Chapel Hill: Sports

Gina Kim making an immediate impact on high school golf

Chapel Hill ninth-grader Gina Kim hits from a sandtrap.
Chapel Hill ninth-grader Gina Kim hits from a sandtrap.

The long awaited arrival of golfer Gina Kim at the high school level should significantly effect the balance among area teams.

Chapel Hill golf coach Jim Williams expects her to tip the scales in the Tigers’ favor.

“By far, the most talented and driven player I’ve had the pleasure to coach during eight years at CHHS,” Williams said of Kim as they headed into Wednesday’s competition at Wildwood Green in Creedmoor.

Kim wasted no time is establishing her bone fides Wednesday. She shot a 3-under-par 32 on the front nine for first place, finishing three strokes ahead of runners-up Sarah Towne of East Chapel Hill and Hailey Freedman of Cardinal Gibbons, both at even-par 35.

Kim, age 14, is the No. 1-ranked female among all North Carolina junior golfers. That group comprises all N.C. golfers up to age 18. She’s ranked No. 84 among juniors nationally and No. 4 in the U.S. class of 2018.

“I like the competition,” she said. “ The pressure to do well motivates me to work harder.”

Born in Albuquerque and having moved to Chapel Hill at age 3, she started golfing when she was 7.

“I didn’t start golfing seriously until I was 8,” Kim said.

Shooting a 34 over nine holes in an area tournament at age 8 is what got her really going. “That score was so unexpected, I wanted to play in all the tournaments I could.”

Her Korean-born parents, both of whom played golf before their work as UNC professors began eating up most of their days, encouraged Kim to keep playing.

By age 9, Kim was popping up on the Carolina Golf Association’s junior rankings and began a steady climb up the charts.

She took over as No. 1 this summer, passing Raleigh Athens Drive senior Emilia Migliaccio, the defending 4A high school state champion.

Kim’s move to the top was powered by nine top-10 finishes in the 16 events counted by the CGA. That included medalist honors in two of the biggest events she entered – the Ballantyne Junior Girls Open and a sectional qualifier in Columbia, S.C., for the USGA Junior Girls Championship. Her N.C. ranking failed to include her first place in May’s American Junior Golf Association tournament at Cattail Creek in Maryland.

Williams says Kim’s strengths are her precision and accuracy on approaches, plus her mental discipline. He and she agree that she will get better as she refines her short game around the green and her putting.

“She is strong to very strong in all aspects of her game,” Williams said. “ She will become ‘long’ as she gets taller and stronger.”

Kim recently was named to the LPGA Evian Juniors Cup U-14 Team that will compete in France in mid-September.

Kim’s goals this year are more focused on adjusting to N.C. High School Athletics Association play. That’s not too hard, she says, because golf is golf, no matter where you play.

“It’s all the same. It’s still a competition to do your best,” Kim said.

Williams is struck by Kim’s easy-going attitude around other golfers.

“I appreciate that she is a very friendly and engaging young lady – (that’s) hard to be as a competitive athlete,” he said.

Kim is likely this year to get her stiffest competition on a regular basis in tour events instead of high school varsity matches. None of the state’s players ranked No. 2-5 are in the same high school classification as Chapel Hill, so they won’t face Kim in any NCHSAA tournaments.

Migliaccio has opted to fore-go varsity play this year to concentrate on tour events. Siranon Shoomee plays at Lee Senior, a 4A program. Jessica and Sarah Spicer are home schooled.

“I would like to be a state champion by the end of this year,” Kim said. “I think that’s possible.

Williams agrees.

“She has the potential to play at the highest level collegiately, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her on television one day, if she decides she wants to be an LPGA pro,” Williams said.