In the San Francisco Bay area this week, Lauren Kim is enjoying the advantage that familiarity brings.
“It’s amazing to stay at home, sleep in my own bed,” she said. “Just have the local support and know that people that are rooting for me are really close by.”
Kim is giving them reason to cheer. The 26-year-old has fired a pair of 69s to open the LPGA Mediheal Championship at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, California. At 6 under, she enters the weekend in contention.
This is the LPGA’s second consecutive stop in the area. Last week’s U.S. Women’s Open was played at nearby Olympic Club, but Kim wasn’t in the field.
Kim played this Lake Merced layout often as a junior golfer growing up in Los Altos, California. She admitted she doesn’t play it as much as an adult.
“It’s kind of fun to come back and just see how your game improves on the same course over like a decade of playing it,” she said.
It hasn’t been an easy for for Kim, an LPGA rookie in 2017, the past few seasons. She missed the cut in her first three starts in 2021 and finished 81st at the Pure Silk Championship before teeing it up this week.
“Yeah, it really has been a struggle. I’ve been kind of grinding away and hoping for results and kind of patiently waiting,” she said.
Maybe it just took a home environment to bring them out. Count Kim among the six players with Stanford ties playing in this field. Kim was a member of Stanford’s 2015 NCAA title team.
That number also includes Michelle Wie West, who attended Stanford but didn’t play for the team, and current player Rachel Heck, who won the NCAA individual title at the end of last month.
Michelle Wie West (left) and Rachel Heck (right) on the second hole during the first round of the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship. (Photo: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
There was a period in Kim’s time on the Symetra Tour that she considered walking away from competitive golf.
“That took a lot of self-reflection,” she said. “I think realizing why I play the game in the first place and just kind of appreciating the opportunity. I think it’s really easy to get wrapped up in the grind of being on tour – whether it’s Symetra or out here even – wrapped up in results and all of the performance that goes with it.”
Last year’s COVID break brought perspective, namely a window into what life would be like without competitive golf.
“I got into cycling, backpacking, a lot of different hobbies, things that I felt like I couldn’t really do being on the road all the time,” she said of the things she focused on while on that forced break.
“And so I don’t know, just having fun with it, making the best out of a really poor situation. When I found out I wasn’t going to be competing, to have that taken away, I think really helped me practice like negative visualization in way and what would my life look like without golf.
“Just made me really grateful to be back out here.”
Wie West, meanwhile, will play the weekend at Lake Merced for the first time in five starts this season after becoming a mom. The 31-year-old fired rounds of 73-75 and at 4 over was sitting just inside the cut number. Heck, who was paired with Wie West the first two rounds, missed the cut with rounds of 76-78.