Grace Kim has emphatically announced her arrival on the LPGA tour, claiming the Lotte Championship in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, after a sudden playoff early today Australian Time.
The 22-year-old rookie from Avondale Golf Club did it the hard way, closing with back-to-back birdies to just make the playoff at 12 under par with China’s Yu Liu and South Korean Yu Jin Sung.
Kim displayed nerves of steel in the playoff, hitting a 3-wood off the deck to just right of the par-5 18th green and then getting up-and-down for birdie, which was more than enough.
Liu, who shot the round of the day, an eight-under 64, could only manage a par on the extra hole, while Yu Jin Sung, who had led most of the tournament, made a bogey.
“I definitely wanted to have a good go at it knowing that the green wasn’t the best, I guess, angle in from where we were,” Kim said. “I would have to admit that I wasn’t planning to go that aggressive. I did push it right. So just letting you guys know. Yeah, I guess, yeah, I got lucky.”
Playing alongside Sun, and England’s Georgia Hall in the final Group, Kim shot a four-under 68, rebounding from a bogey on the par-4 14th to birdie the last two holes, getting up-and-down from the front-left bunker on the last hole in regulation, with a two metre clutch birdie.
“I really didn’t have high expectations,” Kim said. “Just really tried to play my game. Didn’t try to force anything. Just trying to I guess go with the flow. I’m still speechless that it’s kind of done already and I got the job done.”
“I think after bogeying 14, I just tried to give it my all.” Kim said. “I tried my best and it came out to be a good result. Birdie on 17, of course, was a great momentum forward, so definitely gave it an aggressive go on 18, and birdied it twice, which is good.”
Kim’s victory came in just her third start on the LPGA Tour since earning full playing rights by virtue of her 4th place finish on the secondary Epson Tour last year. She will receive $US300,000 but also has guaranteed her playing rights for the next two years on the LPGA.
The win also guarantees the Avondale gun a start in next week’s First Major of the year, the Chevron Championship, to be held in Texas at Carlton Woods, and will be a huge confidence boost for the rookie.
Kim, strangely, hadn’t entered the Major, thinking she had little chance of getting into the field.
“I didn’t register because I thought I had no chance of getting into Chevron,” Kim said. “Hearing other people saying that they could get a chance, I was like, `Oh, yeah, you know what? I’ll just enter.
“This (win) has Just topped it off today. I’m very excited.”
Karis Davidson was the next best-placed Australian at Ewa Beach on Saturday (Sunday AEST), finishing strongly with a 69 to move up to a tie for 19th at three-under 285.
Sarah Kemp (72) and Steph Kyriacou (73) were tied for 38th at 288 and Su Oh was three shots further back.
Fellow Australian Minjee Lee (2016) is among the former winners of the LOTTE Championship.