Se Ri Pak, Mi Hyun started golfing late, at age 11. Originally she
wanted to be a swimmer, but she just wasn't big enough to compete
on a national level. Looking around for another sport she could
be competitive in, she found golf, and before long became pretty
good. Her father ran a shoe company, but like Se Ri, she was more
from the middle class, unlike most of the girls she would compete
against. As his daughter became one of the best amateur golfers
in Korea, he dedicated more of the family resources to helping her
out. He was able to convince a Seoul Country Club to allow her to
become a member early on, which gave her a chance she
might not have otherwise have had to
practice on a real course.
Hyun and Se Ri always seemed tied by destiny. They ran into each
other a lot during their amateur years, as they became two of the
most winning players of their time. They were both from the same
economic class. They were almost the same age, although Mi Hyun
is a little older. And they both turned pro the same year: 1996.
For these reasons, they were not best of friends. There are rumors
that Mi Hyun did not treat Se Ri very well at first, and that Se
Ri returned the favor when Mi Hyun joined the LPGA. I think these
are just nasty tabloid stories; how can the papers know this? But
I do believe they were not good friends. Fierce rivals rarely are.
Hyun was actually the first of the two to win on the pro circuit.
By age 22, in fact, she had won 9 times on the KLPGA, and 15 times
overall including amateur events. But after a few years, Se Ri got
her Samsung sponsorship and moved to the US. Then she had her breakthrough
season, and suddenly, Mi Hyun was totally overshadowed by her rival.
Yet even when Se Ri returned to Korea in the Fall of 1998, Mi Hyun
was invited to the ceremonies and can be seen in those pictures
sitting near Se Ri.
Mi Hyun decided to try the LPGA as well. But she did not have the
benefit of a big sponsorship, so she could not get a big name coach.
She tied for 12th at Q School in 1998 and was on her way. In 1999,
her rookie year, she would travel from tournament to tournament
in a van with her parents. To save money, they would stay in economy
motels and eat in their room. A documentary of the LPGA aired in
Korea in 1999, and showed Peanut's plight. It also, unfairly, showed
Se Ri staying in a nice hotel and eating lobster. The result was
that Mi Hyun overnight became more popular than Se Ri, who was now
perceived as 'spoiled'. Of course, they didn't show Se Ri during
the times she was taking a bus to tournaments! Another result of
the documentary was that a sponsor stepped forward for Mi Hyun and
gave her enough money to live more comfortably. Things also improved
financially when Mi Hyun started doing well after a rough start
in her first few tournaments. Akiko Fukushima got off to a strong
start her rookie year and took the lead in the Rookie of the Year
standings, but Mi Hyun kept getting better, and finally won twice
to edge Akiko for the honors. For the second straight year, a Korean
had won the award.
tiny but plucky Mi Hyun Kim has continued to be a fan favorite on
both sides of the Pacific. With her diminutive size, it's astonishing
that she can hit the ball at times 265 - 270 yards. Pound for pound,
she may be the longest driver in all of golf (Sergio Garcia might
be close). She won again in 2000, but victories eluded her in 2001.
She did finish second many times. Perhaps the most heart breaking
result was in the British Open, where she was perfectly poised to
win her first Major until her rival Se Ri Pak came out of nowhere
to steal the title. At least the rumor is that they are getting
along better. Supposedly Se Ri gave Mi Hyun a birthday present at
the start of the 2001 season, and Peanut snuck out of a shared lunch
at the British Open to do an interview when it looked like she would
win the title, so as not to hurt Se Ri's feelings, who at the time
was not seemingly in contention.
Hyun worked hard in the off season, overcoming an unusual (for Koreans)
aversion to practice (she had even bought a sports car that was
too small to hold her clubs so she wouldn't even be tempted to go
to the driving range!). The work paid off: she won twice in 2002,
and had two more great chances to win besides that. In all, she
ended up breaking a million in earnings for the first time, and
finished a career best 4th on the money list.
Hyun got a new club sponsorship and clothing deal in 2003, but once
again, victories eluded her. This time, however, she was not even
coming close to winning, unlike in 2001, and as a result she had
her worst LPGA season yet, finishing 20th on the money list. Surprisingly,
her putting was the chief culprit: she had so much trouble with
it that at times she even resorted to using a bizarre, super small-headed
('stubby') practice putter in competition.
the 2003 and 2004 seasons, Mi Hyun rededicated herself to her game.
She traveled to Thailand and participated in an extremely rigorous
training program for several weeks. This program basically involved
lots of working out, lots of golf practice, and little else. It
paid great dividends in the 2004 season. Although she was not able
to win an event, she chalked up a career best 15 top tens during
the year, third best in the league and tops among the Korean players
in 2004. She earned nearly a million dollars, the most money anyone
ever made on tour without winning an event, and finished 7th on
the money list. All indications were that 2005 would be a great
in fact, 2005 was one of her weakest seasons since joining the LPGA.
