[Sung’s Golf Inside] Why Hyemin Won’t Give Up Her Dream
This article was written by Hojun Sung, Senior Sports Writer for JoonAng Ibo, and was published on JoongAng Ilbo on July 19TH 2017. It was translated by the Symetra Tour web team to allow American golf fans to enjoy the wonderful piece on Hyemin’s continued pursuit of the LPGA and giving back.
Hyemin Kim (29) was not an atypical elementary school kid who enjoyed playing violin, with a dream of one day becoming a musical artist. Golf was just an extracurricular hobby at the time, which she went and played about twice a week after school. It wasn’t until Hyemin enrolled in high school that she took the game of golf more seriously. In 2006, she was the No.1 ranked played in the developmental tour to the development tour (3rd tier tour) in Korea, only as a high school senior.
From that point, things got much tougher. Born in the year of 1988, Hyemin was in the same age group with some of today’s best female professional golfers in the world such as Inbee Park, Jiyai Shin, Bomi Lee, In-Kyung Kim, and Ilhee Lee. Simply put, it was not an easy task to stand out amongst this class of dynamic talents. In 2010, she finally earned her KLPGA Tour card. It was about four or five years later than her “1988 peers.”
During her first season on the Korean Tour, Hyemin had to fight through a significant finger injury and finished 76th on the KLPGA money list that year. She lost her tour card. She would have tried again but the injury prevented her from giving it another try.
“I was afraid of what people might be thinking and saying about me,” says Hyemin. “Then, my dad suggested that I go to the U.S. and see what’s out there for me.” Like her other “1988 peers” she went to the United States. But while her peers were pursing their dreams on the LPGA because of their respective success on various stages and tours, Hyemin did so with nothing to show for and as if she was running away from home. When she arrived in U.S., no one knew who Hyemin was and it gave her a strange but renewed sense of energy to continue pursuing her dream. In 2012, Hyemin earned her membership on the Symetra Tour – the official qualifying tour of the LPGA.
Just before this year’s U.S. Women’s Open, there was the sighting of Hyemin Kim, though not as a participating professional at the tournament. Hyemin was part of a ceremony with the LPGA*USGA Girls Golf where she donated the entire winning’s from her first Symetra Tour victory. Her donation will be used to help underprivileged juniors so they can afford to play the game of golf. “I always wanted to donate the winning’s from my first Symetra Tour win. I just didn’t know it would take me five years.” Hyemin said.
Through it all, Hyemin has gone through so many ups and downs. In her first year on the Symetra Tour, Hyemin had earned a grand total of $6,009. The year 2014 was better, and she made it to the final stage of the LPGA Qualifying School where Hyemin’s name was near the top of the leaderboard through the front nine on the first day. However, at the 10TH hole, she suddenly started to experience driver yips – which most players refer to as “death note.” That fear has continued to torment Hyemin since.
Things are getting better for Hyemin this year and she notched her first win back in April of this year. As of July 18, Hyemin is ranked 15TH on the Symetra Tour money list. Top 10 on this list will automatically make it to the LPGA Tour next year. “I am working really hard” says Hyemin with a smile.
The amount of her donation was $15,000. It doesn’t compare to the amount Sung Hyun Park earned by winning the US Women’s Open. To be more precise, it’s about 1/60TH of the money Sung Hyun earned ($900,000), and only about 1/6TH of the bonus amount Sung Hyun’s caddie earned during the week. But Hyemin donated everything she’s got. “I figured I could do this very quietly since it’s not a huge amount of money. I was a bit stunned that my small donation had caused to stage a ceremony.”
I guess one could say that Hyemin’s family is relatively well off. “I am very appreciative that my parents continue to financially support me, even at this age, so that I can keep going.” By no means does it allows Hyemin to travel like royalty. Her caddies are typically volunteers and she will drive anywhere within 12 hours. Most of her meals are consumed at fast food chains like McDonalds or KFC. “It would be great if I can do some light cooking for myself but those hotels equipped with kitchens are typically outside of my price range.”
This story of “tough road” is almost reminiscent of some of the Korean LPGA Tour pioneers like Mi Hyun Kim and Jeong Jang (JJ) in their starting years. “Well, I think it’s easier for me now because I have a smartphone and GPS unlike they did.” Hyemin said.
At that time, the likes of Mi Hyun and JJ were young players with dreamy eyes, and the LPGA Tour provided financial rewards and stardom had they won.
Today, Hyemin is one of the oldest players on the LPGA’s qualifying tour. Even on the LPGA, she would be classified as a veteran. It has already been three years since one of her “1988 peers” Jiyai Shin left the LPGA Tour after winning so many tournaments, while Hyemin is still chasing that dream of teeing it up at LPGA tournaments.
“I always think every year could be last one in golf. It is just unbelievable how far some of these young players can hit and how great of feel they have for their putters,” says Hyemin, sounding as if she knows that she may not be all that competitive when and if she makes it to the LPGA. But there is a reason she continues to chase. “My dream is to win an LPGA tournament and donate the entire winner’s check to a great cause.”
But why? “My parents always taught me to help others in need. I am very fortunate to have the privilege to call them my parents and such belief is now just part of who I am."
No one can really tell if Hyemin’s dream will ever come true. Regardless of the end results, Hyemin’s relentless fight and chase of her dream, despite her fear and loneliness the qualifying tour presents, should mean something in and of itself. This is a meaningful fight and a great achievement, perhaps not too far behind winning a major tournament on the LPGA Tour. I truly wish her the best of luck. She deserves it in my opinion.
Hojun Sung – Senior Writer, Sports Division, JoongAng Ilbo