Record breaker

[Vicky Hurst lived up the hype, a tall order for an 18-year-old working in a grown-up world. The newly-minted pro was the “It girl” heading into this season on the Duramed Futures Tour, and she proved worthy of the title.

Meanwhile Mindy Kim began and ended the year virtually hype-less. Hurst won five titles this season to Kim’s three, making the teenage pair the only players to notch multiple victories in 2008. Hurst and Kim finished 1-2 on the money list and separated themselves a great deal from the rest of the tour.

Yet, Kim, 19, stayed in the shadows much of the season, an oversight she calls “bogus.” Nevertheless, she punched her ticket to the LPGA right along with Hurst and three other players, leaving the developmental tour quite satisfied.

“People actually underestimated how I play,” Kim said.

Hurst recently signed an equipment contract with Callaway and is expected to choose an apparel company in the coming weeks. She wore a lot of Under Armour clothing at the last event of the season, but said she’s still in the testing process. Hurst’s record-setting year on the Futures Tour makes it easy for her step onto the LPGA next season with an arsenal of endorsements. The DFT Rookie and Player of the Year shattered the regular-season earnings mark of $81,529 set by Beth Bauer in 2001. Hurst finished with $93,107 and played in only 13 events, less than any other player in the top 20 of the money list.

She also won the inaugural Duramed Invitational earlier this month for an additional $21,000 paycheck. Though her last victory was unofficial, Hurst is only the third player since 1999 to win five times, joining Grace Park and Song-Hee Kim.

Hurst ends the year mentally stronger and feels especially good about her putting stroke. Her mother, Koko, carried her bag all season and offered a second set of eyes on every shot. Hurst worked with instructor Mike Bender at the start of the year but has relied mostly on her mom in recent months. She plans to “stick with that” approach in the offseason, which is hard to argue against given the results.

Hurst marveled at her calmness down the stretch in Georgia, a marked improvement over earlier victories.

“All in all, I’m just a new player,” she said.

Koko points to patience as an area where both mother and child improved. Now she’ll have to find a suitable replacement for Vicky’s rookie year on the LPGA. Hurst plans to take Jeremy Young, husband of LPGA player Heather Young, to the Callaway Golf Pebble Beach Invitational next month for a tryout. Young will have big shoes to fill as Koko is the person most responsible for shaping Vicky’s game since childhood.

“It’s always more stressful watching outside the ropes,” Koko said.

Kim spent most of the year away from her parents, driving a van cross-country. With her father in Korea tending to his medical practice and her mother at home in California, Kim learned to be more independent.

Her decision to turn professional at 17 years old was more surprising than Hurst’s. With only one AJGA title to her name, Kim seemed an unlikely candidate to go pro. Her performance in 2007 didn’t help her case, finishing 47th on the money list with one top 10.

What turned things around?

“I was lacking faith last year,” Kim said.

The outgoing Kim points to offseason preparation as the key to success in ’08 and names two key instructors: God and Craig Farnsworth (in that order).

Farnsworth is responsible for her improved short game, and, well, God gets credit for the rest.

To have success on the next level, Kim needs another transformation this offseason. The Californian admits her game isn’t strong enough to contend for LPGA titles. Everything must improve.

No matter what kind of divine intervention takes place over next several months, however, Kim must prepare for the inevitable. She will again take a back seat to more well-known rookies on the LPGA, namely, Michelle Wie, Stacy Lewis and Hurst. Despite last season’s success, Kim’s isn’t mentioned when talk turns to next year’s Rookie of the Year race.

Kim can’t even speak to what separates her game from Hurst’s. Amazingly, the two never played with each other all season.

“Isn’t that weird?” Kim said with a laugh. “She was like celebrity status or something.”

Get used the hype, Kim. The shadows only get bigger from here.

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