Kim to tee it up for Duke

With dozens of friends watching, Columbus’ Stacey Kim signed a national letter of intent Sunday night for an athletic scholarship at Duke University, where she’ll compete for a spot on one of the nation’s top golf teams.

“I’ve always wanted to go there,” the 18-year-old said of her decision to sign with Duke, forgoing opportunities for athletic grants with other schools seeking her talents.

Kim said she really got involved with Duke as a choice in July, when the school began recruiting her. The school’s environment, size, diversity, the people with whom she had contact, the fact that it has a strong golf team, “amazing facilities” and a great coaching staff — all were factors that led her to decide on Duke even before an official visit to the North Carolina school in September.

But that visit sealed the deal.

“I saw how their athletes are looked after,” Kim said. “I liked everything about it.”

Although she visited Auburn University and received an offer from the University of Georgia, Duke and golf coach Dan Brooks were the suitors who won her over.

Kim was a standout golfer at Columbus High School her freshman year, winning the Georgia state championship individual title, but she made her reputation as one of the nation’s elite junior golfers after leaving in January 2007, when she turned to an innovative online studies program that would allow her more time to practice.

Through the University of Miami Online High School — one of the first in the nation with full accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools — Kim continued her studies and will graduate this spring.

“It was really different,” she said of the shift to online studies. “There’s a lot of time management on your own. It’s very self motivational, and you have a lot more responsibility, but you do it so you’ll be able to practice.”

There have been some drawbacks, such as a social life that is “about nothing,” she said with a smile. But she still had the camaraderie of close friends and church friends and a sense of working toward her personal goals.

“I’ve been better able to understand what I really wanted out of my future,” Kim said.

The game to which she was introduced by her older sisters Grace and Patricia, with whom she practiced, played and learned, became more than a game to Stacey Kim. It became a great challenge and possibly a career.

“They were always there for me,” she said of her sisters. “Because of what they did, it made me push that much harder.”

Success followed, including winning a spot in the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open in Newport, R.I., her proudest accomplishment to date. She also was named last month a second-team Rolex Junior All-American by the American Junior Golf Association. Other feats in her resume include advancing to the round of 16 at the 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, making the quarterfinals at the Polo Golf Junior Classic, a tie for fifth at the PING Invitational at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., and finishing second in the Horseshoe Bend Junior Classic in Roswell, Ga.

As Kim stood at the signing table Sunday night, with her parents, Kap and Kyong Kim, seated next to her, she looked to them and told her gathered friends, “It’s incredible how much they’ve given up for me. It’s been a blessing all these years.”