year.
“It’s amazing,” Kim said of Dubai. “They have a golf course in the middle of the city. It’s different than any other place.”
Kim said she believes in having fun today, not postponing happiness for the future. She likes to play guitar, take hot yoga classes and get to the beach in her very spare time.
She plans on continuing to play golf for as long as she has the passion for it, which could be for years and years to come.
“It kind of makes me sad if I don’t play,” Kim said.