Dylan Kim (ANWA photo)
Five years ago, Dylan Kim didn’t really think of herself as a match-play player. It only took one week to change that.
You could say that Kim’s story really begins with the 2015 NCAA Championship. As an 18-year-old first-semester freshman, she was a shot in the arm for Baylor’s spring season. The Bears won three times in the spring, including Big 12s and an NCAA regional. As match play debuted in the women’s national championship that year, Baylor was the Cinderella story – and nobody could take their eyes off the five-foot, seven-inch Kim, who brought a smooth-yet-powerful swing made for TV cameras.
Most notably, Kim beat Duke’s Leona Maguire, then the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, in the quarterfinals that week. She halved her semifinal match and then defeated Stanford’s Lauren Kim, even though Stanford ultimately won the team title. Regardless, the whole thing was magical for Kim.
“I didn’t really know what to think of myself as far as match play,” Kim said, looking back. “Maybe I surprised myself with how well I did.”
That first semester was a foundation for a college career that didn’t necessarily take a straight line to the next level. Kim thinks of the 2015 NCAA tournament as her breakthrough, which is a good way to put it considering how unheralded she had been entering that week despite the amount of talent she had.
“That was the first time I’d played well on the national level,” she said. “…I’m very thankful for that time because I think it got me off to a great start in college and it also set the bar really high for my later years in college.
“Throughout college, it kept me really ambitious and I never got complacent because I knew how well I could play.”
The next fall, Kim underwent hip surgery to remove a benign tumor that sidelined her for the season. She transferred from Baylor to Arkansas at the start of the 2017-18 season. It was reasonable to think that if she could make the kind of impact she did at Baylor, she could make it anywhere. She was a welcome addition for the Razorbacks, too, who went on to a seven-win season. Kim was second only to Maria Fassi in scoring and finished in the top 10 seven times.
Fans who know Fassi, the two-time Annika Award recipient who was runner-up at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, should key in on Kim, too. She has the same kind of powerful style and the same intensity, albeit in a much lower-key way.
“She wants it more than anybody,” Arkansas head coach Shauna Taylor said of Kim back in May.
Kim is about to make one of her final amateur starts this week at the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss. It’s a tournament that ends in match play and Kim could go far. She has played this event four times and reached the third round of match play twice.
Kim conceivably could have gone to any school in the summer of 2017. Picking the right coach was one of the most important parts of the equation. Her first year and a half at Arkansas were trademark Kim – she was in contention most times she teed it up. She struggled the past few months of her senior season.
“I’m thankful for that too. I think every single player is going to go through struggles,” she said. “In the end, it will make me stronger and I think that Shauna is an amazing coach who really helped me through that.”
Even after graduating, Kim has been splitting her time this summer between her Plano, Texas home and Fayetteville, Ark. She Monday qualified for the Northwest Arkansas LPGA in June for the second year in a row. That was a major confidence boost, she said, and proof that her game is turning around. As she struggled with her ballstriking over the past few months, her short game improved.
Taylor has worked to get Kim to focus on taking one step at a time – focus on where your feet are, she says, not where the end result is. That was particularly hard as NCAAs approached. Kim wanted it so much.
“She’d come out late in the afternoon just to hit a few more chips and a few golf shots. I’m just trying to help her lighten that,” Taylor said in the days before the national championship. “…I almost had to work with her on not practicing so much.”
So has been the theme of Kim’s summer. The first stage of the LPGA qualifying tournament in California later this month will arguably be the single-most important week of Kim’s year. Kim knows all about what fatigue can do to a golf game – it took a week to come down from the hype of hosting the NCAA Championship – so she’s been careful to work on rest as much as fundamentals. That said, there’s a specific goal in mind this week at Old Waverly.
“I want to go out and win but I’m looking for a good week, a solid tune-up, build some confidence,” she said.