Sei Young Kim rocked the golf world Saturday night with one of the most improbable finishes you’ll ever see.
The South Korean rookie beat one of her idols, closing out the Lotte Championship in Hawaii in jaw-dropping fashion.
After hitting her tee shot in the water at the 18th hole at the end of regulation, Kim chipped in for an all-world par to force a playoff with Inbee Park. She then holed out an 8-iron from 154 yards for eagle to win at the first sudden-death hole.
“I still can’t believe what just happened,” Kim said through a translator in her post-tournament news conference.
Neither could Park.
“She’s a great player,” Park said. “I think she’s a great fighter.”
The victory was all the more dramatic given Kim, 22, was going up against Park, 26. Kim represents a dynamic new wave of South Korean rookies while Park is revered with Se Ri Pak as one of that golf-loving country’s greatest players.
Kim is the first two-time LPGA winner this year. She won the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic in the season’s second event. With the Lotte victory at Ko Olina Golf Club, Kim vaults to the top of the Rolex Player of the Year standings. There’s a long way to go, of course, but Kim is in early position to become the first player since Nancy Lopez to win the Rolex Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season. Lopez did it 37 years ago.
If a couple putts had dropped for her at the ANA Inspiration in her last start two weeks ago, Kim might already be a three-time winner this year, with one of those victories a major. Kim blew a three-shot lead in the final round at Mission Hills.
“It was a motivating factor for me,” Kim said. “After the ANA, I had a tough time sleeping because that was my first opportunity to win a major tournament on the LPGA Tour. At the same time, I saw the possibility and the potential that I belonged there, and that I can win a major championship in the future.”
Tied with Park Saturday going to the final hole of regulation at the Lotte Championship, Kim knocked her tee shot in the water. With a helping wind, she blew a hybrid too far, where it bounded into a pond past the end of the fairway. After taking a penalty and drop at water’s edge, Kim nearly hit her next shot in the water, too, barely clearing the hazard with a wedge, leaving her approach short of the green.
With Park left needing only to tap in for par to win, Kim knew she had to hole out a chip shot from about 18 feet to force a playoff. She did just that.
In the playoff, Kim marched back to the 18th tee. This time she left the hybrid in her bag on the tee and hit 4-iron into the middle of the fairway, leaving herself 154 yards to the hole.
“I am pretty relieved that I think I can go to sleep tonight,” Kim said. “Throughout the round today, I was telling myself, `I don't know if I can live with myself if I make the same mistakes in two consecutive weeks.’”
Kim isn’t your typical rookie. She was a star on the Korean LPGA Tour before earning her LPGA card in the United States at Q-School in December. She won five times on the Korean Tour, including a major. She’s projected to jump to No. 16 in the world with this victory.
And by the way, Kim said holing out to win the Lotte wasn’t the best shot she ever hit under pressure. She said she won the Korean Tour’s biggest payday with a hole-in-one at the 71st hole of the event.
“Today, I didn't see it coming,” Kim said. “I don't know what I've done again to deserve this. I feel like every time I win a tournament, I have to do something crazy, or overcome some type of obstacle. I don't know why it keeps happening, but it feels good.”
For LPGA fans, it was yet another dramatic finish on a tour that seems to be making a habit of them, going back through last year’s magical season.