On a sunny day, you can see UNC first-year golfer Stephany Kim circling Chapel Hill on her signature moped.
Born in Seoul, South Korea and raised in the Dominican Republic, Kim had a career as a golfer that took her on a unique trip to North Carolina, having played in many different tournaments in her youth.
Adjusting to college is a challenge for any first year, but it’s especially tough when you’re a Division I athlete thousands of miles from home.
Since joining the team, Kim has found her place in a tight-knit community within the UNC Women’s Golf Program.
Shortly after her birth, Kim moved to El Salvador and then to the Dominican Republic at the age of three. She started playing golf for fun in Bonao on a golf course five minutes from her home with her father and older brother.
At age nine, she began playing in the American Junior Golf Association, participating in eight local golf tournaments a year in the Dominican Republic and four international tournaments in the United States.
Its first international tournament was held in Pinehurst, North Carolina, about an hour and a half drive from Chapel Hill.
“After the tournament, when I was 12, my mom drove us to Chapel Hill and we walked around campus,” Kim said. “My mom really liked the North Carolina area because I grew up in the Dominican Republic and can’t stand the cold.”
Kim competed in the Children’s World Championship in the United States at the age of 10, 11 and 12 to develop as an international competitor.
As she progressed in her career, she began to consider the possibility of playing college golf. After winning the AJGA Dominican Junior Open tournament in the Dominican Republic in May 2019, that possibility became a reality as more and more coaches became interested in it.
His trainer, Jay Overton, grew up in North Carolina and graduated from Duke. So he knew the area well and thought it would suit his student.
A college golfer from the Dominican Republic is unusual because few golfers reach this level, Kim said. But she was determined to defy the odds.
“When I played golf tournaments I would talk to other girls and they would tell me that they had signed up to different universities,” Kim said. “So I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I could try playing college golf. “My coach started training hard and I contacted coaches from different universities.
In May 2020, Stephany Kim committed to playing college golf at UNC.
New goals at UNC
Since becoming Tar Heel, Kim has said that she has found Division I golf to be a step up from junior golf. One of his favorite memories was playing at the team’s first home tournament at UNC Finley Golf Course.
Stephany said she played her best tournament so far this season when she debuted at the Blessings Collegiate Invitational in Arkansas from October 4-6. Although it was a long and difficult journey, Stephany’s short game was important in his first college tournament.
“Because I play for North Carolina, I feel that sense of pride because I want to play well – not just for myself, but for the team,” she said. “I know my score will count, so I try to give it my all and not doubt any of the tricks.”
Aimee Neff, this season’s new women’s golf coach, highlighted Stephany’s strengths and the margin of potential in her style of play.
“Stephany is pretty precise and has a great short game: putting, chipping, wedges,” said Neff. “The biggest area of growth for her is adding swing speed, which is going to come from training and training speed.”
Kim relies on her short game, especially her putter, during the rounds, but she’s also determined to add distance over the next year of her UNC golfing career.
“I want to improve my distance, especially with my driver,” said Stephany. “I lost a lot of distance during COVID-19, and I want to get it back during the offseason. “
She has already grown stronger and has shown significant improvement at UNC. Neff said she noticed the work Kim did in the weight room and with her swing mechanics.
“Speaking to her after the tournaments in her thoughts, she really wants to improve and wants to help the team,” said Neff.
Kim is particularly excited for the Landfall Tradition tournament on October 29 in Wilmington. It will be a comfortable environment for her, she said, with windy conditions similar to those in the Dominican Republic.
“The tournament’s meter count is not that long so I don’t think I’ll be at a great disadvantage compared to the other events we’ve had,” said Kim. “I want to be in the (top) 50 percent of the leaderboard.”
Adapt to university life
The move to Chapel Hill was a big transition, but Kim didn’t hesitate to lean on her older teammates for advice when she first arrived.
At the start of the season, she established a routine of balancing class with practice. She works around her golf schedule to finish her homework. She even gets around campus on her own in a new way.
“I was lost because at home I had a car and my parents drove me everywhere,” Kim said. “But here I have to learn to be independent, so I bought a moped so I could go golf and any other place.”
Kim admires Natalia Aseguinolaza, a sophomore on the team who previously walked in Kim’s place as a Spanish international student.
“Natalia is smart, determined, hardworking, and just entered business school,” Kim said. “She helps me with my economics class and life in general.”
Five of the nine athletes on the UNC Women’s Golf Team are international students. Kim said she would even speak Spanish with two of the international players, Aseguinolaza and Crista Izuzquiza, both from Spain.
Fortunately, the transition to this new life has been easier with supportive and inclusive teammates and coaches by his side. Neff said the smaller size and community of the UNC women’s golf team can make it easier to manage the adaptation to college.
“Even though it’s a big school, it decreases a bit when you think of around 800 student-athletes and nine golfers,” Neff said. “At the start of the season she doesn’t have a lot of time to adjust, but she does a really good job of going with the flow, asking questions and figuring things out.”
Kayla Smith, a junior from the team who just landed her first top 10 at Ruth’s Chris Tar Heel Invitational, said she was impressed with Stephany’s positive attitude and willingness to act as a leader.
“She hasn’t strayed from taking a leadership role or speaking out, so I really think she’s a key attribute of our team,” Smith said. “We love having it.”
Stephany Kim has certainly found his place and developed a sense of independence. Whether to go to the golf course or to her favorite restaurant, Spicy 9 on Franklin Street, Kim and his moped are now commonplace in the streets of her new home.
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