CHARLESTON, S.C. – The Gina Kim that’s killing it on the big stage this month wasn’t always this way. In fact, Duke assistant coach Jon Whithaus said that two months ago the 19-year-old decided that she needed to learn how to better embrace the big moments.
That focus has paid off in a massive way as Kim helped Duke win the NCAA Championship last week and will be contending this weekend at the 74th U.S. Women’s Open. Catherine Lacoste became the first and only amateur to win the championship in 1967.
“When the world is getting complicated around her,” said Whithaus, “she’s been great at staying simple.”
After matching the amateur record of 66 to start the week at Country Club of Charleston, Kim three-putted her last hole to shoot 1-over 72 on Friday. It wasn’t as dramatic a day, but Kim walked off the course still feeling good about the round. She’s at 4-under 138, one shot behind clubhouse leader Jessica Korda.
“I didn’t make more mistakes than yesterday,” said Kim. “If anything, I think I improved and learned this golf course a little better.”
While Kim’s parents are both Spanish professors at the University of North Carolina, Kim is a bona fide member of the Cameron Crazies. She shared a few classes and the same academic advisor with fellow freshman Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish and RJ Barrett.
“Zion actually came out to our practice facility and was trying to hit golf balls,” she said. “He wasn’t bad. He made contact with the ball, I mean, not in the right direction.”
Kim talked to them about the heat of competition. Barrett said she needed to trust the work she’d put in.
“I was curious how they were able to handle so much pressure,” said Kim, “when literally everybody is looking at them and judging everything that they do.”
Whithaus said Kim arrived on campus in the fall not necessarily afraid, but overwhelmed by the details of who the competition might be or the daunting task of making a cut. The only thing that’s really changed in recent months is her mind.
“She’s always had the physical talent,” he said. “It’s allowing her to have the confidence just to take care of business.”
Kim didn’t only look to Duke’s basketball royalty for advice, she also took a page from Tiger Woods. When she gets nervous, Kim said she often picked at the callous on the side of her thumb.
“I saw Tiger chewing gum at the Masters so I was like ‘Mom, we’re chewing gum,’ ” said Kim, who’s into a berry flavor this week.
Certainly worked for Woods.