In her new book Swinging From My Heels, Christina Kim dishes on life, love and the L-word on the LPGA tour
Christina Kim has won just twice in seven full seasons on the LPGA Tour and never finished in the top 10 on the money list. Yet thanks to her candor, hip hop-infused style and irrepressible charisma (not to mention her rabid Tweeting), the Northern California native has become one of the tour's most vocal and visible members.
Just last June the Golf Channel miked up Kim during the first two rounds of the LPGA Championship, a nod to the golfer's gregarious and, yes, marketable personality. Now Kim has put her world into words, compiling a warts-and-all first-person account of her 2009 season "the longest, hardest year of my life," she writes with Sports Illustrated senior writer Alan Shipnuck. It's an insider's look at a golfer (and a tour) in transition, laced with straight talk, juicy anecdotes and more than a couple of wild nights with her pals. "I hope it reads less like a traditional sports tome," Kim notes, "and more like an intimate diary." Judge for yourself... (Buy it here.)
In 2003 there were five other players on tour named Kim now there are a dozen but I'm pretty sure none of them have ever been confused for me. The pimpish Kangol hats popularized by LL Cool J back in the day have become my trademark. During my rookie year I bought one in every color, to go along with the ever-changing tints in my hair. I also began shopping for clothes at a wannabe death-metal store at a mall in San Jose. My dad [Man] wanted me to dress in more boring, traditional golf attire and would suggest some hideous matronly outfit. My standard reply: "The only way I'm wearing that is if I die and you get to dress me for the funeral."
One thing I loved about golf from the beginning was that it was a way to get my parents' attention. As the runt of the litter, I crave attention. I chug it.
When I was 11, my dad turned up with a funny-looking metal stick with a bulbous end. Marching me to the backyard he threw down a strip of Astroturf and grunted, "Here, swing hard as you can." I did, and it was kind of fun. Then he told me to do it 499 more times. This was my introduction to a golf club, and the golf swing. Being a dutiful Korean daughter I never thought to question my dad, and every day after school I would spend two hours making the required 500 swings, as would my older brother Mel and older sister Gloria. After a month of this tedium Dad finally took us to a driving range so we could hit actual golf balls and watch them fly. It was like the clouds parted and the angels were singing and I finally understood there was a point to all of this.
It's not easy to get laid on the LPGA tour. We're like a traveling circus that barnstorms in and out of a new town every week, and this vagabond lifestyle makes it hard to meet quality people, or get serious with those you do come across. If one of the guys on the PGA Tour is feeling lonely there is always a nice selection of so-called rope-hopers, those pretty young things who show up at tournaments in short-skirts and do-me heels and preen by the gallery ropes, hoping to attract a wandering eye. Even if you are so inclined, it's slim pickings in our galleries: horny teens clutching Natalie Gulbis calendars, dads with their daughters, or retirees in sandals with black socks.
Lorena Ochoa has a mischievous side that few people see. I got my first taste of it at the 1999 Mexican Women's Amateur. We had repaired to the clubhouse to celebrate her victory when Lorena and a group of other players brought me a michelada. It was so tangy and fizzy and delicious I had two or three more. What I didn't know is that beer is the active ingredient, along with lime juice and salt. So I like to say that when I was 15 Lorena Ochoa got me drunk off my ass.
When it comes to equipment, I'm a total slut. I've never signed an exclusive deal with any manufacturer because I want to be able to spread it around to different companies.
It's worth pointing out that I'm not the only player who feels picked-on [by the Korean press]. All the other Korean-Americans do, too. The press over there loves to write negative things about all of us gyopos, as if we chose for our parents to procreate beyond the mystical borders of Korea.
Because there's never been an honest, open discussion about lesbianism on tour, it has become a source of fascination among many golf fans and especially male reporters who have only heard various rumors and innuendo. Contrary to what many people think, we are not the Lesbians Playing Golf Association. By my count there are no more than two dozen gay women playing the tour right now. Considering there are 230 active members, you're only talking about 10 percent of the players, which from everything I've read is in line with the population as a whole.
