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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 6, 2006

14-year-old leaves Hilo for 'love of the game'

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By Bill Kwon

Kimberly Kim moved from Hilo to Temecula, Calif., to improve her golf game and her education. Kimberly, 14, is No. 6 in the American Junior Golf Association rankings by Golfweek magazine.


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Christine Kim

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Kimberly Kim, one of Hawai'i's junior golf standouts, has made a move, literally, to improve her game.

The 14-year-old ninth-grader wasn't the only one looking forward to playing golf at Hilo's Waiakea High.

So was Ken Watanabe, coach of the defending state champion Waiakea girls team.

Instead, Kimberly moved to Temecula, Calif., in February, enrolling at Linfield Christian High School, which has a pretty good golf team of its own.

"It was a family decision," said Kimberly on her cell phone, which she calls her lifeline to Hawai'i.

She keeps in almost daily contact with her sister, Christine, a senior at Waiakea High.

However, Christine, who received a golf scholarship from the University of Colorado, also isn't on Waiakea's golf team and won't be defending her state title.

Watanabe had been looking forward to coaching Hawai'i's best sister act in golf.

"She (Christine) chose not to play this year. Maybe because of all of the traveling and time away from school," Watanabe said.

Christine visited her sister during spring break, and both will play next week in the Heather Farr Classic, the American Junior Golf Association season opener, in Mesa, Ariz., along with Punahou School's Stephanie Kono.

In Kimberly's case, travel considerations figured prominently in the decision to move to California, according to her father, Soo Young Kim, a Big Island orchid grower.

He wants his younger daughter to play in more AJGA events and being in California will enhance her chances of improving her AJGA ranking, which is No. 6 nationally by Golfweek magazine.

"It's so hard when you live in Hilo. Even flying to Honolulu and Maui is expensive. It's a different story if you live in Honolulu," Kim said.

Kimberly is living with her mom, Arlene, in a spartan apartment near the private school's campus. There's not even a television set.

"Mother misses home more than Kimberly," said the father. "But it's a temporary thing. We'll try it for six months and see what happens.

"One thing I like about it. Kimberly studies every day. She never studied here before. And she's getting to know the area and making new friends."

Said Kimberly: "Overall, I'm gaining and learning so much for even a short time being here. Keeping up with school and golf is a lot harder. It's all for the love of the game. So I'm glad to be given the opportunity to experience this.

"My parents wanted it (the move) so I can go to a good college."

Kimberly admitted missing local grinds such as kalua pig and Spam musubi. "But I'm trying to stop eating rice anyway."

Kimberly's father said he picked Temecula, a city in Riverside County, at the suggestion of a friend who lives there.

It's also a fortuitous golfing move, perhaps not by coincidence.

Linfield Christian's home course is the Red Hawk Golf Course, one of California's premier layouts. And two of Kimberly's new teammates also are ranking AJGA players UCLA-bound Sydnee Michaels, who made the cut in last week's Kraft Nabisco Championship, and freshman Won Joo Choi.

"Golf here is better than Hawai'i," Kimberly said. "There's more competition and a lot more different types of courses here."

Kimberly won Junior World titles in San Diego in 2000 and 2004 and beat 15- to 18-year-old competition in an AJGA event in Pasco, Wash., as a 12-year-old in 2004.

"The competition out here is 100 times more tough and more organized than Hilo," she said. "We have matches just about every week. It's all nine holes but the team is small and the coach is very organized so all the players manage to get involved."

Kimberly plans to return to Hawai'i next month to try and qualify for the U.S. Women's Open at Ko Olina. Otherwise, she plans on doing most of her qualifying for USGA women's amateur events on the Mainland.

Kimberly has earned exemptions to two major junior events the Thunderbird International in Scottsdale, Ariz., next month and the Westfield Junior PGA of America Championship later this summer. (Kono is the defending champion in the latter event.)