Duke golfer Gina Kim sets record at U.S. Women’s Open

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.

Helping deliver Duke an NCAA championship was just the start of an historic month for Gina Kim.

The 19-year-old from Chapel Hill shot the lowest round by an amateur in U.S. Women’s Open history on Thursday at the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.).

Kim recorded six birdies and an eagle on the way to a five-under-par 66 in her record first round. She followed that with a 1-over-par second round on Friday to sit at 4-under for the tournament entering the weekend. She’s tied for third, trailing Mamiko Higa (6-under) and Jessica Korda (5-under).

“It feels amazing,” Kim said on Thursday. “This is something I dreamed of as a little girl. So being able to finish out strong like that really shows me that I’m ready to be here and I’m definitely ready to do whatever I can to keep myself in it.”

Kim punctuated her freshman season at Duke eight days earlier when the Blue Devils beat Wake Forest, 3-2, in match play to win the program’s seventh NCAA women’s golf championship.

After putting herself in position to not only make the cut but contend for the U.S. Open championship this weekend, Kim said Friday she is planning to continue with her Duke career before turning professional.

“I’d love to get my degree at Duke. I love college,” Kim said. “It’s been a great experience for me, and I think it’s definitely helped me mature as a person. So, you know, I think that’s still kind of in the air, but as for now, I’d love to get my degree first.”

In Kim’s spectacular Thursday round, she closed her front nine at 1-under, thanks to a birdie on the par-3 No. 17 when she holed a bunker shot. She heated up even more on the back nine.

On her penultimate hole, the par-4 No. 8, she scored an eagle when she sank a shot from 141 yards out.

On her last final hole, the par-5 No. 9, she nearly eagled again. She just missed a 25-yard putt before tapping the ball in for a birdie.

Kim started at No. 1 on Friday and promptly three-putted for a bogey. That was the first of two bogeys that left her 2-over through her front nine.

“You know, it was only the first hole,” Kim said. “I mean, I still had 17 holes left to play. There was definitely more golf that I had left. So I didn’t really take it too hard. I just kind of got a little disappointed for three seconds and then just moved on to the next hole.”

On her back nine, birdies on 13 and 15 got her back to even par for the round. Though she bogeyed the par-4 18th hole, Kim feels confident entering the final two rounds. Her solid ball-striking, evident during her play with Duke at the NCAA championship, remains a strength she relies upon.

“I think that’s been one of my biggest strengths these days,” Kim said. “You know, my shots have really helped me in times when I really needed them. I’ve definitely made birdies because I’ve stuck it very close. So I’m feeling really good about where I am right now. Clearly, my scores are doing well, and so hopefully I can keep that going for the rest of the weekend.”

Kim isn’t the only Duke player with national championship experience among the U.S. Women’s Open leaders.

Celine Boutier, a 2015 Duke graduate, shot a four-under 67 in Thursday’s first round. Yu Liu, a 2014 All-American for the Blue Devils, opened the tournament with a two-under, 69 on Thursday. Boutier and Liu were part of Duke’s 2014 NCAA championship team.

Boutier is at 4-under for the tournament, tied with Kim for third. But Boutier’s was on hole 14 of her second round when play was halted due to darkness at 8:24 p.m. Friday night.

Liu completed her even-par second round, placing her at 2-under for the tournament. She’s tied for ninth.

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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.