Getting Mental with Ina Kim-Schaad

Ina Kim-Schaad’s Journey From Wall Street to the Golf Course

The 2019 US Women’s Mid Amateur Champion recently joined forces with well known sports psychologist Dr. Gio Valiante as a mental performance coach. Yet, one would think that a lucrative career working as an institutional buyer for an investment fund in London, Hong Kong and New York would be a rewarding career. But, for Ina Kim-Schaad, she found the lure of golf to be too much to resist.


2019 US Women's Mid Amateur Champion

Having grown up in sunny California, Ina Kim-Schaad quickly found herself on the golf course, taking up the sport that would shape and influence her life . Along with her sister, it was a sport that they started playing at an early age.


“My parents just loved golf. And we were kind of just in the beginning . . . right before golf really took off. So, my parents kind of took my sister and I when we were young, maybe five or six and started getting us into golf, because that's what they wanted to do on the weekends, frankly … they would drag us along. And we would have fun driving the carts and whatnot. And pretty soon we found ourselves in lessons. And then, you know, we were playing in tournaments.”


Golf to Finance

After enjoying success in her junior golf career – she was a finalist in the US Junior Girls championship and a member of the Junior Ryder Cup team, Ina Kim-Schaad, unsurprisingly, pursued a university career. She attended Northwestern University, completing her degree while playing on the women’s golf team, but instead of pursuing a professional playing career, she chose a different path.


“It wasn't a super difficult decision to be honest . . . because my sister actually was playing professionally on the LPGA when I graduated college, so we kind of had one already doing that in the family (professional golf) and I figured I’ll just get the stable job and . . . you know, have that and I can play golf later in my life . . . when I retire was what I thought. . . . I was just so excited to see what else was out there because I've been playing golf for so long and I wanted to see what else I could do with my life.”

Staring down her shot. Ina Kim-Schaad discusses how mental performance has become an important asset to golfers -- not just professional players, but from all sorts of golfers

Now working in the world of finance, Ina found herself living and working abroad when she experienced two life altering events that would eventually see her start a journey back to the sport she loved.


“I was actually living abroad and working in London at the time, around maybe 2013 or so. and I met my now husband, then at a golf outing, which I kind of did maybe once a year . . . So it was a total freak accident that I met him . . . Then we ended up just becoming friends over . . . the course of a few years . . . then we kind of started dating and maybe 2015 or 2016 . . . . I moved to New York in 2015. And that's when he and I were together. And he got me into golf because that's what he wanted to do on the weekends. ‘Like, well, let's go play golf. I was like, alright, let's go’ . . . He moved back to New York and I actually moved to Hong Kong … we dated long distance and then I moved to New York.”


Starting to play golf again reawakened the inner player in her. “I just kind of embraced my free time and I signed up for a bunch of tournaments, and I . . . went out and won my first tournament, which happened to be at Atlantic in the Hamptons, . . . I guess I kind of got the golf bug pretty soon after that.” Sure enough, Kim-Schaad found herself working towards competing in the US Women’s Mid-Amateur championship – and that was how she eventually crossed paths with Dr. Gio Valiante of Fearless Golf.


“I found myself putting so much pressure (on myself) . . . not enjoying it after a little while. . . so that's kind of how my relationship with golf evolved . . . But, then I realized that . . . the better I played, the more pressure I started putting on myself. And then I became a little more unhappy; and I wasn't enjoying the game as much. . . . It was like, it went into kind of a downward spiral. And I was like, ‘well, this is not what I why I'm playing golf, I'm playing golf, because I love it.’ And I really had to take a long look in the mirror and kind of evaluate what I was doing – why I was doing this . . . Then that . . . journey led me eventually to seek out Dr. Gio's help. . . . He and I obviously formed a really, really strong bond and he's been an amazing coach, mentor, friend, you know, all of the above. He really helped me get over those mental hurdles and . . . develop myself into the 30 something year old person that I was and not the 20 year old version of myself. So that . . . was really a big, a big change for me – if I hadn't gone through the bad part of it, I wouldn't have come out the other side.”


Becoming a Mental Performance Coach

After winning the 2019 US Women’s Mid-Amateur championship, Ina found herself moving towards a career in mental performance coaching. In working with Dr. Gio as her coach she developed a strong relationship with him.

Dr. Gio Valiante became Kim-Schaad's sports psychologist when she restarted a competitive amateur career.

