Kim Kaufman is the only graduate this year who will not be competing on the LPGA Tour as a rookie. She is no stranger to majors, international travel, and certainly obtains the grit and passion it takes to never give up on your dreams.
Across the board you hear of LPGA Stars from all over the globe and United States, but rarely do you hear of someone native to South Dakota. With short golf seasons, Kaufman was raised on a nine-hole golf course that did not have sand bunkers. The limited facilities did not stop her, and truthfully, she didn’t know any other way.
“When we moved to South Dakota, dad picked up golf for the first time when he saw the nine-hole golf course they had in Clark. Pretty soon after he started playing and my sister and I thought well we want to go too, this looks fun. And that is when I first picked up golf,” said Kaufman.
“People always ask what it was like growing up playing in South Dakota. It was always a short season, yes, but I didn’t know any different. When you’re twelve, you aren’t thinking well those girls in Florida are hitting balls, you are thinking, well, it’s time to go to school and then go watch a basketball game. I just didn’t know. But I wouldn’t have traded it at all.”
With a growing love for the game of golf, Kaufman competed through her junior career until it was time to pick a university. Golf was not No. 1 on the priority list. She envisioned a future in law. But she committed to Texas Tech University to play golf for the Red Raiders.
“I never really thought about a future in golf,” she said. “My junior year we got a new assistant coach, and she was the first one who told me, besides my mom, that you can really play. After we went to national’s and I finished top-10 I said I am going to do this.”
She went on to be a medalist at the 2012 Landfall Tradition and be named 2013 Women’s Golf Coaches Association (WGCA) Second Team All-American. Due to her success in the Lone Star State, Kaufman was in the top five in the Golfweek/Sagarin Fall 2012 Collegiate Rankings to first earn Symetra Tour membership as a 2013 rookie.
“I had to make money when I got there; I didn’t just get to flounder around for a few years, but that was motivating. I was really frugal in college and was able to leave with some money saved, but I was driving to every tournament and staying with as many host familes as I could to make it somehow work,” said Kaufman. “Sometimes you are on the LPGA Tour and don’t realize someone worked hard on the LET or Symetra Tour for six years. That is the great thing about this sport, you don’t get drafted. Someone doesn’t just say yes or no for your contract. There are a thousand different paths.”
Kaufman claimed her first professional title at the 2013 Island Resort Championship. After the season, Kaufman finished T23 at the 2013 LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament to first earn LPGA Tour membership as a 2014 rookie. From her rookie season through 2019 she had a total of 149 career starts on the LPGA Tour with 12 top-10 results and a career-best of T2 at 2015 Blue Bay LPGA. Now with years of experience in the bag, Kaufman looks back to when she first started learning from all those around her on the LPGA Tour.
“I was the girl who was not afraid to learn from everyone. At my first British Open I missed the cut, and on Sunday I thought I am going to go out at watch Inbee Park, and I remember being in dining and everyone was like, ‘You are going to go watch?’” said Kaufman. “I thought it was normal, but I learned that it’s not. I also loved playing with Pernilla Lindberg. She had the best demeanor. You never knew if she was putting for birdie or bogey. I learned from everyone.”
Competing around the world now for a few years, Kaufman found herself in a moment during the LPGA Asia swing where it would all take a turn. After receiving the news, she had come down with mononucleosis, Kaufman thought she would be back in action once it was gone. The next season she realized it took more of a toll than anticipated.
“I played my first four years on tour and it was great. At the end of 2017, I got mono. I learned when I was in Asia. It wasn’t great but I did not think anything of it. Then I came back out in 2018 and I really struggled,” said Kaufman. “I am still coming back from that. It was tough. It can leave you so quickly. You just never expect to go from full LPGA Tour to Q-school. It hits you fast. It’s been a long couple of years, but it’s also been positive. That is why I why I am so thankful for the U.S. Open, you just never know when it is your last one.”
Making the best of every moment on the Symetra Tour, this season Kaufman claimed her third win on the tour at the Four Winds Invitational, among five other top-20 finishes. Collecting $44,459 in earnings, she finished the season at No. 3 in the Volvik Race for the Card.
“I enjoyed the Symetra Tour. I think you’re always so afraid of it on the LPGA. But I learned that it’s not the end of the world. From seven years ago, the purses are much better, the courses are much better, it’s come so far. I learned a lot for my career going forward from this year.”
Kaufman will compete next from December 10-13th at the 75th Annual U.S. Women’s Open after earning exemption from finishing in the top-5 on the Road to the LPGA. This will be her fifth appearance at the major. Kaufman’s best finish at the event was tied for 32nd in 2016, but every year has brought her great memories.
“Probably the first one, it’s just the event you grow up thinking ‘I just won the U.S. Open,” said Kaufman, on her best memory of the U.S. Women’s Open. “You can’t buy a U.S. Open tee time, so it’s special to hear your named called, play with the other girls that are there, and be part of that special group.”