The thing about history is that it never gets old. Once recorded, achievements live forever. Sei Young Kim arrived at Aronimink GC as a footnote in the legacy of the LPGA but left as a boldface name in the chapter on greatness after winning the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
No longer will Kim be known as the best player without an LPGA major. Now, the only modifier that matters before her name are these words that will be spoken the next time she’s introduced on the first tee and at every event after:
“From Seoul, South Korea, winner of the 2020 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Sei Young Kim.”
She is – now and forever – a major champion.
Kim’s near-flawless performance as she mastered Aronimink in a tournament-record 14-under-par 266, five strokes better than Inbee Park, was not so much validation of an already brilliant career, or even the culmination of relentlessly consistent play, but rather felt like the foreshadowing of greater things to come.
“I’m so excited,” she said when it was all over. “I’m actually really hiding my tears at the moment. It was a major that I really wanted. I didn’t want to play like this was my final round but just stick to my momentum that I’ve played all week, so that worked out.”
Still only 27 years old, Kim now has 11 victories. Among players from Korea only Se Ri Pak (25) and Park (20) have more. Sei Young was the 2015 Rolex Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year and now has at least one victory in each of her six years on Tour.
Often, when so much talent is so apparent, expectation exceeds accomplishment. But a bogey-free 63 – matching the lowest round in the 66-year history of the Women’s PGA – left no doubt that Kim is what the Rolex Rankings say she is – one of the top players in the world.
“I dreamt of winning a major championship after seeing Se Ri Pak winning the first one for our country,” Kim said. “I didn’t know it was going to take this long. I won’t lie, I did feel the pressure starting last night.”
There is sweet irony that Kim was chased in the final round by Park, with seven the greatest major winner of the post-Annika era and tied for seventh all-time. Playing in the group in front of Kim, Inbee went out in 32, but Sei Young shrugged off the pressure by matching that score.
Remarkably, Park closed with a 65 and lost two strokes to Kim. As good as Kim was on the outward nine, she was better coming in, closing in 31.
“I’m happy to have Inbee as a fellow competitor and a great sister,” Kim said. “I look up to her, and I feel appreciative that she gave a compliment to me, and I look forward to competing against her in many other tournaments.”
Not only did Kim win, it was the way she got it done that stands out. The woman who set the LPGA Tour scoring record at 31-under-par 257 in the 2018 Thornberry Creek Classic made 23 birdies at Aronimink – 13 on the weekend.
There’s always been a feeling of inevitability when it came to Kim and the majors. She’s simply too good not to win one. What happened in the Women’s PGA was hinted at nearly a year ago when Kim birdied from 25 feet on the final hole to win $1.5 million at the CME Group Tour Championship, the largest prize in women’s golf.
This is a woman who has always worn pressure gracefully, thinking her way around the golf course with long-time caddie Paul Fusco, punctuating shots with smiles. They have a special relationship that goes back to her rookie year on the Tour.
“The reason that I have ownership of my game on the course is just knowing the fact that Paul is with me as a friend and as a teammate,” Kim said. “That just gives me comfort on the course.”
Prior to Sunday, Kim had finished in the top five in six majors, including second at the 2015 Women’s PGA – to Park – and T-4 in 2017. Six times she had finished in the top five of a major without winning.
“Looking back, recalling those tournaments, I think I was really playing aggressively trying to win,” she said. “But this week I tried to stay composed, focus on my game, not worrying about other factors that might affect my game, and I think that helped overall.”
When handed the large championship trophy, Kim smiled and said: “It’s really heavy.”
She could have been talking about the pressure of being the best without a major. But the weight of the KPMG Women’s PGA trophy now replaces the burden of expectation.
Sei Young Kim is a major champion, a title she earned doing what she does best – making birdies and avoiding mistakes. That could be a formula for more success – and more pages in the history of the LPGA.