I understand that thanks to Howard Stern and Internet porn many guys are keenly interested in girl-on-girl action, but to every player I know the issue is just not that big a deal. There are no super-freaky homophobes out here or militant man-haters. At most, a player's sexuality may be an occasional practice-round conversation piece:
"Hey, did you hear that so-and-so likes girls?"
"Really? Huh. So, did you hit an 8-iron or a 9?"
I vowed in December 2005 to drastically improve my fitness. I was also spurred by my dad, who, with typical delicacy, had declared, "You too fat. You need to lose 40 pound to make you better golfer." So I moved in with family in Korea and began to work my ass off (literally). The alarm went off every day at 5 a.m. for a five-mile run, and this was followed by two hours in the gym doing weight training and various exotic forms of torture. Then I would go for long sessions of deep-tissue massages and acupuncture. They focused on the juicy areas where fat is stored, and it was excruciating. These little old ladies would say, "Ah, look, poison is leaking out of body!" I would be like, "No, bitch, I'm crying because you're hurting me!"
Two days before the Canadian Women's Open began I was part of a racy photo shoot for ESPN The Magazine's "Body Issue." The shoot took place at a local golf course [in Calgary] that was being renovated and was thus deserted. Unfortunately no one seemed to realize until too late that the setting was flanked by a fairly busy road and the course's trees and shrubs did not entirely block the view of the three of us. So Sandra [Gal], Anna [Grzebien] and I had to step into our robes every time a car or jogger or biker passed by. When the coast was clear we'd drop trou and get back in place for a flurry of photos. It was, as you might imagine, a bit nerve-racking.
English remains a defining factor for the Koreans on tour. I'd estimate that only 10 percent of them are comfortable enough with their English to interact with all of the other players. The other 90 percent of Koreans break down into two distinct groups. About half of them lead very solitary lives. They are usually the youngest girls around 20 years old or even younger, having left school in their mid-teens to turn pro and they travel with one or both parents. If they're not on the golf course they are on the range or putting green or in their hotel room resting so they can practice even more the next day. The other Koreans move in small, insular groups of four or five or six girls, and they're as self-contained and dependent upon each other as a bobsled team. They play practice rounds together, hit balls next to each other, and eat every meal together. Some of the cliques even have nicknames. One is the self-styled GMG, for Golf Maniac Girls.
It's easy to forget how hot LPGA golfers are until they slip out of their visors and boxy polos and capri pants.
One of the highlights of Kim's season came at the Solheim Cup at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill. Kim went 3-1, helping the U.S. to a stirring 16-12 victory.
After an emotional closing ceremony the team piled on to a bus for a victory party in a ballroom at a Holiday Inn about 10 miles away. The only people missing were the European players. Win or lose those girls never skip a party and we were all disappointed that they never showed up. By midnight I was exhausted and so were all of my teammates so we caught a bus back to Rich Harvest Farms. Arriving back at the cabins we could hear music and laughing and we realized the Europeans had decided to stay on-site for their party. Even though I was completely knackered I shouted, "I'm going to the Euro party who's with me?"
No one, as it turned out, but I didn't care. When I rolled in all the European players were so cool and welcoming and a couple of them said, "We knew you were the only one who would show up." It was now about 1 a.m. and the party had gotten very sloppy. One of the team's helpers had passed out drunk and was sprawled on the floor. The players had covered him with a tarp, encircled him with pylons and taken police-style photos of the scene.
The party featured some bumping hip-hop music and sometime around 2:30 a.m. I spotted Tania Elosegui on the dance floor and went out and joined her. Twelve hours earlier we had been locked in a battle for the ages. Now we were dancing and laughing together, bonded forever by the incredible experience of competing in the Solheim Cup.