Symetra tour: Confident Kim on a mission

HARRIS – Two years ago life, and golf, were on par for Stephanie Kim. However, those hopes for birdies failed to materialize due to an ankle injury.

Tuesday Kim returned to Sweetgrass Golf Club, confident she is turning over a new leaf that will resurrect what appeared to be a promising golf career on the Symetra Tour. She is among 144 entrants in the third annual Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass, which begins at 7:30 Friday.

After missing the 2012 season to rehab the ankle injury that happened shortly after her 2011 victory at Sweetgrass, Kim resumed play in the Four Winds Invitational in South Bend, Ind. last week but missed the cut, shooting 79-80.

Admitting she was rusty for the tourney despite extensive practice sessions recently, Kim said her ankle is back to normal and she is excited to find her groove again.

“It was familiar, yet it wasn’t,” she said of her first tourney action in nearly two years. “It was a little shaky out there. My game was there. I just need to jump back in there and get my bearings, my sea legs.”

Kim had good and bad moments, but admitted, “it was a scramble, really. It was such a mental thing. You have to be in the present for every shot, every shot for 18 holes. Being away so much, competition is so different than practice. I was almost tempted to throw down another ball (as happens in practice outings).”

She maintained a positive attitude through the struggles, realizing it takes time to get back at the high level needed to compete against Symetra players.

Hitting off the first tee is also nerve-wracking, but she said it was even tougher in Friday’s opening round. “My hands were shaking. I was feeling like a plebe,” she said, a reference to her brother attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

“It was really weird. You get extra energy when you play tournament golf, but I was nervous, frustrated. It wasn’t smooth.”

Besides sulking during her rehab days, Kim said she was frustrated by not being able to compete. “Just being in the thick of things makes it fun. Practice is kind of boring,” she said.

While taking a break on the driving range Tuesday, Kim said returning to the scene of her only professional golf victory will be a boost.

“The memories are great, but hey, I also remember being in the fescue on No. 10,” she said with a laugh. “I hope it (the victory) will carry over. I love that I won here.”

Most of the players had practice sessions Tuesday, although some entrants are playing in this week’s Michigan Open at Crystal Downs, including former Open winner Laura Kueny, who won her first Symetra tournament earlier this year.

Kueny is among five 2013 Symetra Tour winners who will play here this week. The Symetra Classic champion will be joined by Melissa Eaton (Florida’s Natural Charity Classic), Giulia Molinaro (Friends Mission Charity Classic), Sue Kim (Decatur-Forsyth Classic) and Cydney Clanton (Four Winds Invitational).

The prospect of a highly competitive tournament is bright since three events were decided by playoffs, including Canton’s seven-hole conquest Sunday over Marissa Steen. Marina Alex, who bowed out after three playoff holes Sunday, is also entered.

Three women appearing on Big Break Mexico that has aired six of 11 episodes on Golf Channel are also here, Stephanie Kenoyer, Emily Tully and Taylor Collins. Another notable entrant is Blair O’Neal, who has appeared in Cobra golf ads in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues the past two years.

Leah Wigger, who won last year’s title at Sweetgrass, is not on hand to defend her title.