With her victory at the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship on Thursday, Ina Kim-Schaad, 35, becomes an immediate contender for the unofficial title of USGA champion with the most unconventional resume. How many national champions can say they took 11 years off from the competitive game?
Kim-Schaad, who defeated Talia Campbell, 3 and 2, in the championship match at Forest Highlands Golf Club in Flagstaff, Ariz., had been a standout player in high school in the late 1990s/early 2000s, reaching the quarterfinals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior in 1998 and losing in the finals in 2000. The Los Angeles native continued to play collegiately at Northwestern but the LPGA was not for her and after graduation in 2005, she gave up the game to focus on a career in business.
“This might sound stupid,” Kim told the USGA’s David Shefter, “but I always wanted to wear a business suit and put on beautiful high heels, and walk into meetings. I always had that vision in my head. That’s what I strived for.”
Kim-Schaad’s career in the financial world took her to Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco before moving overseas to London and Hong Kong. Along the way, she met her future husband, Ian Schaad, and the couple eventually moved to New York.
It was Ian, a 2 handicap, who ultimately convinced Ina to try the game again in 2016. Quickly her competitive instinct took over. “I had closed that chapter of the book, and I kind of moved on,” Kim-Schaad said. “I was doing so many other things with my life, and then I met Ian, and he was the one who got me back interested in it. It happens very quickly, it really does. The first few birdies and then, you know, you’re hooked again.”
She had success on the local level in the New York area, then qualified for the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur, her first USGA event in 16 years. She played the U.S. Women’s Mid-Am later that year and the Women’s Amateur again in 2018.
At Forest Highland, Kim-Schaad earned the 11th seed in stroke-play qualifying and then made easy work of the match-play bracket, never being pushed past the 16th hole in any earlier round. Along the way, she beat 2016 champion Shannon Johnson in the round of 16 and four-time Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Meghan Stasi in quarterfinals.
Upon reaching the finals, Kim-Schaad faced an opponent with much in common. Campbell, 25, also lives in New York City and works in finance at a private equity firm focusing on mergers and acquisitions and leveraged buyouts. She was a quarterfinalist at the U.S. Girls’ Junior in 2011, played in college at Notre Dame but bypassed professional golf.
As was the case in her previous matches, Kim-Schaad took an early lead in the scheduled 18-hole final—winning two of her first three holes—and never relented. She played the equivalent of even par, with normal match-play concessions, winning the 15th and 16th holes with a par and 12-foot birdie to close things out.
“I’m sure it will sink in tonight or maybe later in the week, but it’s pretty amazing,” said Kim-Schaad, who turns 36 on Sunday. “The women I got to play with this week have been amazing. The golf course was amazing. It’s just a pretty surreal experience overall.”
The victory earns Kim-Schaad an exemption into the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open at Champions Golf Club in Houston.