On Sunday at Pinnacle Country Club, Sei Young Kim will be wearing her signature red. It’s a tradition she adopted while watching Tiger Woods, who made famous the practice of wearing the color during a tournament’s final round.
And like Woods, who long seemed to immobilize his competition at the mere sight of his name atop a leaderboard, it wasn’t that long ago that Kim had the same impact on her own competitors.
Sunday, Kim heads into the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship looking to return to the winner’s circle for the first time since 2020. It’s the third time this season that Kim enters the final day within five strokes of the lead and a chance to hoist a 13th trophy on the LPGA Tour.
Friday, Kim opened with a round of 69 and followed that with a bogey-free 63 for her low round of the season. Saturday, Kim rolled in a long putt for birdie at the opening par four which she says jump-started her round and led to seven more, including five in a six hole stretch to card one of the lowest rounds of the week.
“First hole I made pretty much long putt, so I feel like, oh, it's good week with my putter,” Kim said after her round on Saturday. “It's very great when I make a lot of birdie.”
Birdies have been hard to come by for Kim in recent years, whose run of success seemed like it might never end. She joined the LPGA tour in 2015 and racked up three victories en route to being named the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year. The Korean won over the next five seasons, including a first major title at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in 2020. Later that season she added a second victory in Florida but has struggled ever since.
What changed with Kim’s game?
During the 2020 season, Kim led the LPGA tour in Greens in Regulation, Putts Per G.I.R. and in Scoring Average. Although she had the lowest scoring average at season’s end, she did not earn the Vare Trophy that year due to the covid-shortened season and did not complete the requisite number of rounds to qualify for the award.
In 2020, Kim hit 77.62 percent of greens, which led the Tour, but over the last three seasons has dropped 10 percent to 67.84 percent of greens hit and has dropped to her current ranking at No. 61 on Tour. Kim’s scoring average has also taken a significant slide from leading the Tour in 2020 with an average of 68.69 to her current average of 71.44.
All the while, Kim continues to contend. She entered the final day at the LPGA Drive On Championship and the CPKC Women’s Open within five strokes of the lead, but on both final days was unable to break par. Kim hasn’t carded a sub-70 final round on Tour since March. To have a chance on Sunday in Arkansas she’ll need not just a sub-par round, but a low one to win.
Kim will no doubt be wearing her signature red on Sunday in Arkansas. What remains a question is whether or not it will be the Sunday that she makes her much-anticipated return to the winner's circle.
“The low score it's always good,” Kim said about her round of 63 on Saturday. “Very exciting for tomorrow.”