WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – At the end of a packed autograph line behind the 18th green, an elderly volunteer stood waiting for Christina Kim. He presented Kim with a framed photo of the two of them, and she promptly handed it back, saying, “May I get your autograph, sir?”
Surprised by the role reversal, the man fumbled with her Sharpie before scribbling something on the glass. They shared a warm embrace, the old man crying in her arms.
Walking on toward the practice green, Kim explained that four years ago at the LPGA Kingsmill Championship, this same gentleman offered her a hug when she finished runner-up to Annika Sorenstam.
“He’s got Alzheimer’s, so the fact that he remembered me,” Kim said, her words growing thick with emotion. “It’s always nice to have people that care.”
Christina Kim is on a short list of LPGA players who boast any type of true celebrity status. Fans line up regardless of the numbers she posts.
She carries two cellphones to accommodate her popularity, wears canary-yellow outfits, pulls her hair back in pig tails and tops off the look with a backward Kangol cap. So, how does a woman whose energy and vivaciousness have radiated on the LPGA for 10 years post a blog like this:
Depression. Thoughts of suicide.
Irritability. The inability to smile.
No, this isn’t an advertisement for Prozac. This has been my life for the last two years.
Kim’s 3,248-word admission was raw. She wrote it for herself “first and foremost,” and pointed no fingers as she laid out her troubles. She found the writing exercise therapeutic and was floored by the amount of support she received from fans and her peers.
Though it helped to talk to other players who can relate, Kim said, it’s still a personal battle. She detests fluff, the standard “It’s going to get better” response. What if it doesn’t?
As for why the unraveling began, Kim said it’s a chicken-and-egg kind of situation. It’s hard to tell if her struggles on the golf course caused her unhappiness or vice versa.
What she does know is that a massage in Malaysia in 2010 caused a back injury that led to an extreme loss of distance throughout her bag. She’s still “voraciously” fighting the issue and has a newfound respect for shorter hitters such as Morgan Pressel.
In spring 2011, Kim sank deeper into depression. Thoughts of suicide began to swirl. The idea of swerving into oncoming traffic or driving straight off a cliff suddenly seemed like an easy escape. In April of last year, while playing in a Ladies European Tour event, Kim thought about jumping into the Mediterranean Sea to end her life.
I was so close to leaping over the edge, but a flurry of nonstop phone calls from Duncan, as well as me having the keys to the car, were the only reasons I didn’t go.
Later that summer at the U.S. Women’s Open in Colorado, Kim eventually told longtime boyfriend Duncan French about that close call in Spain. She called her doctor and went on an antidepressant for nearly six months.
Kim hasn’t spoken with her parents about the blog. Her crew on the LPGA – Michelle Wie, Jane Park, Irene Cho and Jeehae Lee (Wie’s manager) – often share their troubles over sushi. On one car ride in particular, the group told Kim to scream it out. The windows, she said, nearly shattered.
To know if Kim is truly having a good day or merely faking it, examine her smile.
“I smile up to my eyes,” she said. Those smiles don’t form as easily as they once did.
A three-time U.S. Solheim Cup player, Kim has made more than $4 million in career earnings. This season,
however, she made less than a schoolteacher. Kim ended her 2012 season at last week’s Navistar LPGA. In 20 events she made nine cuts and $38,384, and she must head to Q-School for the first time. Golf is no longer her sanctuary.
In her upcoming extended offseason, Kim thought she’d take up boxing as a way to pound out aggression. She also mentioned buying a bar so she could break all the bottles. (Sarcasm is still there.) She hopes to shed off some “comfort food” weight in the offseason.
“For every pound I lose, I should gain a yard in distance,” she reasoned.
Natalie Gulbis described Kim as the “life of the party” and said she was there with open arms and a bottle of champagne to spray when Gulbis won in France. When Gulbis read Kim’s blog, her first thought was of Erica Blasberg, the young tour player who committed suicide in May 2010.
“We are real life,” Gulbis said. “Players have gone through divorces; they’ve had miscarriages; they’ve had death of loved ones. We’ve had players go through cancer.”
But sometimes, the deepest wounds are too hidden to see.
Kim penned that letter first for herself, but also for those who believe depression is a taboo subject. She’s quick to point out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 10 American adults have experienced some form of depression. The tour, she said, is just like any other large sampling of people.
We can rest easier knowing that Kim has made progress. Her bad days aren’t nearly as tortuous. She no longer visualizes how she might die by her own hand.
Kim closed her summer blog post with a bit of humor that drove home an important point: She’s not giving up.
I will be damned if I don’t go down without a fight. Preferably against a bear. Because aside from it being swift, I mean, come on, that would be epic.
“We all have our demons,” she said. “Mine just almost got the best of me.”
Mercifully, life goes on.