Christina Kim Handles Downs and Ups by Dealing Openly With Depression
By KAREN CROUSE
NAPLES, Fla. — It took Christina Kim six holes to card her first par Thursday at the L.P.G.A.’s Tour Championship. While hardly ideal, Kim saw her birdie, bogey, double bogey, birdie, bogey start at Tiburon Golf Club as a perfect metaphor for golf and for life.
“You never know what’s going to be thrown at you,” she said.
Kim, who is five strokes off the lead, held by Julieta Granada, after a one-under-par 71, has experienced ozone-layer highs and ocean-bottom depths. She has dealt with a depression that propelled her toward a two-story ledge in Spain and has been feted three times for winning on the L.P.G.A. Tour. She earned her L.P.G.A. playing privileges at 18 and lost her card at 28.
At 30, an age many women’s athletic careers are winding down, Kim has seen hers rev up.
She came here fresh off her first North American victory in nine years, at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico City, a result that moved many members of the L.P.G.A. family, including the commissioner, Mike Whan, to tears. After years of feeling as if she had to win to feel good about herself and failing, Kim went into a playoff Sunday with Feng Shanshan of China already feeling good about herself — and won.
“That’s always how it goes,” Kim said with a laugh on the eve of the tournament’s start.
Her laugh, which starts as a rumble and ramps up to a full-throated roar, is contagious. Next to the long-hitting Lexi Thompson’s ball compression on her drives, Kim’s laugh is perhaps the most distinctive sound in the women’s game.
It is infectious, and for a long time Kim thought that meant her blue moods would infect those around her, too. So in 2011, when an injury caused Kim to lose distance off the tee — and, with it, her confidence — she hid her growing despair behind a clown’s smile.
“A lot of it is putting up a front,” Kim said, adding: “You don’t want to say: ‘How are you doing today? I almost drove off the side of the road.’ ”
On Aug. 11, when she heard the news that the comedian and actor Robin Williams had killed himself, Kim’s mind flashed back to her lowest point, in the spring of 2011 at the Nations Cup, a Ladies European Tour team event held in Alicante, Spain.
Paired with another American, Brittany Lincicome, Kim felt so despondent one night she walked out of a party and wandered over to a second-story balcony. For several minutes she contemplated hurling herself off the ledge and into the Mediterranean Sea before returning to her boyfriend and Lincicome, who said she had no idea Kim was unhappy, much less contemplating suicide.
“Oh, no,” Lincicome said this week. “I didn’t hear that story.” She added, “She must have covered her despair really well, because every time we played she was always super chatty.”
Kim did not hide her depression from everybody. She confided in her best friends, fellow tour players Michelle Wie, Jane Park and Irene Cho, sparing them no detail. They became her de facto therapists, and Kim credits them, and the antidepressants she was prescribed, with saving her.
“She kind of wasn’t ashamed to talk to us about it, which I’m very grateful for,” Wie said.
She added: “It was scary at times, for sure. I would call Jane, I would call our friends, and we would talk about it, because none of us really knew how to deal with it. We’re not trained medical people to deal with it. And situations like that you don’t know what you should say, what the right thing to do is.”
In 2012, Kim detailed her depression in a blog post and then told her story to Golf Digest.
Wie described Kim’s decision to talk about her depression to a worldwide audience as “one of the bravest things she could ever have done.”
Wie said: “Just because it’s hard to share your story, it’s hard to relive those moments when you’re trying to get past them. But I feel like a lot of people can really learn from it and kind of just see what she went through and know that there is another day.”
Kim said she has communicated by email with strangers who write to her with the details of their own depression. She said she reminds them, “With the darkest of nights come the most beautiful sunrises.”
Kim has had fewer bad days since turning 30 in March. She cannot put her finger on why, exactly. Her best guess is that her perspective has broadened with age and experience.
“Golf is what I do, not who I am,” Kim said. “It’s a wonderful means for me to interact with people and travel the world, but there’s much more to me than the number of putts I have or the amount of balls I hit.”
On the tour, Kim sees players separated for long stretches from their family and friends who pass up invitations to dinner because they are pounding balls on the range or practicing their putting. She sees players stoically going about their business week after week, and she wonders if they might be sinking into despair.
It can be hard to tell for sure, she said. Athletes are loath to show vulnerability. They worry about losing a competitive edge, or even sponsors, if they reveal that they are hurting.
“It’s a sign of weakness to show that things aren’t hunky-dory,” Kim said, “but I see the world differently now. The truth is what brings you strength, regardless of how pretty or ugly it is.”