BELLEAIR, Florida – Sei Young Kim’s tour friends, led by In Gee Chun, who clutched a 2008 bottle of Dom Pérignon, rushed the 18th green to soak the hottest player on the LPGA. The champagne celebration was courtesy of Pelican Golf Club, and Kim made sure to get a taste.
“Everything feels like take a shower in the champagne,” said Kim. “I still smell … feels, you know, like (a) little drunk.”
Kim, 27, broke into that contagious smile of hers as she recounted the celebratory scene. Six weeks after she trounced the field at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship for her first major title, she came back to the tour and picked up where she left off, winning the inaugural Pelican Women’s Championship by three strokes over Ally McDonald. On a week when only 19 players broke par on the windswept west coast of Florida, Kim finished at 14-under 266. Stephanie Meadow’s third-place showing marked her best finish since the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst.
Kim’s 12th career title on the LPGA isn’t enough to overtake top-ranked Jin Young Ko, but she’s never been closer. Becoming the No. 1-ranked player happens to be Kim’s top goal for 2020.
“Before, Olympic gold medal was my biggest goal in this year,” she said, “but it cancel. Might be next year.”
Kim’s dozen titles makes her the third-winningest South Korean in LPGA history. She passes Jiyai Shin (11) and trails only LPGA Hall of Famers Se Ri Pak (25) and Inbee Park (20).
The third-degree blackbelt isn’t one to back down from a fight. In the third round, when McDonald aced the par-3 12th hole to cut Kim’s lead to one stroke, Kim responded by making four consecutive birdies on Nos. 14-17.
In Sunday’s final round, Kim’s lead grew as high as six early on in the front nine. As Kim headed to the 10th tee eating a sandwich, however, her lead over McDonald had shrunk to three. She got out her makeup compact on the tee box to powder her face before mounting her final-round charge. Needless to say, she didn’t look concerned.
“She’s comfortable and confident,” said Kim’s longtime caddie Paul Fusco, “which is right where you need to be.”
A series of tremendous up-and-downs for par early on in the back nine kept Kim’s cushion intact. A birdie on the par-5 14th zapped some of the pressure that had been building as her lead grew to four.
A large number of Pelican’s members were out watching the final group, including Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club.
By the time the final threesome reached the 18th, Kim held a five-shot advantage and a sea of members wearing blue blazers had surrounded the green. There’s speculation that Kim might get a jacket of her own. The blue would pair nicely with Kim’s red skort.
Kim started wearing Sunday red at age 14 at the Korean Women’s Amateur Championship.
“Just imitating Tiger,” she said “but different way. … He wearing a T-shirt, but I wearing pants.”
Tiger Woods certainly never celebrated a major championship quite like Kim did last month. After winning the KPMG at Aronimink Golf Club, Kim flew back to South Korea for an emotional reunion with her family. She then had to spend two weeks in quarantine back at her parents’ home in Seoul. They put all her meals outside her bedroom door as she isolated with movies, a drawing pad and phone calls to friends.
Kim spent four weeks back home in Korea and soaked up the long-awaited spoils of victory. She then flew back home to Dallas by herself, where she practiced for five days before heading to Florida.
Next week she’ll head to Houston with Fusco to get two practice rounds in at Champions Golf Club ahead of the U.S. Women’s Open. She’ll skip the Volunteers of America Classic in two weeks in order to stay fresh for the USWO and CME Group Tour Championship, which she won last year, taking home $1.5 million, the biggest paycheck in women’s golf history.
The CME victory last November allowed Kim to play more relaxed at the KPMG. The victory at KPMG, she figures, will help when she goes for a second major title in Houston.
“Feels happy when I walk on the course,” she said.
Feels even better after that lavish champagne.