RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Sei Young Kim seized control of the year’s first major championship, closing brilliantly Friday at the ANA Inspiration.
Kim, not your typical LPGA rookie, eagled the final hole to shoot 7-under-par 65 and take the second-round lead. At 7-under 137, she was two shots ahead of Morgan Pressel (72) through the morning wave.
Kim, 22, was a star in South Korea before earning LPGA membership, tying for sixth at Q-School last December. A five-time winner on the Korean LPGA Tour, Kim didn’t take long to win on the American tour. She won the LPGA’s second event this season, taking the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic in a playoff.
Kim was tied with Pressel for the lead Friday at Mission Hills before hitting a hybrid to 6 feet at the 18th hole, setting up her closing eagle.
“Her feel wasn't so hot yesterday,” said Paul Fusco, Kim’s caddie. “That happens. And then today, she came out and just found the feel and just went with it and played within herself and made it look easy.”
Kim is part of a strong class of South Korean rookies. Hyo Joo Kim, a South Korean rookie, won the JTBC Founders Cup two weeks ago and the Evian Championship as a Korean Tour member last year.
“It’s the strongest rookie class I’ve ever seen,” said fellow South Korean Jenny Shin, a fifth-year LPGA member who is just three shots off the lead.
Shin was asked what makes Sei Young Kim, Hyo Joo Kim and the rest of the South Korean rookies so formidable.
“I think it all has to do with our culture,” Shin said. “We go all in. We're known for beating balls and staying out in the sun for a really long time practicing. You just can't beat practice and talent at the same time. That's what makes them so special, I think."