HOUSTON, TEXAS | “Out of nowhere” doesn’t quite do this one justice. A Lim Kim showed up on Monday for the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open on more of a “who’s that” than a “who’s who” list of possible contenders. Even though she was 1-over par and five shots out of the lead, and even though she had quite a few recent top-10 finishes on the LPGA of Korea Tour this year, westerners knew almost nothing about her.
That changed when the masked bandit (she was one of the few in the field who chose to play wearing PPE, while all wore masks outside the ropes), fired a closing 67, equaling the low round of the championship in bracing conditions on Monday for a 3-under-par total. It turned out to be good enough for a 1-shot victory ahead of Amy Olson and world No. 1 Jin Young Ko.
And Kim didn’t back into that final-round number. On the back nine of the Cypress Creek course at Champions Club – a stretch of holes club member Stacy Lewis called “the toughest nine holes on the entire property” – Kim bounced back from consecutive bogeys at 10 and 11 to mount a remarkable charge, birdieing 16, 17 and 18 to post what would, an hour later, be the winning score.
It was a historic feat. She hit 14 greens in regulation on a day when the field averaged 10. She became the first player since fellow South Korean Eun-Hee Ji in 2009 to birdie the final hole to win the U.S. Women’s Open. She was tied for ninth entering the final round, which made this the largest comeback, in terms of players passed, in the history of the championship and the five-shot deficit she made up equals the largest come-from-behind victory in history. The last person before Kim to do it was Annika Sörenstam in 1995.
Oddly enough, Kim said she was inspired by watching Sörenstam growing up, rare among recent South Korean major champions in not mentioning Se Ri Pak as her idol.
She’s an outlier in more ways than one. The last person to birdie the final three holes of a major to come from behind and win was Charl Schwartzel, who birdied the last four at the 2011 Masters. This also was Kim’s first start in any major as a professional and she came into the event ranked No. 94 in the world, making her the lowest-ranked player since the creation of the Rolex Rankings to win the U.S. Women’s Open.
But she did it with flair. She hit 5-iron from 180 yards on the par-3 16th to 15 feet and made the putt for birdie. Then on 17, she hit hybrid and 8-iron to inside 2 feet and made another birdie. The hat trick was complete when she bombed a 3-wood off the tee on 18 and hit pitching wedge inside 10 feet and made that putt for three in a row, pumping her fist as the ball disappeared to set the clubhouse lead that held ultimately up.
“I'm very honored to win the 75th U.S. Women's Open,” Kim said. “I still can't really soak in that I'm the champion. But it feels different winning the tournament here. Back in Korea the style and the environment are different. But I'm really glad, and through COVID-19 we had a lot of difficulties, I’m glad we had the U.S. Women's Open held in Houston. It was a great win.”