Out of curiosity, I decided to follow UH golfer Annie Kim in Tuesday’s final round of the Icon Invitational at the Golf Club of Houston. Annie had played well on the first day, with rounds of 70 and 72, and was tied for 16th. She was paired with Amy Taylor of Texas Tech, who was tied for the tournament lead through 36 holes, and Jennie Park of A&M, tied for 7th.
I was interested in how Annie would react to the situation she found herself in. I wondered if she could put three rounds together – she’d never been under par in every round of a college tournament. I also wanted to see if playing with the leaders would elevate her play or intimidate her. I came away impressed by UH’s senior leader.
She’s a grinder
With a shotgun start, Annie opened her round on the 4th hole going par-par-par, a good start on three tough holes. But she might have started doubting herself after seeing what her playing partners did: Park opened birdie-birdie-birdie, and Taylor birdied the 4th and 5th. Nevertheless, Annie kept playing her game.
On the par-3 7th, Annie tugged a short iron towards the water on the left but got a soft bounce while Taylor hit it close for another birdie. Annie chipped up to within a foot and made par. She ground out four-straight pars and knew her opportunities were coming up.
She plays to her strengths
Following the UH team for years via live stats, I had some inkling that Annie is excellent on par fives and pretty good on par fours. That means she drives the ball well and is great with her wedges. So the par-five 8th hole was an attack hole for her.
The demure, 5’3″ player from Seoul placed her drive down the lefthand side of the fairway, away from the water all down the right. She slotted her second, leaving about 65 yards. Her third shot bounced once and checked on the green about 8 feet from the hole. She then rolled the putt in for birdie, the only one in her group to do so.
Annie hit perfect drives all day, leaving herself the best angles to the flag. She did not try to do too much: having tugged a short iron on the hole before, Annie hit her approach shot just right of the flag, leaving herself a fairly-straight putt.
Annie finished the tournament -4 on the par fives, tied for sixth-best among the 77 players. She also finished -4 on the par fours, fifth-best in the field.
She has a great short game
On the par-3 ninth, her playing partners stuck their mid-irons close to the front-left pin and made birdies. Annie tugged her iron shot again, short siding herself. She was pin-high in the lefthand bunker, facing a long carry and with little green to work with.
She hit a tremendous shot, flying it into the fringe and trickling down to the hole. She made the short par putt, grinding out a gritty par.
On the two early par threes, she attacked pin placements that were “gettable” but pulled both. Each time, she hit a spectacular recovery shot to save par. A great show of mental toughness.
4. She fed off the good players around her
After another perfect drive on 10, Annie had a green light at a back-right flag. She hit a perfect wedge to two feet and made the kick-in birdie.
Tech’s Amy Taylor also birdied #10, her fifth birdie in seven holes. But Annie had birdied two of the last three holes and had made a spectacular save on the other.
After a par at 11, Annie hit the driver at the short par-4 12th, splitting the fairway again. Another perfect opportunity to attack, and she did, firing her wedge to within 2′ of the front pin position. She tapped in for birdie, her third in five holes.
After a par on 13 and another great up-and-down on the par-3 14th, Annie bombed a drive at the dogleg left par-5 15th. She drove it past the other two and through the fairway (one of only two times I saw her miss the fairway). She was automatic.
She hit her second into the fairway, about 80 yards from the flag (her playing partners hit their third shots from a fairway bunker and from the trees). From there, Annie attacked with a wedge again, knocking it to within six feet. She made the putt to go to four-under in the last eight holes. More importantly, she had jumped up into a tie for 6th.
Annie hit her tee-shot pin-high on the wind-swept, par-3 16th, the only par three she hit in regulation. She just missed her putt to the right and tapped in for par. Taylor, the player from Tech, made her birdie putt. It was her seventh birdie of the day and the group’s 16th. The three women had put on a clinic, but Taylor’s birdie would be the group’s last.
She made a mistake and got over it
All three played well on the last five holes but could not buy a birdie. Annie hit excellent shots into 17, 18, and #1 but could not convert them into birdies. On the par-4 second hole, after bombing a driver, where most players hit irons, Annie had only 75 yards to the flag. She hit a very nice shot to about 10′ but ran her birdie putt by.
Frustrated by her near-misses since the 15th hole, she hurried the come-backer and missed it and tapped in for a disappointing five. It was uncharacteristic of what I’d seen all day. Taylor also three-putted, her first bogey in 36 holes, and it cost her a share of the individual title.
While Taylor was finishing out, Annie marched to the tee at #3, their last hole of the day, to re-compose herself. Too often, players let a mistake on one hole follow them to the next, letting bad shots start to snowball. But Annie did not do that: she accepted the bogey, realized she acted out of character in rushing the putt, and moved on.
On her last hole of the day, Annie split the fairway again at #3 and hit her short iron well, but the ball spun away from the hole. She had about 15 feet up the slope for birdie but left it short.
After a tap-in, Annie Kim finished with a round of 69, tying for ninth place. It was her third top-25 in her last four events. Her playing partners shot 66 (Taylor) and 68 (Park), each finishing in the top-six. But Annie played an excellent round, playing to her strengths and overcoming a few bad swings. She made one mental mistake but quickly moved on and didn’t let it affect her on the last hole.
It was Annie Kim’s first time in a collegiate tournament to shoot under-par in all three rounds and her lowest total score in relation to par. She played with two elite golfers that came out making birdie after birdie. Instead of backing down, Annie held her ground and played right with them.