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Longs Drugs Challenge: 'Like watching a fireworks show'

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She knows she belongs now, which is a big part of the battle when you're young, inexperienced and trying to find your way.

Christina Kim came to that conclusion in steps, one of them coming on a glorious fall afternoon last year at The Ridge Golf Club in Auburn.

All Kim did on that sizzling Sunday was hold off Hall-of-Famers Juli Inkster and Karrie Webb to win the Longs Drugs Challenge, her first victory on the LPGA Tour.

She belongs all right. The girl who turned pro after her junior year of high school in San Jose also helped the U.S. reclaim the Solheim Cup last month, posting a 2-1-1 record.

OAS_AD('Button20'); At 21, life is good, even if she still can't rent a car from some companies. And stepping into the winner's circle makes all the difference.

"To an extent it validated, hey, I belong here," Kim said. "It gave me that sense of accomplishment, and it also fed the fire. Hey, I can do it, so why not do it again?

"It was such an explosion of emotion. It's difficult to really put to words. But it was like watching a fireworks show.

"You see every color of the rainbow. You feel the booms. It's indescribable."

Follow Kim for four days and you'll see every color of the rainbow in her flamboyant wardrobe. She's outgoing, engaging and full of life.

You can't help but notice her. Especially now that she's proven she belongs, and that leaving school for the pro life turned out just fine.

"Growing up I always thought I'm doing what I'm doing because it's my choice," said Kim, who said she passed a state proficiency exam in lieu of a high school diploma. "This is my life and I feel like this is the right time for me to do it.

"Just all the fun that I've had, all the amazing times that I've experienced, the things that I've learned out here that I know I could never learn in college. Of course they validate that (decision).

"I always believe, never live life in regrets. You make a choice and if it happens to be a choice you could have chosen not to make, you don't have an option now.

"You've got to enjoy it for what it is, because you're only given this life once, as far as we know..

Kim is making the most of her chance. After earning $215,632 as a rookie in 2003, she pocketed $636,490 last year and ranked 25th on the LPGA money list this season with $421,060 heading into the Office Depot Championship that ended Monday.

She said the Solheim Cup, where Kim and fellow rookies Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis posted a combined 8-3-2 record, changed her thinking about the game.

Instead of playing for herself, Kim found herself part of a U.S. team swept along by the fans at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind.

"You go to any LPGA event, you go to the U.S. Open, you'll have huge crowds, but you won't hear them scream," Kim said. "You won't hear them chanting in unison 'Christina Kim,' or 'Annika Sorenstam' or whoever.

"You can hear people, they make up songs with your name in them. They chant 'USA.' Knowing you're a part of that ... it's so different when you see golf being played as a team sport..

"We were one unit. We were 12 arms of one whole being. So it sort of made me think of golf differently because you're so used to you, you, you, you. But there's no 'I' in team..

Kim's interactive style of play - she'll talk to golf balls and fans - made her a crowd favorite last year at The Ridge, with big galleries following her.

Longs tournament director Brian Flajole said having Kim as defending champion was a big plus for the event.

"I think it's a breath of fresh air," he said. "I think both for us and the tour. Annika (Sorenstam) is extremely reserved and guarded about everything she does. That's her personality. And then to have somebody so far on the other end of the spectrum with Christina, I think it's great.

"As we saw last year, the crowds, she had huge galleries. I think the galleries are all about she yells and talks to the ball in the air, and she wears colorful clothing and she signs every autograph and she's very approachable.

"I think people will come out just to watch her and her style of play..

Kim hopes returning to The Ridge will help her find the winner's circle again. The course, certainly, seems to fit her game, demanding accuracy off the tee and good decisions from the fairways.

"It's a risk-reward course, which I think I love those kinds of courses," she said. "You have to know how you're feeling at a certain shot in order to feel like, hey, I can fly this trap, I can do this, I can do that.

"It's a challenge. You've got to always be on your feet..

Earning a second victory would help Kim prove to herself what happened last fall wasn't a fluke.

"It would mean the world to me to know that I could come back and prove, not so much to anyone else, but more to myself, that it can be done," Kim said.

And that she really does belong.

The Christina Kim file Age: 21

Birthplace: San Jose

Residence: Orlando, Fla

LPGA victories: (1) Longs Drugs Challenge, 2004

LPGA earnings: $1,277,249 (3rd season)

2005 earnings: $425,127

Worth noting: Posted a 2-1-1 record to help the U.S. win the Solheim Cup last month

About the writer: The Bee's John Schumacher can be reached at (916) 326-5582 or - Get the whole story every day - SUBSCRIBE NOW! 

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