Could there be a golfer who hides so much on the course, yet gives so much when away from it? Hyo Joo Kim, the 26-year-old who is back in the world top 10, has developed a competitive persona shrouded in marvelous mystery.
In press situations she is chatty and fun, but as soon as she hits the competition zone, she becomes quiet, inward looking, and appears very keen to reveal nothing. She revealed to RSNG the reason why, and how it’s her secret weapon…
1. She Doesn’t Want To Know Her Score Kim’s intensity of focus when playing tournament golf, drills down to such an extent that each individual shot is a solitary action, deliberately detached from the bigger picture. “There are many tournaments I’ll play where unless I really know the course quite well, I won’t want to know what hole I’m at, what hole I’m approaching, or where my opponents are.
“I will take the lead from my caddy, entirely, which is why having someone so trustworthy, knowledgeable and reliable is so crucial.”
Famously, when rival Karrie Webb failed to sink a 10-yard par putt to force a play-off at 2014’s Evian Championship in France, it was left to caddie Gordan Rowan to break the news to Kim that she had won the tournament.
“I think people found that quite funny, but it really is the way I can play my best golf, by just doing my job and worrying about other players second,” says Kim.
“I think, if I am being honest, as my professional career progressed, I perhaps lost sight of that and became too concerned about other players around me.
“When I was young I found winning all the time quite achievable, and when that task becomes more difficult it is natural that you should look at your opponents, and wonder what they are doing that you are not.
“I think part of me getting back to my best was realizing I needed to go back into my zone.”
Golf is a very personal, insular sport and to build that extra armory was something I got used to very quickly, and liked, so the sunglasses remained
2. Always Embodying Ultimate Focus Kim enters a trance-like state when stepping out onto the course. She doesn’t have any regimented process by which she achieves this, other than adorning her trademark sunglasses. “The sunglasses came about because of a couple of very sunny tournaments I won when I was a teenager,” she says. “They gave me much better focus on the shot I was playing, as you may expect, but I also felt a sense of protection from onlookers and my opponents. I felt very shielded from everything.
“Golf is a very personal, insular sport and to build that extra armory was something I got used to very quickly, and liked, so the sunglasses remained.
“I know other sportspeople who feel the same way about sunglasses. I know some runners who will go out running late at night wearing sunglasses. It is the same thing.”
3. Never Revealing Inner Thoughts To Opponents Kim’s use of sunglasses extends to a point where she knows opponents are unable to detect her eyeline on a shot. “I know there is a lot of truth in the idea that golf is a game you play against yourself, but in matchplay and some other situations it’s definitely a tactical battle against two players, so of course – just like if I was playing a game of poker – I want to disguise as much as I can and maximize my own advantage.”
I feel I now have the mental resilience to block out negative psychology, even when things aren’t going my way
4. Slamming The Door On Negative Psychology Kim is honest enough to admit that she let negativity consume her during the three years she went without clinching a title. “I don’t want to go back to that place, so I won’t,” she promises. “Of course it’s easy to say that when you are winning, but I feel I now have the mental resilience to block out negative psychology, even when things aren’t going my way.
“At some point in the future I will be able to prove that.”
5. Sticking With The Routine Most people think it’s simply donning the sunglasses that takes the South Korean LPGA pro to a place where she can play her best golf, but Kim’s preparation begins long before that. “I see footballers being commented on for having their headphones on in the leadup to a game, but I feel that same energy from music, and it really puts me in a good place.
“My sunglasses are a habit that protects me on the course, but music, good rest, distraction, and always being organized and on time are all the principles that I have to follow before I start to play.”
WHAT NEXT? Want to read more about the winning mindset of the world’s best golfers? Then check out this RSNG interview with Thailand’s 19-year old rookie winner, Atthaya Thitikul.