One of my check points when I go to a professional tournament is to hang out on the range just watching players hit balls. It gets you into the polished rhythm of the professional game faster and it helps you to know where to look in the sky when they hit the ball.
A couple of years ago, I was watching Christina Kim trying to hit drivers on the range at the Founders Cup in Phoenix. I had been watching the range for quite a while before she caught my attention. She was a presence in the game just with her over-the-top ebullient personality, perhaps most notably in her three Solheim Cup appearances as the frantic team cheerleader.
But there was no cheerleading that day in Phoenix. There was only somber worry laid over a subtle undercurrent of panic: she could barely get a driver on any kind of a driver trajectory and they were going nowhere. It was shocking and I actually had the thought that maybe this was the beginning of the end of her career.
So I paid little attention to her in the intervening time between then and the touching December of 2012 Golf Digest article by Stina Sternberg, “Tears of a Clown,” where I first became aware that she had been battling severe depression for quite some time. She played so badly and had lost so much distance, she had to go back to Q-School (where she finished T39, 1-over and made her card on the number).
She sat down for a media session at this week’s CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Florida, where she talked about her win in last week’s Lorena Ochoa Invitational, her struggle with depression and her ascension back to the top of the game.
She credits making her depression public as having been a very eyeopening and liberating experience. And because of her friends’ reactions, it also restored her faith in the humanity of others:
“I think it ultimately did help my career just because it allowed me to say it’s okay to not be okay, and it’s okay to let people know how you’re feeling.”
“I had been so closed off and not wanting people to be hurt by the fact that I was hurting, because I didn’t think other people were strong enough to take it.”
“I didn’t want to infect people with my pain because I didn’t want anyone else to hurt. I didn’t have enough faith in humanity is probably the best way to put it. Now I realize how strong and how close my friends really are and how their strength is something I’ve been able to build my strength upon.”
And finally, in a glorious accomplishment in Mexico City, she survived a two-hole playoff against Shanshan Feng for her first win in almost a decade. It was against a small field of 40, but the prestige of that field of the best the LPGA had to offer in her hero’s tournament — Lorena was in her prime when Kim was a rookie — created the “most joyous moment” of her career:
“Yeah, there is no doubt. I’ve been part of three Solheim Cups and had had two victories prior to the one this weekend, but it was one of the most incredible moments of my life.”
“But I will say that it meant so much more to me just to be a part of the Lorena Ochoa Invitational than winning, because I wouldn’t be able to win if I wasn’t in that tournament.”
“It showed that my season went from being in Q‑School in 2012 to making it into one of the most elite fields of the season. That tournament is harder to get into than any of the majors if you look at the criteria.”
“Just being a part of that meant more to me than anything. It means more to me that I made my way back into that field than anything I’ve experienced on tour before that.”
2014 was the year that she turned her career around and she had an appropriate list of people that she counted as having been integral to that happening:
“So many things. Obviously the continued love and support from my parent and the love and support from my boyfriend, Duncan French; my caddie, T.J. Jones, who stuck with me, and we played like crap for a good amount of the time we worked together.”
“But being healthy. Dr. Bruce Thomas, he helped stitch me back up to be able to grip a golf club again and hit without any fear. Just turning 30 helped honestly.”
Pressed on why turning 30 had so much to do with it, she exhibited a pretty high level of self-awareness and learning:
“When you’re your 20s you feel like you know everything and you don’t know anything.”
“You hit 30 and you’re like, ‘No, I don’t know anything.’ That’s okay. It’s great, because it means your entire body is a vessel for knowledge that you can fill up for the rest of your life, as opposed to being 20 and having everything shut off and thinking you know everything.”
“You know, it’s the start of my second act, and I just have a different perspective on life. I see a lot more inspiration just in the small things in life.”
The small things in life that turn into big things like the almost overwhelming, caring response from all of her friends and Twitter followers:
“It was really heartwarming. I never really thought that it would be ‑‑ I didn’t think people like watched my career enough or really cared enough to do something like that.”
“You know, the amount of people that thanked me for what I came out with in my blog a couple years ago and the amount of people that kept pointing out it was nine years and three days [since her last win].”
“I didn’t think people paid that much attention to it.”
In a team building moment in junior high school when some of us were beginning to feel a little self-important, our basketball coach told us that if we wanted to get a sense of how important we were to the team, all we had to do was stick our hand in a bucket of water…and then take it out. The bucket of water remains the same.
But it is also true that many of our friends and acquaintances think of us as floating on top of that water, something we don’t realize until they get a chance to show us how much they love us.
At least that’s what happened to Christina Kim when she came back into the world.