During the biggest tournament of her nascent golf career, Sara Im would be the first to admit she was not playing her best.

Fortunately for Im, she was able to overcome an unsteady first few holes and finished second among 76 golfers at the U.S. Women’s Open qualifying event in early May at Dunwoody Country Club.

The Duluth resident, 17, will now move on to her first U.S. Women’s Open, set for June 2-5 at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines, North Carolina.

In the 36-hole qualifier, Im carded a 2-under 70 in the first round and a 3-under 69 in the second round to finish at 5-under 139, one stroke behind Gemma Dryburgh of Scotland.

“I definitely do not think it was playing great golf,” said Im, a rising senior at Lambert High School. “I was playing solidly and I wasn’t making any big mistakes, but it was definitely not my best golf, I thought. It was kind of weird — I didn’t feel like any part of my game was better. It was just an average kind of thing. I just wasn’t making many mistakes.”

Im had on two previous occasions played in qualifiers for the U.S. Open, and the third time was the charm.

“Now I get to play the U.S. Open, which a lot of people don’t get to do, especially at such a young age, so I’m very grateful and so excited,” said the daughter of April Ahn and Tom Im.

In the weeks between the qualifier and the U.S. Open, Im continued her successful play. She shot 71 and 70 to win the Georgia State Golf Association’s Top 60 Women’s Classic May 14 and 15 at the Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta, then won the Class AAAAAAA state tournament May 16 and 17 at Chimney Oak Golf Club in Homer with her high school team at Lambert. Her rounds of 71 and 67 helped Lambert to the state team title. She is playing in the Scott Robertson Memorial this weekend at Roanoke Country Club in Virginia.

Im said she began playing golf at the age of 7 at her father’s encouragement. She also said ball striking is one of her strengths on the course, adding that her short game is improving, thanks to her work with a new coach, Shawn Koch, director of instruction at Atlanta Athletic Club.

“My short game can definitely get better,” said Im, who also recently won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship with her partner Thienna Huynh of Lilburn. “It’s something I’ve always struggled with and now I’m working hard to get it better. (Koch) has been working with me for about eight months. First, I re-did my swing completely with him and I feel it’s gone pretty well. He’s taught me a lot about chipping and how to do different shots. Honestly, he’s helped my game all around.”

Im said she’s also working on the mental aspect of playing, making sure she’s not too high or two low in the middle of a round.

“One thing is not getting too down on yourself or angry with yourself or frustrated,” she said. “That’s a big part. During the qualifier, if you see my first round, I was 3-over in my first four holes. I just knew I couldn’t get too frustrated and get too down on my mistakes. You can always come back. Getting frustrated can definitely make your round worse.”

A Vanderbilt commitment, Im said she had official visits to Georgia, Wake Forest, Texas and Vanderbilt and found what she was looking for in Nashville. The Commodores’ current roster includes Gwinnett grads Louise Yu (Peachtree Ridge) and Tess Davenport (Mill Creek) and assistant coach Emilie Burger Meason (Mill Creek).

“It was exciting. I was so stressed about it because I didn’t know what college to pick. I ended up choosing Vanderbilt and felt so relieved,” said Im. “I really liked it when I visited; it just felt different. I really enjoyed being there and I loved the campus and the team and the coaches.”

Im said she will take a common-sense approach to her first U.S. Open with hopes of learning a thing or two from some of the top golfers in the world.

“Realistically, I’m just trying to make the cut. Making the cut for an amateur is very difficult, especially at the U.S. Open,” she said. “And of course I’m trying to win but it may be a little hard. I want to go in and play solid golf. It’s going to be hard, with a lot of golf and a lot of great players out there, so I’m excited to meet everyone and just play the tournament.”

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