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Sei Young Kim Quietly Assembles a Superstar Résumé

By Ron Sirak

| Dec 8, 2020

Sei Young Kim comes to Champions G.C. fresh off victories in her last two starts, including the KPMG Women's PGA. (Jeff Haynes/USGA)

U.S. Women's Open Home

There are a lot of boxes to be checked for a player to be considered great. Very quietly – almost so subtly as to go unnoticed – Sei Young Kim has accumulated accomplishments that place her among the best of her generation. At this week’s U.S. Women’s Open, she has a chance to both fatten her resume and drive up her recognition factor.

Great players not only win, they have consistent success over an extended period of time and come up big in the championships that matter most. Since Kim joined the LPGA Tour in 2015 at the age of 22 after winning five times on the Korea LPGA, it’s been check, check, check and check when it comes to those boxes.

And now she comes into Champions Golf Club as a major champion, having checked off that box at the Women’s PGA in October.

“I think there's a bit more pressure being a major champion coming to a major tournament, but again, nothing is going to change with my preparation,” she said Tuesday. “I'm going to try to stay composed and try to finish strong.”

A victory this week would vault Kim into the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Rankings, where she is currently No. 2 behind Jin Young Ko.

“Obviously it would feel incredible,” she said. “Since I was young, I dreamt of being No. 1 in the world one day, and I'm glad that I have a chance to do that.”

Kim comes into Champions on the best roll of her career, having won her last two LPGA Tour starts, including that Women’s PGA Championship. She burst on the scene in 2015 when she won three times and was the LPGA Rolex Rookie of the Year.

Her triumph the week before Thanksgiving at the Pelican Women’s Championship in Florida was Tour win No. 12. She has now won at least once all six years she’s been on the LPGA Tour and has been a multiple winner in four of her six seasons, including this year.

“I felt like previously my game fluctuated quite a bit throughout the season, but this season what's been different was I was able to be consistent with my performance,” Kim said. “And because I'm playing well, I just want to continue on this momentum and try to finish strong every tournament.”

At the Women’s PGA, Kim shed the label of Best Player Without a Major, closing with a 63 to win by five strokes over seven-time major winner and two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Inbee Park. When Kim backed that up by taking the title at Pelican, it felt like a breakthrough had been made from greatness to superstar.

This is Kim’s seventh U.S. Women’s Open and her best finish is T-8 in 2017. But she’s made all six cuts and, in addition to that T-8 and the win at the Women’s PGA, has six other top-six finishes in majors, including second at the 2015 Women’s PGA and the 2018 Evian Championship.

“I took the week off last week,” she said about her preparation for this championship. “I actually came here two weeks ago to play two rounds of golf, so that was good as far as the preparation.”

Getting ready to play on two different courses this week required some special preparation, making those early trips to Champions even more beneficial.

“This week I played 18 holes yesterday, 18 today, and I plan to play nine tomorrow, and certainly I'm not used to having two courses at a major tournament,” she said. “The preparation has been different, but also trying to conserve energy for the week, as well.”

In six LPGA seasons, Kim has made nearly 90 percent of her cuts, never finished out of the top 15 in scoring average and has been consistently among the top 10 in the Rolex Rankings.

She does it by having an all-around solid game. This year, she is No. 14 in driving distance; No. 47 in accuracy off the tee; No. 1 in greens in regulation and No. 1 in putts per GIR. Not surprisingly, that adds up to the lowest scoring average on Tour at 68.11.

The mild-mannered Korean plays with a quiet fire, possessing another gear that allows her to go low. In fact, the word “layup” is likely not among the English she exchanges with Paul Fusco, who has been her caddie throughout her LPGA Tour career

In 2018, Kim set the LPGA scoring record for both raw score and relationship to par by playing 72 holes in 31-under-par 257. On two other occasions, she shot 27 under par. Four times on the LPGA, she’s won tournaments in playoffs and none lasted longer than one hole as she made three birdies and an eagle.

This year, Kim has maintained that consistent level of quality play despite the COVID-19 interruptions. She finished T-7 and fifth in the first two tournaments of the year in January, then didn’t play on the LPGA Tour again until late August.

But she’s in high gear now, and her competition knows how unsettling that can be. A victory at the U.S. Women’s Open and the rest of the world will know as well.

Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.