Anger Management 101
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
ST. LOUIS – Anger management. Seems an odd topic at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, where these young women – and in many cases, young girls – are made up of sugar and spice. Their bouncy ponytails, ruffled skirts and sparkling accessories serve as a cover to the competitive fire that burns inside. They want to win. They want to be perfect. And, occasionally, they act out in frustration.
For some players, such as Alexis Thompson, their faces can be read like the Sunday paper. Thompson has a pouty expression that’s unmistakable. Of course, she could be 4 under when she puts it on, but that goes back to the perfectionist point.
Kimberly Kim and Maude-Aimee (pronounced Mode) Leblanc are polar opposites in how they deal with anger. Kim, 17, turns to her caddie and giggles after an unfortunate swing. Leblanc, 20, lets go of her club.
Both are upset. Leblanc looks like she want to punch a wall; Kim looks like she wants to quit.
“People always think I don’t care, that I don’t want to play good and I’m not trying,” Kim said. “Normally, I try really hard. I get frustrated.”
Said Leblanc: “I think I have the worst temper here.”
Kim is a curious case. The 2006 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion has been to two USGA finals this summer – U.S. Girls’ Junior and WAPL – and got thumped in both. This time around she was dismissed in the first round, losing, 5 and 3, to Leblanc, a junior-to-be at Purdue.
Leblanc admits she got lucky during the first round at Old Warson, and Kim admits she didn’t really want to be in Missouri. It has been a long summer for the recent high school grad who misses her mom and her dog.
“I’m just tired,” said Kim, who took to the road with her father. “I’m ready to start getting ready for college.”
It must be tough to win the biggest amateur tournament in the world at age 14, and then find a way to get motivated for lesser junior events the next three years.
Kim heads to the University of Denver in the fall and looks forward to her “freedom.” She’s never been really big on practicing, so the demands of a college regimen could do wonders for her game.
As for her attitude, Kim said that stems back to her childhood. At age 8, Kim attacked her golf bag so violently that she put a hole in it. She ruined two $400 putters by kicking them out of shape. Not surprisingly, mom and dad took away the clubs.
“I learned not to use my temper very young,” Kim explained. “I do have like an extreme temper, but I never act on it.”
That nervous laughter masks the anger. And beware of the mopey walk. She can rattle off three birdies in the midst of it and never change expression.
By the back nine on Wednesday, however, Kim had indeed checked out. Every time Leblanc looked like she might give one back, she managed to recover.
While Kim is a veteran of this championship, Leblanc is a rookie. The Women’s Am always tends to conflict with one of her tournaments in Canada. She has, however, played in the British Amateur four times and advanced to the quarterfinals last summer.
Friends call the 6-foot-1 Leblanc the “Gentle Giant” because she’s quiet. Not because she takes losing lightly.
“I’m really hard on myself,” she said. “I always want to hit perfect shots. I’m working on that.”
Kim sounds similar when talking about her expectations: “I just want my swing to be perfect.”
Back in 2006, when she won this event, Kim was clueless and inconsistent, but she played with feel.
“I didn’t have a mechanical swing,” she said. “It was just talent, I guess, or whatever.”
Kim made quotation-mark signs when she said the word “talent,” as if she wasn’t quite convinced it was true. Two teachers later, Kim is more mechanical, and she likes it that way.
Though she, like so many others, will need to learn that “perfect” does not exist. That’s Anger Management 101.