She did manage 9 top tens, but even that was her second lowest total
since joining the league. She had a couple of chances to collect
her elusive sixth win, but could not do it. She wound up 23rd on
the money list, her worst ever finish. Her slump was not as bad
as other Korean stars Grace Park and Se Ri Pak in 2005, but it was
a slump all the same.
at the end of the year, her primary sponsor KTF decided to sign
her up for another three years, albeit at a significantly reduced
rate from the previous contract. With her sponsorship taken care
of, Kimmie could focus on returning to the top ten in 2006, and
maybe even the winner's circle.
another off season working very hard, Kimmie returned with new vigor
in 2006. She started playing well almost immediately, getting into
contention at her third tournament of the year and winding up fourth.
But it wasn't until late April that she had another great opportunity
to win. That chance came at the Ginn Clubs and Resorts Open, a new
event on the schedule with a huge purse. Because of the money, almost
every top golfer in the world was in attendance. But after three
rounds, it was Mi Hyun who held the lead by three shots after her
nearest competitor double bogied the final hole of the round. In
the last round, she played well, but was seriously pressured by
the two hottest golfers of the season, Karrie Webb and Lorena Ochoa.
But every time it looked like Kimmie would be caught, she made another
clutch shot to reestablish control. Thus, Mi Hyun ended up winning
the tournament, her first victory in nearly four years. She later
revealed that she had become an aunt for the first time that same
week, and that she had a new boyfriend who flew out just to see
her that weekend. Everything was coming up roses for the little
things continued to go well for her throughout the season. At the
LPGA Championship, she contended all week, ending up third, just
a shot out of the playoff. She also added another win to her resume
in July, when she caught Natalie Gulbis at the Jamie Farr by making
up a four shot deficit, then beat her in a playoff three holes later
by sinking a 25 foot birdie putt. The win got her above the million
dollar mark for season's earnings.
ended the year by leading the Korean team in the annual Kyoraku
Cup to a resounding victory over the Japanese squad.
had a strong season in 2007. She won her 8th career tournament in
a playoff against Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, notched a top ten
at the US Women's Open, nearly won in Rochester and made it to the
semifinals of the World Match Play, where she lost to eventual winner
Seon Hwa Lee. She also had a remarkable year in other ways. After
winning the SemGroup Championship, she donated nearly half her winnings,
$100,000, to aid the victims of the tornado in Greensburg, Kansas,
despite not knowing anyone affected by the tragedy. Once again,
she showed that she has one of the biggest hearts in the league.
did not win again in 2007 after SemGroup, but still had a number
of good tournaments, notably the HSBC Match Play, where she finished
third. At the end of the year, despite struggling with numerous
injuries, she captained the Korean Kyoraku Cup team, which unfortunately
lost in a tiebreaker to the Japanese squad. In December, she had
knee surgery, which she hoped would allow her to have a much more
the knee did not heal as quickly as Kimmie was hoping, and she was
forced to wear a knee brace for much of 2008. Her results were not
all that great, although she still managed to contend a few times,
notably at the Corning Classic, where she finished tied for third,
and at the US Women's Open, where she had a great chance to win
her first ever Major before Inbee Park ran away with the title on
Kimmie was bigger in the Korean media than ever, thanks to the announcement
of her engagement to be married at the end of the year. Her fiancé
was a big name, too: Korean judo star Won Hee Lee, who won a gold
medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and who was five years Kimmie's
junior. When Lee showed up at the LPGA Championship to root his
fiancee on, the Korean press went wild; it was the first time they
had appeared in public together. The wedding took place in mid-December,
2008, and none other than Se Ri Pak caught the bouquet! Congratulations
to the happy couple, who will make the biggest pairing of Korean
star athletes since Hee-Won Han hooked up with baseball pitcher
Hyuk Son back in 2003.
the start of the 2009 season, Kimmie announced that she was pregnant
with her first child! She only played until June, then took the
rest of the year off. In November, she gave birth to her son. She
renewed her golf career at the 2010 Kia Classic in March. But she
had literally not practiced at all during the Winter, and her results
were by far the worst of her career. She finished 85th on the money
list, but fortunately maintained decent status thanks to previous
success on tour.
had a notably better season in 2011. She had a top ten at the WalMart
tournament in September and made over $150,000 during the year to
easily return to full status on tour.
in 2012, Mi Hyun suffered several injuries resulting in part from
her unorthodox swing. Doctors were unable to get her back to 100%
despite repeated efforts. Reluctantly, after being unable to play
all season, she decided to retire. She was given a special exemption
to play in the Hana Bank tournament in Korea for the final time,
then officially called it a day. She finished her career with 8
LPGA wins and more than 100 top tens.
is not done with golf. She has opened a string of Mi Hyun Kim golf
academies in Korea, and plans on nurturing the next generations
of golfing talent in that country. We'll certainly miss you, Mi
Hyun! Good luck in the future!