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Heading into the NCAA championship, this all-ACC Duke freshman golfer is learning to ‘chill’

Chapel Hill’s Gina Kim now stars at Duke

A standout golfer from Chapel Hill High School, Gina Kim has helped Duke reach the NCAA championships as a freshman with the Blue Devils.
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A standout golfer from Chapel Hill High School, Gina Kim has helped Duke reach the NCAA championships as a freshman with the Blue Devils.

The only freshman in Duke’s starting lineup as the Blue Devils seek their seventh NCAA golf championship, Gina Kim is doing more than just holding her own on a talented team.

One of the state’s top junior golfers growing up in Chapel Hill, Kim claimed two N.C. 3A championships with Chapel Hill High before being named all-ACC with the Blue Devils this season.

This week, she and the No. 3-ranked Blue Devils head to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where the NCAA championship meet begins Friday at The Blessings Golf Club.

Kim joins senior Virginia Elena Carta, junior Ana Belac, redshirt sophomore Miranda Wang and sophomore Jaravee Boonchant in Duke’s starting five. Together they shot a four-over 868 to place third at the Auburn Regional and join 23 other qualifying teams at the NCAA championships.

“We had a good regionals,” Duke coach Dan Brooks said. “We were leading after a couple of days. We really had a good third day, too, but Florida State and Vandy sort of clobbered us. But we played well.”

The Blue Devils, Kim included, have already posted impressive accomplishments this season as they look to add the ultimate team prize.

Belec, Carta and Boonchant are all among Duke’s top 10 career-wise for rounds in the 60s. Belac’s 16, good for sixth overall, leads that group. Her seven career Eagles are two off the Lindy Duncan’s school-record nine.

Kim’s 73.3 stroke average is currently 10th on Duke’s all-time list for a freshman player. She’s also 10th on Duke’s all-time freshman list with 12 rounds at even or under par.

She’s done that while adjusting to a higher level of play at Duke after a dominant junior career that saw her twice named a Rolex Junior All-American.

“I would say back then I used to be more aggressive, almost reckless at times,” Kim said. “Sometimes it would pay off and sometimes it wouldn’t. But now that I came into college I’ve learned to make smarter choices around the course. I’ve learned to be patient with myself and trust that throughout the process there will be opportunities that will come. In the meantime, just try to keep holding in there for the team and make smart choices so you don’t wind up sacrificing more than you gained.”

A highly sought-after player by schools around the country, it was only a matter of time before she signed with the Blue Devils. Duke University Golf Club general manager Ed Ibarguen has been her longtime teacher.

Brooks continues to leave the coaching of Kim’s swing mechanics to Ibarguen. He’s fine-tuning her mental approach.

“The word with her has been ‘chill,’ “ Brooks said. “That’s the word we’ve been using. She has learned a lot about calming herself down, keeping it all in perspective, realizing we’re playing a game. She works very, very hard. It’s easy to be hard on yourself when you work that hard.”

Kim enters her first NCAA championship feeling best about her putting because she’s invested so much time perfecting it.

“Hopefully things click together and putts will fall in,” Kim said. “Mentally I’m in a good spot with that part of my game.”

Kim is familiar with The Blessings, having played the Arkansas course in 2015 as a junior when she placed second at the KPMG Stacy Lewis Junior All-Star Invitational.

The course has been renovated since then but she’s confident her prior experience will help this weekend.

“It’s very hilly,” Kim said. “If you use the slopes to your advantage and just play smart around there the scores will definitely come out. One of the main takeaways from there is to definitely stay patient and know exactly where you have to land the ball. These little minute details that most usually gloss over. But if you focus on them I think the rewards are much greater than you think.”

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An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.

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