Hyo Joo Kim knows all about going low. Her 61 in the 2014 Amundi Evian Championship is the lowest round ever in a major – male or female. She was almost as good Sunday, closing with a bogey-free 64 to climb over a mountain of other major winners to take the HSBC Women’s World Championship in a nail-biting finish.
The fourth career LPGA Tour victory for the 25-year-old South Korean was her first LPGA win in five years. She was simply sensational in the final round at Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore, reeling off eight birdies in an 11-hole stretch beginning at No. 5 that put her in the clubhouse at 17-under-par 271.
Then, sequestered in air conditioned comfort from the 100-degree heat and munching on a Pop Tart, Kim watched her score hold up to be one stroke better than Hannah Green and two clear of Inbee Park, Patty Tavatanakit and Xiyu Lin.
That final round was an impressive turnaround for Kim, who made six bogeys on Saturday to fall five strokes behind Lin, the leader after 54 holes. And standing between Kim and Lin going into Sunday were Green, who won the 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA, and seven-time major winner Park as well as So Yeon Ryu, In Gee Chun and Lydia Ko – each of whom has won two majors.
But Kim was a woman on a mission and, playing in a mask that covered her face and neck and behind sun glasses, she walked the course with a persona that was as intimidating as her play. If there was fear on her face or concern in her eyes, no one knew it. Her mission was victory and her mission was accomplished.
“My goal this year was to get a win, and I'm glad I already achieved that,” said Kim, who stayed in South Korea during the pandemic-ravaged 2020 season and won twice, giving her 12 KLPGA victories. “While I was playing on the KLPGA Tour last year, I honed my skills and wanted to adapt them to this year on the LPGA, and I'm very happy that these results came out.”
Kim never ventured back out into the heat to get ready for a possible playoff, instead watching the finish on TV. When Green holed out from the fairway for an eagle on No. 14 and then birdied No. 16 to get to 18 under par, it appeared as if Kim would come up a stroke short. But a bogey-bogey finish by Green not only meant no playoff – it meant Kim was the winner.
“I didn't really feel like I was in it until I holed the shot on 14,” Green said. “Made a really good putt on 16 to make birdie, but obviously pretty disappointed to have two three-putts finishing. Felt a little nerves on the last, which is nice, because I guess having the spectators out there it kind of meant something to me. I just hope that I can continue this momentum and who knows, have a good result next week.”
Kim played the closing round with a control as complete as the way she was covered from the sun, missing only one fairway and two greens. Being so far back, she knew all she could do was make birdies and hope for the best.
“I thought everybody had the opportunity to win,” Kim said. “I didn't make any mistakes on the front nine, and as I went to the back nine, I felt I might be able to win it. But I thought I was quite fortunate to win this tournament.”
Kim’s mask and sun glasses had intentional practical purposes, but the accidental impact of her appearance may also have helped her cause.
“I have a severe sun allergy on my neck,” Kim explained. “So with this mask, I don't even need to put my sun cream on. I think it might be helpful because with my sunglasses and mask on, no one can really see my face expression. But that wasn't my intention.”
The HSBC victory was a huge boost for Kim’s efforts to make the highly competitive South Korean Olympic women’s golf team. She was No. 9 in the Rolex Rankings coming into Singapore, trailing No. 1 Jin Young Ko, No. 2 Inbee Park and No. 3 Sei Young Kim, making her one of the four qualifiers for her country.
“I played at a couple of international tournaments as a Korean representative for like the junior Cups, so it means a lot to me that I would feel very proud and responsible with the Korean flag on my side and I think it will give a huge impact on not only my golf life but my life in general,” she said about being in Tokyo for the Games.
But first she has more to accomplish on the LPGA Tour.
“Last year, playing at the KLPGA Tour definitely helped me this year,” Kim said. “I worked out and did exercise a lot and that definitely helped me with distance, driving distance. It was very helpful. Winning after such a long time, it feels like my first win of all. It feels like a dream at this moment.”
The way Kim closed the HSBC suggested winning may become a reoccurring dream for her. The promise of greatness made at the 2014 Amundi Evian Championship was amplified in Singapore in a way not even a mask and sunglasses could hide.