With masterful performance, Sei Young Kim is finally a major champion
NEWTOWN SQUARE, PA. - Sometimes it's only the best player who wins. This week is no different from the previous one, no different from the next. No defining shot or moment. Just someone who plays better than everyone else for 72 holes.
Only now can Sei Young Kim call herself a great master.
Kim won the KPMG Women's PGA Championship on Sunday. It was her 11th career LPGA win, but her first major title.
"I'm so excited. I'm really hiding my tears at the moment," said Kim after a flood of congratulations, trophy lineups and interviews. "It was a major I really wanted, so excited and happy that I made it."
The 27-year-old South Korean remained stoic as a result, the end product of controlled brilliance. Fairways, greens and more birdies (23) than anyone at Aronimink Golf Club.
She kept the pressure she had felt for several years and not just this week well hidden. She might have hidden it too well.
"I think I was subconsciously nervous before I went to sleep [Saturday night] so I set my alarm 30 minutes later than I wanted, and I found out when I left this morning," said Kim.
This resulted in a late arrival on the course, but Kim wasn't bothered. Winning a major had been her dream since she saw Se Ri Pak take that championship 22 years ago. And she felt that this was her time.
The loot goes to the winner: Kim collects a large trophy
Of course, she had to defeat another South Korean legend at Inbee Park to do it in her time. The same Inbee Park who defeated Kim in that event at the Westchester Country Club five years ago and shot 68 at Kim's 71 that Sunday.
This time, Park shot 65 and never came close to Kim's lead.
"Sei Young was just really untouchable and she played really, really good golf today," said Park, who finished second, five points down on 9 under second place. “I want to congratulate her. She had a great day. This is how a champion plays a finals so it was good to see that. "
It was a record final for Kim, a final round that coincided with the best in the history of the championship. A total of 266 (14 below) established a new brand.
Paul Fusco could see it coming. He's been traveling for Kim for six years.
"In the past we had come to a major and she said, 'Ah, I really want this," which is great and normal. But you can't play like that, "said Fusco, who also won his first major as a caddy." This was the first week she just relaxed and let herself come to. Owned it. "
With 10 Tour wins, Kim was the only active player to have more than five LPGA titles but no majors. (For the record, Jessica Korda (5) and Minjee Lee (5) have now won the most LPGA events with no major among the active players.)
However, it was easy to miss the impressive nature of their victories.
KPMG Women's PGA Championship: Full Field Scores | Full coverage
Her first Tour win came in a playoff during her rookie season. Her second came after she came on to force a playoff with Park, and then defeated it by spreading from 154 yards on the first additional hole.
She won the 2018 Thornberry Creek Event with an LPGA record of 31 subpar scores. That was four shots less than when she won the founder's cup at five.
Last year, she took a winding 25-foot run on the final hole to win the CME Group Tour Championship at the end of the season and her $ 1.5 million prize.
The credentials have been verified. But would their nerves be over the last nine?
Kim underplayed the outer half in 3 on Sunday to stay three points ahead of Park. But including the last lap, she was 10 in the top nine, even right behind.
"It was just like that, go ahead," said Fusco of Kim's approach to the final nine holes. "She was confident. There was no guesswork."
Try as she did, the best Park could do was get off Kim within two minutes when Park was birding the 12th. But Kim responded by birdie on the 13th. And on the 14th and on the 16th and on the 17th
Kim: I felt the pressure start last night.
“I was back three [to start the lap] so I thought 65 will definitely make it. I thought maybe 5 to 6 is under a good number to post something and just see what happens. But obviously Sei Young was way better than anyone else out there today.
“I would do birdies, she does birdies. I would do birdies, she does birdies. And I thought come on "
Kim wouldn't play passively on the back nine, hoping the trophy would greet her. She would run to the finish making sure no one could catch her.
"I didn't even look at the scoreboard," said Kim. “I knew Inbee was going to play great, but I just had to focus on my game, one shot at a time.
"I didn't want to play like my last round, but just stick to my swing that I've been playing all week, so it worked."
Sunday was unlike any other day for Kim and everyone else. The leading three started 33 minutes before the final group to hit NBC Sports' noon-2 p.m. ET cover window. And it worked. Kim's group finished just in time, and by 1:51 pm Kim was no longer the best player in women's golf without a major.
"I dreamed of winning a big championship after Se Ri Pak won the first for our country," said Kim. "To be honest, I didn't know it was going to take that long."
After Kim removed the monkey from her back and shooed it away, she hugged Fusco and walked away from the green. Officials and volunteers cheered, and no fans were allowed on site due to COVID-19 protocols.
The entire finish was strangely muffled. Kim made her final approach 12 feet past the hole and there wasn't a single clap, just the first raindrops.
She walked up the 18th fairway to be silent until she finally reached the green.
After two putts to secure a very large, very shiny trophy, there was no champagne celebration on the green - there were still players to finish. That had to wait until she left the play area.
As she had done all week, Kim kept her composure. The joy and relief were not exposed. She tried to verbalize it, but any overflow or excess was hidden with these tears.
It appears this is being saved for those who have been with her the longest on this trip and whom she has spoken to over a short video conference after her life changing feat.
"I think what I want to do the most when I get home," said Kim, "is hug my parents and family."
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