Sei Young Kim began to feel the pressure Saturday night of wanting to win the first major title of her otherwise successful career at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Fearing that she wouldn’t be able to go to sleep, she set her alarm later and arrived Sunday morning at Aronimink Golf Club 30 minutes later than usual.
But the nerves and the tardiness had absolutely no effect on Kim as she fashioned one of the great final rounds in an LPGA major, a record-tying, bogey-free, seven-under-par 63 that left the rest of the talented field in the dust and gave her a milestone five-stroke victory.
Kim, 27, who went into the weekend as the active player with the most career LPGA wins (10) but no major, was peerless on an overcast day at the prominent Donald Ross layout and wrapped up 72 holes with a championship-record 14-under 266 score.
The 266 broke the LPGA/KPMG Women’s PGA record of 267 set in 1992 by Betsy King at Bethesda (Md.) Country Club.
“I feel the pressure every week but especially in a major championship,” said Kim, the world’s No. 7-ranked player. “I’ve felt pressure every time I’ve played in one. I feel it in the players' eyes when I come to a major championship. Everybody is really eager to win this one, so it’s nice to get it done.”
Beginning the day with a three-stroke lead, Kim saw Inbee Park trim the margin to two on four occasions, but four birdies on her last six holes allowed her to win going away.
Park, an LPGA Hall of Fame member and a seven-time major champion, finished with a 65 for a nine-under 271 total but still lost by five.
“I saw the leaderboard and she just kept going lower and lower and lower,” Park said, smiling. "I’d make birdie, she makes birdie, I’d make birdie, she makes birdie. I was like, ‘Come on.’ It was just fun to have that kind of race.
“I thought 65 will definitely do it. I was thinking maybe like five- to six-under is a good number to kind of post and just see what happens. But obviously Sei Young was just much better than anyone else out there today.”
It was an interesting switch from five years ago in the final round of the 2015 Women’s PGA held at Westchester (N.Y.) Country Club. Park led Kim, then a tour rookie, by two shots at the start of the day but won by five. Kim remembered.
“It reminded me of 2015, when I played with Inbee for a major championship,” she said. “I actually didn’t recall that until someone told me. But I tried to stay composed today and focus on my game.”
The two players in Kim’s group, former champions Anna Nordqvist and Brooke Henderson, began the day two shots back, but neither was able to get it going. Nordqvist fired a 71 for fifth place at 275 and Henderson carded a 72 for a 276 total.
Nasa Hataoka and Carlota Ciganda tied for third at 273, with Hataoka holing out for eagle on the first hole to kick off a 64, and Ciganda draining a bunker shot for eagle at No. 16 in a round of 65.
The week was a dream come true for Kim, who carded 23 birdies. She harked back to the time when she was 5 years old in South Korea watching Se Ri Pak burst on to the world golf stage with victories in 1998 at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship at Wilmington’s DuPont Country Club and the U.S. Women’s Open.
“I dreamt of winning a major championship after seeing her winning the first one for our country,” she said. “To be honest with you, I didn’t know it was going to take this long.”
The wait is over.