In the grand landscape of team sports, it is very rare to see one player take sole responsibility for his or her squad’s success. One player leading the group to victory seems to be the antithesis of what a team is supposed to be: a collection of different individuals working together to achieve a common goal. A single cog in a machine will not produce a winning product; all of the parts in the system must contribute for success to be had. For every Jordan, there’s a Pippen. Tiger needed Stevie Williams on his bag. And Joe Montana wouldn’t have been the “Comeback Kid” without some guy named Jerry Rice. When it comes to the Stanford women’s golf team, coach Anne Walker needs a player to be sophomore star Mariah Stackhouse’s running mate. The hopes of a team with lofty postseason aspirations simply cannot lie upon the drive, chip or putt of a single golfer.
For the Cardinal this spring, those hopes certainly will not. Enter sophomore Lauren Kim, who has rapidly emerged from the shadows cast by classmate Stackhouse to become one of the best young collegiate golfers in the nation. Perhaps her team’s steadiest and most consistent performer, Kim has blossomed in her second season on the Farm, leading the Card at the Windy City Collegiate Classic and at the Peg Barnard Invitational this past weekend. As is usually the case, her path to Stanford was unique — unlike Stackhouse, who was swinging clubs as soon as she could walk, Kim was introduced to the game later on in her childhood.
“The story goes that my third-grade teacher recommended that I start taking lessons and just see how I like it,” said Kim of her initial foray into golf. “So my parents signed me up and put me in lessons, camps and all that. I actually didn’t like it at first, at all. I hated the sport. It was too slow for me. But at the age of eleven I started winning tournaments and was like, ‘Oh, I can do this. This is kind of fun.’”
Kim has undoubtedly matured since those formative years, from a little girl who didn’t have the patience golf required to one of the best players and leaders on this Stanford team. Walker’s regular five-player lineup this season has featured a junior, two sophomores and two freshmen, thrusting younger golfers like Kim into key leadership roles.
“It’s definitely been really fun to see myself and even Mariah as leaders on the course and off the course,” Kim said. “It means a lot to be looked up to, especially by the freshmen this year and be at the forefront of turning the program around. It’s really exciting to say that we’re leading this transition to hopefully becoming national champions.”
In order to hoist a trophy, however, Kim knows that a lot a hard work will be in order, including fine-tuning her mid-range putting and continuing to improve the mental aspect of her game. Walker has seen tremendous growth in the latter, while Kim still calls it “a work in progress.” As for the former, Kim realizes that only when she can make those putts from 10 to 15 feet drop more consistently will she vault into the upper echelon of the NCAA.
“I was always a pretty strong putter, but I think generally my putting has improved,” Kim said. “My stroke has gotten more consistent and reproducible. In order to lower my stroke average and become one of the top players in the country, I need to convert more of those [mid-range putts] for birdie.”
Indeed, Kim has seen more and more of her putts trickle in, especially at Peg Barnard. Sunday’s final round witnessed Kim — who was raised in nearby Los Altos — sink four birdies, including one on the ultra-tough par-4 fifth hole, en route to a 3-under 68. It was one of the best competitive rounds at the Stanford Golf Course for Kim, who has always admired the history of the famed course and those greats who have walked it. Stackhouse, in light of her sizzling 61 on the course last year, is already counted as one of those greats, and the conversation about this Stanford team usually revolves around her. Kim, for her part, has taken the seeming lack of attention in stride and has even turned it into a positive.
“There are times when I feel overlooked, but I think it’s helped me grow as a player,” Kim said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being overlooked, in a way, is motivating because sometimes I want to be in the spotlight, too. I look at it in a positive way, because if I didn’t have that [motivation], it’s easy to become overconfident or complacent when you’re always at the top. So being the underdog in some respects gives me something to work for.”
Improved play, attitude and leadership development has led to Walker placing higher expectations on Kim, perhaps more than she would on the average sophomore. But Kim hasn’t buckled under the increased pressure, instead viewing the heightened expectations as a sign that her coach trusts her and is confident in her ability to be one of the nation’s best.
“I hope to see Lauren continue to grow as a player by believing she can compete with the top 10 players in the country,” Walker said. “I certainly believe it and feel confident that with directed training and practice, she has a chance to win every event she plays in.”
And with the team’s ultimate goal of not just advancing to, but placing in the top 5 at the National Championship in Tulsa, Okla., Kim might have to pick up a coveted individual victory along the way. She will have every opportunity to do so, with six potential events separating Stanford from a possible fifth consecutive national championship appearance. If Kim and the Card are to achieve their goals, however, they must band together and recognize that not one — or even two — players can put the team on their backs.
“We have a tendency to have every player doing their own thing — not really paying attention to the overall team goal and getting too wrapped up in what they’re doing — which is really easy to do when you’re out there on the course alone,” Kim commented. “But in order to do well at Nationals, you have to think about our bigger goal and our team as a whole and how even if we’re struggling, we’re still contributing to the team because there’s someone who could be struggling even more.”
Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.