Hyo Joo Kim set a major championship record with a first-round 61 and became one of just six non-LPGA members to win a major championship last September when she won the Evian Championship by one over Karrie Webb with a clutch birdie at the last. But this 19-year-old still didn’t have expectations that her rookie season in 2015 on the LPGA Tour would go quite as smoothly as it has. Currently ranked the No. 4 player in the world, Kim leads the Tour in scoring average (69.30) and won the JTBC Founders Cup in March in just her third start as an LPGA member.
“Well, I think being a rookie, I honestly didn’t expect to win any tournaments this year,” Kim said through a translator. “Winning an event in Phoenix was a great moment for me in this rookie season.”
This week Kim has her sights set on a second win as a rookie at the site of her first LPGA Tour appearance – the LOTTE Championship Presented by Hershey, where she finished in a tie for 12th as a 16-year-old on a sponsor exemption in 2012. LOTTE is Kim’s main sponsor and she said this tournament feels like home as she returns for the fourth time. She finished in top-10 in back-to-back years here with a ninth in 2013 and a solo fourth a year ago.
The rest of Kim’s record on Tour has been just as impressive. In 15 career LPGA Tour starts, Kim has never finished outside of the top-25 and has two wins and seven additional top-10s.
“Coming in now as an LPGA member and not as a rookie, I don’t feel like anything is new or different for me,” Kim said. “I feel like I’m right where I belong. I’ve been here many times, so it’s not going to surprise me a bit.”
Even among a quintet of the game’s best on stage Tuesday, Kim looked at ease as she joined Michelle Wie, Inbee Park, Paula Creamer, Brittany Lincicome and Jessica Korda – a group that’s combined for 36 wins and nine major championships – for a press conference and photo shoot.
“But really, look at all the players I’m sitting next to right now. I used to watch these players on TV,” Kim said, “and I get to actually sit next to them, play with them, and I get to learn from them. That has been the highlight of my rookie season so far.”
A quarter of the way through the 2015 LPGA season, she’s certainly proven she belongs.