"I would say it was kind of dumb luck. . . . So, Dr. Gio had really, obviously, he's had so much success, you know, in all kinds of arenas, but he had been in finance for the last few years, and he really missed golf, but he was stretched so thin, he really didn't have a lot of time . . . you know, he was turning away PGA professionals . . . just because he didn't have the bandwidth, so he'd always kind of thought that he wanted an apprentice.


“He and I just, we became really good friends . . . so it just kind of evolved into that. Which I am so thankful for. And I'm very lucky. But yeah . . . we're just kind of trying to figure out a way that we can . . . make his magic go further, because he just can't physically reach as many people as he'd like to. And, you know, we both love helping people so much . . .”

Click to listen to the interview with Ina Kim-Schaad

Our discussion then turns to the subject of how a mental performance coach can help a player. Ina discusses the approach that she and Dr. Gio take when meeting new clients. “pretty much every single student that we have, whether they're a PGA Professional, LPGA Professional or you know an amateur or a CEO or whatever, they all pretty much go through the same first one day introductory program, which is at the Fearless Golf Academy and it's a one day pretty comprehensive . . . half classroom and then onto the golf course/range after, where we kind of put into action what we taught them on paper, and in theory, and we can kind of illustrate how to put that into real world action on the golf course.”

Sinking a clutch putt. Nervousness in a pressure-filled situation is natural says Kim-Schaad.
" You can't play a whole entire round and not expect to have a single bad swing"

In discussing the program’s approach, she shares with us that there is now an online component to the program for remote clients that cannot make it to the Academy in Winter Haven, Florida. Having Kim-Schaad sitting with us, we took the opportunity to pose a couple of questions about mental performance. One question dealt with pressure and being nervous – you know the kind. It’s a competitive foursome and the losers buy the winners lunch or a round of beers; perhaps it’s a money match and you’re pressing on the last hole. Stepping onto the 18th tee box, needing to find the fairway or better yet, hit a good drive so that your playing partners feel more pressure. Under circumstances like that can put a person under pressure – everyone wants to perform well.


“Those nerves, and we all feel them, it's totally natural, and it's okay. It's a natural part of the process. And that just means that you care, which is great. But, I think if you can, try to remember to play against yourself and the golf course architect, whether it's Tom Doak, Pete Dye or Jack Nicklaus or what have you. Really, it's you versus yourself, and the course that's it. It doesn't matter what your competitors are doing, because (if) you start playing the competitors, your emotional rollercoaster profile looks exactly like theirs and not your own. So, you're going to live and die by their shots. That's not good, right? You don't have control over their shots, but you have control over your own.


“So you know, I guess that's a two-fold answer. I think if you can try and play within yourself at all times, and really react with curiosity, because you know, you hit a bad shot and you're just playing against yourself and Pete Dye, you don't get upset. You say – ‘Oh, hi, Pete Dye I see what you did there with that nasty bunker, you got me this time, but I'm going to get you next time’ That's a completely different way of reacting, than ‘Crap! I hit in the bunker; that was a terrible swing’; then you go down this technical rabbit hole when you're swing was fine. It's just a bad swing, that's fine, that happens.


“You can't play a whole entire round and not expect to have a single bad swing. So really, I think it's this positive kind of tailspin into – ‘Alright, well, I'm going to react with curiosity instead of anger’. And then, when I react with curiosity, it gets you more into the into the golf course, and into the architect, then there's not that negative repercussion of you questioning everything and kind of ‘reinventing the wheel’ of your swing, all while you're in the middle of the golf course.”


Focused on her tee shot. Mental preparation can go a long way to managing nervousness.

Not just for the Pros

Because of the high profile that Dr. Gio has with his many appearances on the Golf Channel and its former program – “Morning Drive”, people often assume that a mental performance coach is only available or beneficial for professional players, but as Ina tells us, mental performance is just as beneficial for junior players or recreational players.


“We have clients come to us who are maybe 25 handicaps and their goals are to get to a single digit handicap or something like that. We have Junior golfers, we have retirees we have, you know, everything, but obviously, we have PGA players and LPGA, and all that, but, yeah, our clients really run the gamut. So, I think everybody can benefit if they love the game, and they want to get better and enjoy the game more. I think that is really what we can do for them.”


Now just think how enjoyable it would be to achieve some of your golf goals.

For more on Ina Kim-Schaad and Fearless Golf:


Email: inaykim@gmail.com

Instagram: Fearless Golf Coach


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