Kim leads LPGA's next generation

If Michelle Wie is the LPGA's answer to Lebron James, then Christina Kim may very well be its Carmelo Anthony.

The 20-year-old California girl has shown no signs of a sophomore slump in 2004, compiling more than $600,000 in earnings and her first career victory at last month's Longs Drugs Challenge.

Kim has been described as bubbly, outgoing and vivacious, making her one of the most recognizable faces of the new generation in the women's game. She's also not afraid to speak her mind, as illustrated in this recent Q&A with ESPN.com:

Q: Congratulations on your first LPGA victory at the Longs Drug Challenge. What was going through your mind on the back nine that day?

Kim: It's very difficult to say. On the front nine, Karrie (Webb) went birdie, birdie, par, eagle and I went par, par, par, birdie. And before I knew it she was basically doing laps around me. I felt like I was really trying to force it and I just tried to let it happen. I wasn't really thinking too much which is something I don't do very often.

Q: What else have you gained from that first victory?

Kim: It confirms that I belong out here and I am one of the players that can win out here. You always have the feeling that once you make it out here you belong, but there is still that inkling of doubt. I can't really think that I have changed at all, but I know that something happened. It's sort of like things don't really matter as much any more. I am not too stressed anymore and I can let things happen now without trying to force it.

Q: What did you learn as a rookie last season that helped you get into the winner's circle?

Kim: I definitely learned that patience is the key thing -- not just in golf, but in life. Learning to focus on the now and not worrying about what is going to come up two shots down the road or what happened three holes ago. Focusing on what you are doing at the moment and riding the wave. Letting it happen and not trying to force it. That is definitely something that I learned and, honestly, I didn't think I would win so quickly. Everything just happened to fall into place.

Q: You turned pro right out of high school. What do you think of the LPGA's 18-year-old age requirement?

Kim: When it comes to being a professional, everything should be done on a case-by-case scenario. It's a good rule of thumb to have people wait. They may have the skills to compete, but regardless of how long you have been playing the game or how many tournaments you've played in, you've still only been alive for a certain amount of time. You need to allow your body, your mind and your spirit to grow so you can accept the challenges that come with being on tour.

Q: What is your thought on Michelle Wie skipping tournaments such as the U.S. Girls Junior Championship in favor of competing with the professionals?

Kim: I wasn't as good as she is at 15, so it's difficult for me to compare. She wants to play in certain events as opposed to others because we can't play everything. We can't please everybody. As long as she's doing it for herself then she is doing the right thing.

Q: You will be playing in Asia soon. Do you think the so-called "Asian Invasion" is a good thing for the tour?

Kim: In order for this to be a worldwide tour, other nations have to be given a chance. They had it with the Swedes several years back. They were saying the same thing with Annika (Sorenstam), Sophie (Gustafson), Maria Hjorth. It's just a trend that happens. Right now it's the Koreans. Who knows how long this dynasty will last? It's a good thing, because it broadens everyone's horizons and let's people understand what it's like to be from a different culture.

Q: Do you see a division between the old-school LPGA players and the new generation?

Kim: No, I don't think so. A lot of the girls out here are very understanding and they don't judge, so I don't think there would ever be any sort of separation of players. The girls are pretty awesome out here. They are very open-minded and understanding of one another.

Q: As an emotional golfer, how does that play a role in your game?

Kim: The reason I play with so much passion and emotion is because I think, 'You only live once. You're only given a certain amount of chances to do anything in life so why not take every chance to the fullest and live it out with everything you've got.' That helps me give it my all every time. Some players on our tour are so stoic. There is no fire or emotion and you wonder whether they are satisfied with life outside of the golf course. I don't want people to ever question that about me. Why not be willing to express every emotion that you've got because you only live once. Why ever hold back?

Q: Ever since you were young, you wanted to be a golfer. How did that come about?

Kim: My father had so much of an influence on me growing up. It was something that I was good at and a choice that I wanted to make in life. It's one of those things that you can't really explain. It starts out being a hobby and then after a while you start to think that there is more to it. It's very difficult to explain. It just becomes a part of you.

Q: What do you love most about the game of golf?

Kim: It's a part of me and something that I've grown with. There are so many different challenges that you encounter through golf and so many lessons that you learn about life just by being on the golf course.

Q: How are you handling your new-found fame?

Kim: Fame? I don't have any fame.

Q: Well, whatever you wish to call it. More people know who you are now.

Kim: I try not to pay too much attention to it; I just let it go. It is just another part of life. If I have more friends then sure, why not? And if there are people that recognize me on the street, then so be it. It is really neat, but I try not to let anything like that take hold of who I am or what I do.

Q: The LPGA is taking several initiatives to increase their fan base. What do you think the tour needs to do accomplish to gain more attention?

Kim: It's a very delicate subject because it is sort of like saying, 'How do you get more people to like you?' There are so many things that are a part of us that you can't just focus on one, or any three, or any twenty certain things. A lot of it has to do with just more appreciation for women. There needs to be more advertising. I don't think there is nearly enough. There is going to be ... I don't know if I'd call it a revolution, but something about the tour is going to change concerning the way players play, the way players act. I am not one to rock the boat. I am one to let be.

Q: You're known for your brightly-colored clothes. Tell us about them.

Kim: I dress the way I feel. I am a loud and outlandish person. Why not dress accordingly? That is who I am on the inside, so why not express that on the outside. I have no fear of being ridiculed so why not?

Q: What's the best part of your game?

Kim: My ball striking. I was taught to play the game with the big stick, not the putter. A lot of kids are taught to putt the ball before they hit the ball, but I wasn't taught that way. I sort of kept that with me.