LPGA Takeaway: Christina Kim Says 'Damn Good' Players Deserve Much Bigger Paychecks
Mega-personality Christina Kim is wrapping up her 13th season on the LPGA Tour. While she's most known for her outgoing style and outspoken nature, the 32-year-old has experienced both success and struggle throughout her career, including injuries and battles with depression. The three-time LPGA champion opens up about her nine-year winless streak, overcoming obstacles in her game, and why it's no longer solely up to the LPGA and its stars to fight for more prize money for its players.
You’ve had a pretty good year, with a runner-up at the LPGA Volvik Championship and two other top-10s. How’s your game right now?
I'm feeling really good about my game. I'm super excited to be back out here playing obviously and just gotta love being out here on the LPGA tour. I think it requires less focus and just more patience cause all you have to do is focus just a little bit before you hit the shot and then during the shot. And between shots you can let your brain go wherever you want it to. But it's just a matter of just having trust in yourself, being patient. To quote some pretty big golfers from the past, "Just trust the process." It’s funny but it really is true: It's about trust and patience, just like really any sort of change in life you come across.
You won the 2014 Lorena Ochoa Invitational almost exactly nine years to the day of your last win, the 2005 Mitchell Company Tournament of Champions. What was being back in the winner’s circle like?
To be honest I really doubt there was anyone more surprised than myself to see that I won again after, like you said, a nine-year drought. I was just out there just focusing on playing good golf. And for me I thought it was victory enough just to be in the field at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational back in 2014 considering the fact that I was at Q-school at the end of 2012.
For me, it's all about small victories in life. The fact that I was able to get into such a prestigious event in the first place was just a monumental thing for me. And then to go on and have the tournament turn out the way it did and come out on top, it was just a dream come true.
What’s your opinion on the state of the LPGA Tour right now?
It's probably one of the most healthy, bountiful places I've seen it in my long career out here, me being one of the old broads, I guess. [Laughs] It's in a wonderful place. We've got so many events that it's a nice problem to have where you have to pick and choose where you want to play.
Has it been a problem for you to pick and choose?
It's not something that I'm really thinking about cause the last time I played eight in a row it turned out well for me. So maybe that's the number that I need to be going for. [Laughs] But, no, the LPGA is in a wonderful place.
We've got some obviously amazing young talents with Lydia Ko, number one in the world, Ariya Jutanugarn, who just won her third event in a row. Her first three wins were back to back to back. I don't know if that's ever been done in golf.
You've got young players like Brooke Henderson, who is just a phenomenal player. I can go on and on and on. I think that we're in a position where we can start discussing the disparity between what the guys are making versus women because we're in place where we have proof that there is no reason why we can't be making more than we are now. It's astronomical, the difference in prize funds between the men and women. We've made some huge strides and we've got some incredible partners with the LPGA tour and our sponsors. But I still feel like we can try and push the issue a little bit more.
Is it something that’s discussed a lot between the women on tour?
I know that I talk about it with a lot of my friends. Sometimes it's one of those laughable things where you're just like, "That guy just made in one week what we make as an entire tour in one week. That's our entire prize fund." I think that there is a lot of discussion out there and there has been for a number of years because the LPGA has always been an incredible product.
We've always had some of the most incredible players in the game of golf playing on this incredible stage. I don't think that the women are getting the recognition that they deserve. Again, it's one of those where it's a delicate balance because we don't want to sound ungrateful toward our sponsors because we've got some tournaments that have been partners with the LPGA tour for over 30 years. Without them, the LPGA tour wouldn't be where it is now. But at the same time, where do you draw the line? Where is it where you can say, "Hey, we still need to talk about this."
And it's not just in golf. It's in every sport. It's in every industry in the entire world. I don't understand why women and men should be paid differently especially in the corporate world where it's not like you're doing completely different things when you're an executive. I don't know. We ain't got enough time for that in this interview. [Laughs]
So how can the LPGA tour itself help obtain bigger purses for its players?
I can tell you right now there isn't a damn thing. The LPGA tour is an amazing product. We are incredibly engaging. We'll talk with anybody, everybody.
We're told week in, week out our pro-ams are phenomenal. We still hand write notes to our sponsors to thank them. We're on social media blowing them up about how great the LPGA tour is, how great the tournaments themselves are. I don't think there is really anything else the LPGA tour or its players can do at this stage to do more to help increase the purses. I don't know if it's really in our hands anymore.
Should sports be considered separate from the entertainment industry? What about the LPGA specifically?
That's a very good question. I don't really know what I would think. I think it varies day to day. There are some days where I definitely do think that the LPGA tour is part of the entertainment industry. And I think that there are times when I feel like sports itself are encompassed in the entertainment industry.
But, yeah, I don't know. It just depends. Some days you do. Some days you don't cause some days you're like, "This is not entertaining at all, this is more like the dramatic stuff you see on HBO or Showtime." It just depends on what you mean by the term entertainment. But overall I think most sports are in entertainment. So I guess the best way to say that would be yes.
You’re considered one of the bigger personalities on the LPGA. Tell me a bit more about what the women on tour are like on a personal level.
Personally, I don't think of myself as a big personality. I still think of myself as a relatively private person. I don't know. Maybe I talk a lot without saying much, maybe is the best way to put it. There is a lot of stuff going on in my world that people don't know about because it's my life and my business and no one else's.
But I think that week in and week out we've got 143 other incredible stories and 143 incredible players who have their own unique, amazing journeys. I don't know if it's so much that they don't share as much as that they aren't approached. I think talking with the girls out here, I've heard some amazing stories of how they got to be where they are, where they've come from and aspirations that they have that you don't hear about in the media. And I don't know whose "fault" that is.
What’s your favorite thing about being a player on the LPGA tour?
There isn't enough time in the day to list all the things I love about being an LPGA player. Obviously the camaraderie you get with the other players out here, the amount of interaction you're able to obtain with the fans. Obviously, getting some great partnerships with the sponsors that the LPGA tour and us as players build over the years. Getting to travel around the world. Experiencing different cultures, different foods. I mean, I could go on and on. It's more what is the least best thing about being an LPGA player--
Yeah, so what's the that?
I don't know if there is one because some days the closest thing I would say would be the travel! [Laughs] But then there are times when you're sitting on an airplane. You look out the window and you just see some incredible skylines and the clouds and everything. That's the closest thing I could get to saying is the least great thing about the LPGA tour. But there are some times when it just completely takes your breath away.
What’s one thing people should know about being a professional golfer that you think they don’t know?
The one thing I think people should know about women professional golfers and how they play, we're damn good. That’s the only way about it.
What’s one thing you would take away from your extensive career on tour so far?
The one thing that I would take away from my time on the LPGA tour would probably be just the mentorship that I've received from some of the most incredible players of all time: Beth Daniel, Meg Mallon, Nancy Lopez, Rosie Jones, Juli Inkster, Se Ri Pak.
I could go on and on and on. I was so fortunate when I turned professional to have those women, those pioneers, those incredible women that fought and paved the way for me to be out here and to have still been on tour when I first got my tour card. And the way that they taught me and molded me into being a professional: to say thank you, to say please, to acknowledge the fans, to interact with sponsors. And they taught me so many life lessons beyond golf. It's just the greatest gift that I've ever received.
Ryan Asselta contributed to reporting.