April 12, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Kimberly Dinh’s game is more rounded than ever, but striking a golf ball may still be more taxing than striking a balance between athletics and academics for the 20-year-old Wisconsin sophomore.
Par for the course, academically, is a 4.0 grade-point average for Dinh, a third-year chemical engineering major from Midland, Mich., and a member of the 2011-12 Academic Scholar team selected by the National Golf Coaches Association.
Dinh has never had anything less than an “A’’ grade since arriving on the Madison campus, and she couldn’t remember the last time she’s had anything under a 4-point. “It’s been awhile,’’ she said.
On juggling sports and studies, she noted, “There are definitely times when it’s a challenge. But it’s just understanding you have limited time and have to prioritize. It’s all about time management.’’
Managing a short game is something quite different, of course. But here, too, her work ethic paid off in mid-March when she won her first individual collegiate title, at the BYU Entrada Classic.
Dinh shot an even-par 216 on rounds of 72-70-74 at the Snow Canyon Country Club in St. George, Utah. She finished one stroke ahead of teammate Kris Yoo, a junior from Schaumburg, Ill.
In posting her personal-best 54-hole score, while leading the tournament from wire to wire, Dinh was honored as Big Ten Golfer of the Week for the first time in her UW career.
“It was definitely a confidence booster just knowing that I can go out and compete with the best,’’ said Dinh, who also learned that “I can rely on my swing’’ in a clutch situation.
Especially, she added, “When it comes down to crunch time when Minnesota was making a run. But we were able to put up numbers and still play consistently and stay ahead by making good shots.’’
That entailed making good putts and birdies as the Badgers held off the runner-up Gophers to claim the team title. Lindsay Danielson supported Dinh and Yoo by finishing in a tie for ninth place.
Danielson, a senior from Osceola, Wis., earned Big Ten Golfer of the Week recognition last fall after winning the Hoosier Invitational with a 3-under par 213, tying the school record for 54 holes.
How far has Dinh traveled? She ended up in a tie for 31st in the same event with a 234 total.
“I’ve come so far since I really started to play competitively and at such a high level,’’ Dinh said of her overall growth. “Even the past summer or two, I’ve seen my game significantly improve.’’
As a result, she has been getting more out of her rounds and shooting lower scores. “More than anything on the golf course, she has great hands and touch,’’ said UW women’s coach Todd Oehrlein.
There has also been a degree of perseverance during the earlier stages of her development, particularly because her junior career was solid but not special.
“It wasn’t at a point,’’ Oehrlein said, “where you would expect her to come in and have the success that she’s having right away the college level.’’
Nonetheless, it has taken some time for those pieces to fall into place.
“When she started last year,’’ Oehrlein said, “there were some bumps along the way. But to her credit she stayed persistent, patient and worked really hard; a credit to the type of character she has.’’
Her confidence has wavered at times. “I really struggled with a lot of ball striking and consistency,’’ she admitted. “As that has gone better, it has been a lot easier to play.
“I’ve always been confident in my putting. Even if my ball striking was somewhat off, I could get up-and-down and it saves a lot of strokes.’’
Acknowledged Oehrlein, “She’s got a great short game.’’
Dinh got started in golf when she was about 7 on the urging of her father, Paul, a late bloomer. “He started playing in his late 40s,’’ she said. “He liked it enough, he got the whole family to try.’’
It wasn’t necessarily love at first sight but Dinh stuck with the sport.
Asked when she began taking golf more seriously, she said, “I wouldn’t say until high school, probably my freshman and sophomore year (at Herbert Henry Dow).
“I had some early success in junior tournaments (she won the 2010 Michigan Junior PGA Sectional Championship) and I realized I could be really good at this. That’s where it all took off for me.’’
Her mom and dad, Mai and Paul Dinh, are chemical engineers and emphasized academics which factored into her decision to attend Wisconsin for what the school, campus and golf program offered.
On her visit, she said, “I was looking for a good combination; a solid engineering program and the opportunity to play on the golf team. When I visited campus, I just fell in love.’’
Dinh had accumulated so many credits in high school that transferred to UW -- like college-level math -- that she was able to “get into upper level electives and finish off those early-on.”
Nicely and neatly summing up her academic profile, Oehrlein said, “She’s brilliant.’’
Dinh is planning on going to graduate school and focusing on a Ph.D. in chemistry or chemical engineering. At some point in her distant future, she could see herself teaching at the high school level.
Sustaining her 4.0 cumulative GPA has not been overwhelming. “I know as long as I try my best,’’ she said, “if I do get something less than an ‘A’ it won’t be because I didn’t try hard enough.’’
If there any correlation between Dinh’s academic prowess and the golf course? “It doesn’t hurt,’’ Oehrlein pointed out. “She plays smart. She knows what she’s doing out there.’’
Along those lines, Dinh’s problem-solving skills are advanced. Again, she credited her parents.
“My parents have always been great role models because they’ve worked so hard and been so dedicated,’’ she said. “They built a really successful life after emigrating to the U.S. from Vietnam.
“Seeing the success that they’ve had as been a huge influence on me.’’
Paul and Mai Dinh have regaled their children with stories about their youth in Vietnam. They were both high school age at the end of the war when they left for the United States.
“Life was so different from what they experienced here,’’ Kimberly Dinh said. “I would like to be able to see Vietnam. It would make everything they say more real.’’
For now, the left-handed swinging Dinh is hoping to build on her momentum. “We’re all very competitive,’’ she said of her UW teammates, “and we want to take the team as far as we can.’’
Dinh and Yoo have been among the most competitive. “It has always been friendly,’’ Dinh said. “We all like to compete with each other. It helps us get better and keeps practice fresh and interesting.’’
Oehrlein has been pleased with both golfers. “Kris is having a great spring,’’ he said. “She has been unbelievably sound and remarkably consistent. Like Kim, she’s very disciplined in her practice.’’
The Badgers return to action April 20 at the Lady Buckeye Invitational in Columbus, Ohio, a prelude to the Big Ten tournament the following weekend (April 26-28) in French Lick, Ind.
Over the last two events, Oehrlein hasn’t been happy with his team’s efficiency around the greens but said, “We’ve run into some demanding golf courses and tough weather conditions.’’
Battling the elements is truly par for the course in the Midwest. “You have to be mentally tough to hang in there, especially when conditions get tough, ’’ said Dinh, making it all academic.