Women’s Golf: How Northwestern’s Irene Kim went from a friendly sibling rivalry to amateur golf success


Daily file photo by Alison Albelda

Irene Kim watches her swing. The junior Northwestern golfer, named Big Ten Player of the Year in 2021, has recently struggled but hopes her invitation to the Augusta Women’s National Amateur can act as a goal to work toward.

MaryKate Anderson, Reporter

Future Augusta National Women’s Amateur participant and 2021 Big Ten Golfer of the Year Irene Kim was not originally supposed to play golf.

Kim, a junior, said her older brother was extremely talented from a young age and was swinging their dad’s adult driver at seven. But she was not as interested in the game.

A newly opened golf academy was offering a deal on lessons if the instructors deemed the child “qualified” after a few preliminary activities. After the two siblings went through several practice exercises and trials, Kim’s parents were eventually told that only eight-year-old Irene had qualified for the promotion, not her brother.

“Initially I would say I wasn’t really interested because I really couldn’t hit the ball as well as my brother,” Kim said. “But I would say my competitiveness against my brother was really strong.”

That kept her going for quite a while, but eventually Kim found a genuine love for the game that has persisted to this day — along with a lot of talent to show off on the golf course.

Kim’s freshman year proved quite impressive, with a top-25 finish in addition to an individual victory at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic. The season was eventually cut short before she could compete for Northwestern at the Big Ten Championships and beyond, but Kim was honored as Big Ten Freshman of the Year. 

In her second year as a Wildcat, not only was Kim ultimately named Big Ten Golfer of the Year, she also walked away with five top-five finishes at seven tournaments over the course of the season — including the Big Ten Championships. 

Since the conclusion of the 2021 season, Kim has fought to continue that caliber of play. She said that she struggled over the summer and into the fall, but her game is trending in the right direction.

Kim has yet to travel with NU since the spring season began, but continues to train with the team to improve her game. The La Palma, Calif. native flies home once a month to see her other coaches and often finds time to work individually outside of team practices.

The highlight of Kim’s season has been her invitation to participate in the Augusta Women’s National Amateur, an elite tournament that promises the winner bids to several other events — including the U.S. Women’s Open. 

“A lot of my junior golf friends, who I’ve played golf with since I was younger, were getting these invitations and I was honestly not expecting one because I was not playing well,” Kim said. “‘I was like, it’s okay, I’m working on my game, not too bothered by it.’”

After coming home from the team’s Florida practice trip in January, Kim saw mail in front of her apartment, thought nothing of it and nearly didn’t open it due to her tiredness.

She ultimately opened the envelope out of curiosity, only to see the shade of green she knew all too well.

“I knew the specific green, the shade of green I was seeing on social media,” Kim said. “I pulled it all the way out and I was like ‘Oh my god, I just received the invitation.’ It was incredible because I didn’t think I had the chance to play and compete at Augusta.” 

Kim hopes to use the tournament as motivation and an ultimate goal to work toward as she continues to improve her golf game.

In terms of the team, Kim said last year’s disappointing end has given the Cats reason to be more intentional and uplifting in their workouts with hopes to reach the NCAA Championship again this spring. And while Kim continues to have a slight sibling rivalry as motivation, her love for the game has come largely from the community surrounding her. 

“Through this game, I’ve really learned a lot about myself and have been able to grow as a person with the people that support me,” Kim said. “I fell in love with the game in that way.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @mkeileen

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