HOUSTON, TEXAS | There aren’t many players you’d think about in the same situation. Six shots back, two rounds to play, a tough golf course with double-bogey potential at every turn, and a recent history of winners coming from the last couple of groups: why would anyone look twice at a player six off the pace and in a tie for 14th, barely in red figures and four major champions among the slew of players ahead of her?
The reason you look is because the player is Sei Young Kim, the birdie-making maverick of women’s golf who could throw a couple of mid-60 rounds at the field over the weekend and vault up the board at this U.S. Women’s Open without batting an eye. That is how she plays – naturally aggressive. When the Sei Young wave starts rolling, it leaves a lot of wipeouts in its wake.
But it isn’t just her history that makes you think Kim has a chance to capture back-to-back majors in the waning days of 2020. It’s how she’s played Champions Club so far. Kim has made 12 birdies in her first 36 holes, two more than championship leader Hinako Shibuno.
Kim has also come back from a second-hole quadruple bogey on Thursday, the kind of early-week hiccup that could have derailed most players. But since that morning mess in the first round, she has methodically picked Champions Club apart, attacking when she could and playing safe when it made sense. There were a few short misses on Friday - putts she thought she had made – or Kim would be everyone’s odds-on favorite.
“Since that quad, she’s kept scrapping and clawing her way back,” Kim’s longtime caddie Paul Fusco said on Friday afternoon. “Don’t count her out. No way.”
Kim certainly doesn’t count herself out.
“I’ve just tried to make as many birdies as I can,” she said. “That’s what I did and what I will continue to do. My long putting was okay. But I missed a few short putts, which was very disappointing.
“The greens here are really pure, so if you read them right, it's very clearly going in the hole. That’s the reason I was able to make a couple of really long putts for birdie. But sometimes it’s tough to reach the greens, because if you miss left, you’re in a hazard and if you miss right, it's tough up and down. A lot of things are going on greenside.
“Still, I decided to commit (to my line) on every hole. I hit a few (putts) past but I’m still very happy.”
That commitment isn’t likely to change. If Kim has one advantage, it’s that her presence on a leaderboard rarely goes unnoticed even at a course with no boards and no galleries to roar at a birdie barrage.
“It's tough to say (how I’ll play the weekend) because a lot depends on the pin positions and how I’m feeling during the weekend,” she said. “If I feel good, I think, yeah, I can make a lot of birdies. If I feel bad, I don't know. This golf course is really tough.
“But I’m just going to keep thinking positive thoughts, let it come to me and it will happen. Not every hole is one where you can be aggressive. But if I feel it, if I’ve got it, yeah, I’ll just go and whatever happens, happens. If a pin is tucked or in a tough spot, I’ll continue to play smart and avoid a big number.”
Don’t count her out. When Sei Young Kim “feels it,” good things tend to happen. And when her momentum builds, other players can get tossed aside.
“I’m just going to come out and make as many birdies as I can,” she said as she marched to the putting green on Friday afternoon. “That’s all I can do.”