PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Here they come.
A young, new wave of South Koreans coming over to make a name in the LPGA ranks.
A gifted new wave of rookies.
Sei Young Kim’s sudden-death playoff victory Sunday at the Pure Silk Bahamas shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Inbee Park told us this was going to happen. She told us a day before the LPGA’s season opener at Golden Ocala last week.
Park knew Americans might not be familiar with all the South Koreans coming through Q-School in December, but she knew them.
“I’ve played with most of them,” Park said. “We can almost not call them rookies. I think this is probably one of the strongest rookie classes the LPGA is going to have, especially for Korean players.
“The last few years, no new faces were coming over. This year, all of a sudden, a lot of good KLPGA players are coming over.”
What inspired this strong, new wave?
Kim might have answered that after hoisting the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic trophy when she was asked what the victory meant to her.
“I joined the LPGA in hopes of making the Korean Olympics team,” Kim said through a translator. “This is one step towards that. So, this means a lot to me.”
With a 4-foot birdie putt at the first hole of the playoff, Kim defeated two-time LPGA winner Sun Young Yoo and fellow rookie Ariya Jutanugarn.
“It’s definitely a dream,” Kim said through a translator. “Since 10 years, it’s what I dreamed.”
Kim, 22, isn’t your typical rookie. Yes, she earned her tour card tying for sixth at LPGA Q-School in December, but she’s a seasoned, world-class player. She’s a five-time winner on the Korean LPGA Tour. This was the fifth playoff she has won as a pro. She will jump to No. 23 in the newest Rolex Women’s World Rankings with the victory.
Last week, Ha Na Jang made a run at winning the LPGA season opener in her rookie debut. Jang narrowly missed out on forcing a playoff with Na Yeon Choi at the Coates Golf Championship when her final birdie putt slid past the hole. Jang was the KLPGA Player of the Year two years ago. She climbed to No. 18 in the world with her second-place finish in her LPGA debut.
With Choi winning the season opener, that’s back-to-back victories for the South Koreans to start the year. It was nearly back-to-back victories for South Korean rookies with Jang coming so close.
Kim is a long hitter. She was fifth in the field in driving distance at the Pure Silk. She led the KLPGA Tour in driving distance the last two seasons.
“She is a long hitter, and she’s consistent,” Jutanugarn said.
The 18th hole, used in the playoff, is a par 5. Kim was the only player in the playoff to reach it in two shots. She carved a 23-degree hybrid from 215 yards to the back of the green, leaving herself a 25-footer for eagle. She two-putted from there for the victory.
“The first time I caddie for her was at LPGA Q-School,” said Paul Fusco, her caddie. “I knew right away this girl had it. She had the shot making, the consistency, the determination, the intangibles. Some things, you just know.”
Now LPGA fans outside South Korean know it, too.