Aussie Grace Kim goes low (again), stretches her lead at the JM Eagle LA Championship

Aussie Grace Kim goes low (again), stretches her lead at the JM Eagle LA Championship

By Jeff Babineau 


On a golf course that has been extremely difficult over two days, Australia’s Grace Kim has been making the game of golf appear pretty easy at the JM Eagle LA Championship presented by Plastpro. On the strength of a second-round 5-under 66 at Wilshire Country Club, Kim stretched her lead to four shots with yet another impressive performance on Friday.


For the second consecutive day, Kim shot the lowest round, and as a result she owns the first 36-hole lead of her LPGA career. She is at 12-under 130. Sweden’s Maya Stark, a runner-up at last week’s Chevron Championship, shot 69 to at least stay within earshot, four back, heading into the weekend. 


Fresh off a tournament record-tying 64 on Thursday, Grace stayed aggressive on Friday afternoon. After she made her only bogey of the first two rounds at the par-3 12th, her third hole of the round, Kim rebounded in a big way, making eagle-3 at the very next hole, the 503-yard 13th. From there, she went on a tear, and it was the field could do to keep Kim in its collective view.


Australia’s Kim, 23, has a certain grace about her game, and always has been something of a quick study. She soared through the developmental Epson Tour two years ago, and as a rookie on the LPGA last season, she won in only her third start (LOTTE Championship in Hawaii). Thus far in 2024, Kim’s results have been less than spectacular – she actually missed cuts in two of her last three starts – but she has not seemed all that far off, either.


“I knew my golf game was close,” Kim said. “I’ve been mentally in the dumps up until last week, and I just wasn’t in a good space. I knew I was close; I knew my game was good enough. I just mentally had to be sharp on the golf course. 


"I think having low expectations entering the week helped a lot.”


Kim was energized by her eagle at 13, tacking on a birdie at the par-4 14th (12 feet) and finding three more birdies on Wilshire’s front nine after making the turn. She pulled off a tricky little punch shot from 90 yards beneath hanging tree limbs to set up birdie from 7 feet at the par-4 third, made a solid 5-footer to save par after missing the green at No. 4, and added birdies at the sixth (35-footer on the day’s toughest hole) and seventh (6 feet). She had quality looks on her last two holes, too, barely missing those putts to get even deeper below par.


“She could be leading this tournament by six or seven the way that she putted,” observed major champion Morgan Pressel in the 18th tower.


The closest pursuer to Kim at the midway point was Sweden's Stark, who is 24 and already a proven contender. She shot 69 on Friday in a round that required considerable patience, an area she has worked on.


In fact, instead of Stark telling herself to “Stay patient” during challenging parts of her round, Swedish coach Peter Hanson has suggested Stark think to herself, “Just keep playing.”


“It gets you out of what you did,” Stark said, “and it makes you focus on something else.”


Stark made three birdies against just one bogey on Friday, and has been pleased with the progress she has shown in curbing her anger and handling the occasional bad shot. Faced with adversity, Stark has been able to get right back to work.


“I have way more patience now than I did before,” Stark said. “Obviously, my putting has been working way better now, too, and that always helps.”


Hannah Green, Kim’s fellow Aussie and practice partner and the tournament’s defending champion, continues to play nicely at Wilshire, shooting 69 (she overcame four bogeys). She finds herself at 6-under and tied for third along with Germany’s Esther Henseleit (68). Rose Zhang shot her second consecutive 69 to get to the weekend at 4-under 138.


“I’m obviously very comfortable here,” Green said. “Even though it’s one of the shorter courses that we play, it’s actually really firm and quite tricky. It kind of reminds me of the Sandbelt (in Australia), picking and choosing when you can be aggressive and when you can’t be. I’m hopefully vibing off that, and having a good weekend.”

April 26, 2024
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