It wasn’t until after handing over her Sunday scorecard that Mi Hyun Kim was hit by the finality of it all.
A 6-over-par 78 at the LPGA HanaBank Championship was the last round of Kim’s 13-year LPGA career, stepping aside for a next phase that resembles Annika Sorenstam’s – raising a family and starting a golf academy.
“Even until the last putt dropped, it didn't really hit me that this was my last round,” said Kim, who tied for 61st out of 69 entrants at Incheon’s Sky 72 Golf Club.
“But after turning in my last scorecard and seeing the other players coming up to me and crying with me and for me and just seeing all you guys in the press conference, it is hitting me now.”
Though Se Ri Pak’s two major titles in 1998 made her the groundbreaker for South Korea’s rise in the game, Kim was just a year behind. She was the 1999 Rookie of the Year after winning twice and finishing eighth on the money list, compiling eight victories in all.
Her last win came at the 2007 SemGroup Championship in Oklahoma, where she promptly gave $100,000 of her $210,000 first prize to a small town in Kansas that recently had been devastated by a tornado.
“What you did back in Kansas, I think, changed women's golf forever,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said during a joint appearance with reporters. “You're setting a pretty high bar not only for the game but how to handle yourself outside the game.”
The 5-foot-1 Kim, who kept a home in Orlando for several years, has struggled in recent years with knee and ankle injuries. She also got married four years ago to Olympic judo gold medalist Won Hee Lee, played while pregnant in 2009 and gave birth to their first child later that year.
It’s been a growth experience all around. Kim recalled how single-minded she was about golf when she arrived in 1999, but quickly learned about the other aspects of making a career on the LPGA.
“I didn't know that I had to be able to speak the language, do the interviews and do all those things,” Kim told reporters. “And that's what I want to try to do with the players that's going to come after me.
“I want to try to help those players really understand that being able to speak the language and understand the culture, it’s been beneficial for me.”
It’s something Kim wants to emphasize at her golf academy, which has just started hiring its first instructors.
And if running an academy doesn’t work out, Whan has a fallback plan for her. “If you get bored,” he said, “come back.”Jeff Shain covers golf for the Orlando Sentinel and Tribune Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter at @JeffShain, or reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.