Kim learns to balance golf and motherhood

Mi Hyun Kim is playing this week at the Kia Classic, her first LPGA event since giving birth to a baby boy in November. (File photo)

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CARLSBAD, Calif. – Mi Hyun Kim’s preparation for 2010 can’t even be categorized as minimal. The new mom came into the Kia Classic as cold as Everest.

Beth Ann: So when did you start practicing again?

Kim: When I got here.

Beth Ann: When you came back to the States (from Korea)?

Kim: No, this Tuesday.

This reporter’s jaw dropped right about then.

Of course, after watching Catriona Matthew win the Ricoh Women’s British Open 11 weeks after giving birth to her second child, very little about the moms out here surprises. Matthew, by the way, shot 4-under 68 March 25 and is tied for third.

A rusty Kim, 33, opened the year with a 3-over 75 at the Kia Classic and blames that on three missed putts inside 3 feet. This La Costa setup is playing long for everyone, which means it’s gargantuan for the shortest player on tour. Plus, “Peanut” has new clubs with conforming grooves she hasn’t practiced with in her bag, so distance control is slightly suspect.

The year’s first domestic stop marks the debut for many rookies on tour, but it’s also a welcome-back week for those who battled injuries (Jeong Jang/wrist, Sherri Steinhauer/double hip surgery, Grace Park/hip) and, on a more uplifting note, gave birth.

Laura Diaz is back after having her second child, Lily Caroline, in January. Both Gloria Park and Kim gave birth to sons.

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Laura Diaz hits a shot at the 2009 Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic.

Diaz practiced for four weeks to prep for this event, only to come down with an infection on Tuesday that kept her from having a practice round. She saw La Costa for the first time on Thursday and shot 5-over 77.

With husband, Kevin, on the bag, Diaz has the whole family out this week. Diaz’s mother looks after 4-year-old son Cooper and Lily while the couple tries to earn a paycheck.

“I wouldn’t be out here if I didn’t have (my mom),” Diaz said.

Kim married Won Hee Lee, a former Olympic gold medalist in judo, in December 2008 and played most of last year pregnant. Her 10th and final event of the 2009 season was the Wegmans LPGA in June.

Lee now teaches judo at a university in Korea, so Kim was in Orlando, Fla., with her mom last fall when the time came to go to the hospital. She phoned her husband from the road and he booked a ticket out of Seoul.

Kim spent 36 hours in the hospital. Lee made it in time to see his son, Ye Sung Lee, come into the world Nov. 3 with four hours to spare.

Ten days later Lee flew back to Korea and shattered his knee snowboarding with 200 students. Kim flew back to Korea on Christmas Eve with the baby and didn’t return until two weeks ago. Ye Sung caught the flu on the plane and gave it to mom, who was still fighting the bug around La Costa, as if she didn’t have enough things to overcome this week.

Kim’s goal is to play in every event this year, though her son likely won’t join her on the road until July.

“He doesn’t like cars,” she said. “He doesn’t like planes, either.”

Like Diaz, Kim relies heavily on her mother, who is watching the baby with help from a nanny. She Skypes her son in Orlando and her husband in Korea. This week is her first time away from Ye Sung, and it’s as difficult as one would expect. Kim spent extra time with a mother and her infant daughter off the 18th green, two fans she now can relate to on a whole new level.

“I miss him so much!” she said.

Ask Matthew to name the toughest part about being a mom on tour and she quickly says guilt.

“Katie certainly wasn’t wanting to go to daycare this morning, making me feel very bad,” she said. “But you’ve got to accept that within two seconds of leaving they’re fine again.”

There’s leaving the kids at daycare, but there’s also leaving them thousands of miles away. Matthew has her 3-year-old daughter on the road for two weeks but left baby Sophie at home with the grandparents in Scotland. She’ll bring the whole family out for a five-week stretch in June.

Motherhood undoubtedly has helped Matthew’s game. Bad shots melt away with a giggle from one of her girls.

It won’t take long for Kim to experience the same. In fact, those three short putts might already be ancient history.

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