No one imagined it would be this close. With Sei Young Kim capturing a major championship at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and then following it up with a victory at the Pelican Women’s Championship in her next start, most casual observers figured she would be a shoo-in for Rolex Player of the Year honors. In an abbreviated season with limited starts, who could catch her?
The answer turned out to be simple: the only LPGA Hall of Fame member who still plays a full-time schedule and the woman who continues to amaze us every year she tees it up – Inbee Park.
Park is actually leading the Player of the Year race by a slim six points with one week to go. That is because in addition to her lone win of the year back in pre-COVID February – seemingly a lifetime ago – at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, the Queen Bee of women’s golf has an additional seven top-10 finishes in 2020, including runner-up finishes at the KPMG Women’s PGA (to Kim) and the Volunteers of America Classic. A tie for sixth at the U.S. Women’s Open moved Park into the driver’s seat for her second Rolex Player of the Year title.
But to show the differences in where Park and Kim are in their careers, Park said of possibly capturing Player of the Year, “You know, it would be nice to have some kind of a souvenir for a great year. To be honest, it really doesn't bother me that much anymore. It would be nice to have another award, obviously, but this year has been a gift. I'm just happy that we got to play. That's really all I can ask for. If the results follow, that's great. If not, I'm just really happy we're out here and playing and playing some really good golf.
“My parents just mentioned, ‘Oh, you know you're really close to leading.’ I was like maybe second or third (in points) by then,” Park said. “I won the Player the Year Award before (in 2013) and obviously they give it to the player that's played the best that year. So, it definitely means a lot, and I started out the year really, really good and I had so much passion going into this year. I didn't want it to be for nothing.
“So, yeah, it would be nice to have some kind of award at the end of the year. That would be nice.”
Kim got a steely stare when asked about the Player of the Year hunt. “It's a big motivator for me because I’ve never had the Player of the Year award in my life,” she said. “So that would be the biggest (award) in my career if I did that.”
She has also never been No.1 in the world, which is another motivator. “Before I came to the States, I really wanted to be No. 1 in the world ranking,” Kim said. “So, I kept setting goals every year, step by step, and so that it can be reached someday.”
She is currently No. 2 in the Rolex Rankings behind Jin Young Ko. Park is No. 3 in the world.
The scenarios for Kim to make up the six-point difference and claim at least a share of Player of the Year honors require Kim to finish no worse than fifth this week in Naples. If she finishes alone in fifth and Park finishes outside the top 10, the two players would tie and become co-Players of the Year, a scenario that has occurred one other time in history when So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park shared the award in 2017.
This year there are several ways a tie could happen. Park could finish fifth and Kim finish second and they would tie. If Park finishes eighth and Kim finishes third, they tie. And if Park finishes 10th and Kim finishes fourth, they also tie.
There is an outside chance both players could be caught and passed by Danielle Kang, who sits in third place in the race for Player of the Year. Should Kang win while Kim finishes third or worse and Park sixth or worse, then Kang, who won back-to-back events in Ohio over the summer, would be the Player of the Year.
It’s a lot to think about. Thankfully, none of them will be.“I don't want think about that,” Kim said, summing up what all the players in contention for the season-ending honor are thinking. “I’m just going to play my best and enjoy the week.”