April 7, 2014
By Renee Peggs
As the only senior for the Irish women’s golf team, Kristina Nhim might be expected to crave the spotlight. Instead, she eschews it, preferring to talk about the successes of her teammates or the immense gratitude she has for her parents. Nhim takes great delight in surprising people, throwing off their assumptions and remaining true to the ideals she’s grounded upon.
Born and raised in Orange County, she grew up in the shadow of the likes of Tiger Woods. Nhim came to the sport relatively late, picking up clubs for the first time around age 11. Her uncle and parents played, and to spend time with her family, she started swinging.
“I had no natural aptitude. None,” Nhim confesses. “A lot of people assume I was really good starting out but it’s just not true. My younger brother was full of natural talent and that always drove me nuts, because I had to work really hard at it.”
And she did. Southern California weather allowed her to practice or play about 362 days a year by the time she was in high school, a luxury South Bend golfers might give their nine-iron for.
“We actually stay longer at tournaments, so we can practice on real grass,” Nhim says of the lengths to which Irish golfers must go in order to overcome the forces of nature inherent to northern Indiana.
How did she end up at Notre Dame?
“That’s a great story,” she lights up. “I actually had no ND connections and it wasn’t even on my horizon, but I got a letter inviting me to come check out the golf program. One of my high school teammates said her sister had really wanted to go here, so that made me think I should at least check it out. I absolutely fell in love with the campus. I had no idea what Notre Dame was all about, that they had such a strong commitment both to academics and athletics. I was offered a scholarship and committed to the program pretty early my junior year of high school. I haven’t regretted it at all.”
The sense of community she’s found at Notre Dame has been one of the things Nhim appreciates most.
“I didn’t have that in high school the way a lot of people do, because I was traveling so much for junior golf. My summers were always planned out months in advance, and I was playing constantly,” she explains. “But here, I lived in Badin Hall, which is known as one of the most close-knit women’s dorms, and my teammates and I have a pretty close relationship, too. We spend a lot of time together and I just love that.”
She’ll be returning home after graduation this spring and finishing up some of her accounting credits at USC in the fall.
“I will not be golfing for them, though,” she rushes to head off the dirty looks. “I’ve exhausted my eligibility, plus it’d just be wrong. I think I’d lose a lot of friends that way.”
She’s Irish through and through. Change her name to O’Nhim: she might have the matching temperament.
“A lot of golfers say the sport teaches you patience and how to control your anger, but sometimes I have a bad shot and I just kind of let loose,” she admits without a hint of sheepishness. “Our coach actually just bought us this voodoo doll when we were at LSU. We’re allowed to hit it when we’re mad.”
Nhim balances herself though by explaining her philosophy on the course and off.
“Golf is so much about mental discipline,” she explains. “You never feel like you actually win because you always have something you could have done better. I think it’s important to allow yourself to express frustration in the moment instead of letting it fester, and then move on. You can’t stay mad or you’ll never get your game back on track. Positive mental attitude is really essential, especially since so many things are out of your control.”
She says she and her teammates have figured out how to support and encourage one another through all the highs and lows.
“We allow ourselves to cut loose; we all have pretty strong personalities and we don’t hold a lot back. If you spent a day on the course with us you’d probably be pretty surprised at our bluntness.” She grins mischievously. “We also spend a lot of time talking about food and cooking together as a way to give ourselves mental breaks. That’s a lot of fun.”
Her best experience was at a recent tournament in Arizona, hosted by Notre Dame over the spring break. Nhim shot a personal best 68 on the first day, with her parents in attendance. On the final day, “I had a really bad front nine, so I was worried about the team score and not even looking at my position on the leader board. After I birdied three of the last four holes, one of my teammates ran up to me and said, ‘I think you won first place!’ and I just couldn’t believe that was possible,” she confesses humbly. “Winning that tournament and having my parents be there to see it was just the best.”
She names her parents as her heroes.
“I honestly didn’t realize how much they had done for me until I got to college, but they sacrificed so much for me,” Nhim says. “They both work, but they were always so great at managing things for me like flights and rental cars and travel itineraries. In the summer, they rearranged their schedules so I would always have one of them flying with me when I traveled to each tournament, they gave me rides to practice, they did a great job taking turns looking out for me and making sure I was on top of everything. They are amazing.”
Teammate Ashley Armstrong is among others Nhim admires.
“Even though she’s younger than I am, I just really appreciate having someone on the team to look up to and aspire to be like. I think she’s done a lot of things right, she works so hard and she’s accomplished so much. She’s a great captain and a great role model.”
On and off the course, Kristina Nhim is bringing others to the fore with her positive, fun-loving, generous spirit, embodying the spirit of Notre Dame.