Eight years ago, Birdie Kim surprised the golf world by winning the U.S. Women’s Open at age 23.
It made her a worldwide celebrity and the latest South Korean to find success on the LPGA Tour.
A serious auto accident in 2009 derailed Kim’s career, leaving her with injuries from which she needed more than a year to recover.
Now 31, Kim is back on the developmental Symetra Tour, trying to regain the form that made her a winner of one of the LPGA’s major championships.
“The last few years have changed all of my life,” Kim said after Wednesday’s practice round at Raintree Country Club, where she’ll begin play Thursday in the Symetra Classic. She will start on the 10th tee at 8:40 a.m.
“My situation, I just keep going,” she said. “I just take things day to day. I enjoy each day now. I just keep trying.”
Kim wasn’t considered a contender when the U.S. Women’s Open was played in Cherry Hills Village, Colo., in 2005. She had made the cut in nine of 33 events since earning her LPGA Tour card in 2004.
Four solid rounds – capped by one spectacular shot at Cherry Hills Country Club – changed that.
Kim’s 60-foot bunker shot for birdie on the 18th hole gave her the lead , and she finished two shots ahead of then-17-year-old Morgan Pressel and former Duke star Brittany Lang for what was then the biggest payday ($560,000) in women’s golf.
Four years later, however, Kim’s career was sidetracked.
It was August 2009, and the pro tour was on a three-week break after the British Women’s Open. Kim spent the down time in South Korea visiting family and friends.
She was in the back seat of a car driven by her brother-in-law, Jae Soon Park, when it was hit in the side by another car. Though Kim wore a seat belt, her head slammed into the back of the front seat.
“I still don’t remember” what happened in the accident, Kim said. “Only what I was told by my family.”
The wreck left Kim with fractured and dislocated bones in her face, which required two operations. Injuries to her neck and shoulders left her unable to swing a golf club for more than six months.
Kim attempted a return to the LPGA Tour in 2010, but she missed the cut in two early tournaments before pulling the plug on a comeback. She tried again in 2011, but only made the cut in two of 11 events.
That’s put Kim back on the Symetra Tour, where she has three career victories from early in her pro career. A top-10 finish in earnings this season would return her to the LPGA Tour .
Kim admits she’s had to adjust her game – partially from age, mostly because of the side effects of the accident.
“I lost some strength,” from the accident, she said. “It doesn’t bother me much now. When I get tired, it will start hurting, but I get through it.”
However, Kim still believes she will eventually hold her own with the younger players on the Symetra and LPGA tours .
“I’m 31, but it’s just a number, OK?” she said. “It still feels like I’m 20, 21. That’s why I still play.
“I’d like to play until I’m 45 or 50, just like (Hall of Famer) Juli (Inkster, who still competes on the LPGA Tour at age 52). It all depends on how things work out.”
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