LPGA's Kim making case to turn pro early

Mindy Kim acknowledges to the gallery on the 18th hole during the second round of the LPGA State Farm Classic golf tournament Friday, June 10, 2011, in Springfield, Ill.

Mindy Kim acknowledges to the gallery on the 18th hole during the second round of the LPGA State Farm Classic golf tournament Friday, June 10, 2011, in Springfield, Ill.

Springfield, Ill. – My open-minded aunt often cuts a conversation short with four simple words: “To each their own.” When making a decision about when to turn pro, I’ve learned it’s almost impossible to predict the best path. Take for example Mindy Kim, a 21-year-old who stood on the range in my hometown of Lakeland, Fla., four years ago on the cusp of making her professional debut. Kim was 17 and had one AJGA title to her credit. My initial thought: bad move.

With each week that passes on the LPGA, however, Kim builds her case for turning pro early. She’s currently leading the State Farm Classic at 13-under 131, two strokes ahead of Yani Tseng (66) and Shanshan Feng (65).

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“Looking back now, I don’t think I was very ready,” Kim said. “I just wanted to give this a shot – all my friends were turning pro.”

Amanda Blumenherst, 24, defied the odds when, despite earning College Player of the Year honors three years in a row, she graduated from Duke. The LPGA sophomore has no regrets.

“I’m so, so glad I had graduated,” said Blumenherst, who won LPGA Q-School in 2009. “If I had only gone two years or a year I would’ve thought what on earth did I just do?”

Blumenherst shot 68-67 and is in fifth place heading into the weekend in Springfield. Duke’s most decorated Blue Devil has struggled off the tee and on the greens this year, but feels her game is finally starting to click.

“I didn’t even feel that prepared, and I played four years of college golf,” Blumenherst said. “The tour is so different.”

Kim dove head-first into professional golf, playing in 12 events in 2007 on the developmental circuit with one top-10 finish. The following season she won three events and placed second on the money list. Kim’s first two years on the LPGA were a test of mental fortitude. She finished 88th and 92nd on the money list in 2010, ’09 respectively. She, who works with Don Brown on her full swing, credits her recent surge in play to hard work. Kim has three top-8 finishes this season.

“I think when she’s focused she’s just as good as anybody,” said Ron Stockton, who began working with Kim in December. “I think she’s just discovering that.”

Stockton said most of their time centers around the mental game and credits her for having a no-fear attitude.

Kim was born in Seoul but has lived in the U.S. with her mother since age 6. Her father, Young, still works in Seoul. Kim travels back to Korea once or twice a year and can be found kayaking in Newport Beach, Calif., when she’s not practicing or shopping.

“I don’t really look like a reader, but I like to read,” Kim said. “Mental books and Harry Potter. Is that kind of like my age, or not really? I think that’s about it.”

Blumenherst, history major who has done her fair share of reading, said it was difficult to transition from traveling with a team to flying solo. She’s also impressed with the level of competition.

“These women are amazing,” she said.

And their paths to get here couldn’t be more varied.

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