NAPLES, FLORIDA | There’s nothing like a dramatic ending. In an event that observers agreed had a major championship feel and the pressure that goes with it, Sei Young Kim drained a 31-footer on the final hole to capture the CME Group Tour Championship and its $1.5 million winner’s check, the largest single payday in the history of women’s golf.
It wasn’t easy. And for a while it looked like Kim would let this one get away. After entering the final round at Tiburón Golf Club with a one-shot lead on Nelly Korda, Kim seemed shaky with the putter. She made two uncharacteristic bogeys on the front nine to go with three birdies. And after a birdie on No. 10, where she holed a 12-footer, few of her putts hit the hole. The biggest tell came at the par-5 14th, a hole she reached in two earlier in the week. After a good drive, Kim laid up and then missed the green right with her approach. From a tight lie, she chipped to 4 feet past the hole but missed the par putt so badly that she had an equally long comeback effort for bogey.
“When she gets nervous, she keeps it in really well,” said Kim’s caddie, Paul Fusco. “But I can tell. She starts asking too many questions and calling me in too much. Usually, I give her a number, tell her the wind and she goes. If she starts asking, ‘How much wind?’ and ‘What’s the roll-out?’ that’s when I know she’s thinking too much and we need to back off and reset.
“I always go in to read her putts. I wish she’d read them on her own because I don’t want to plant any doubt. If you see us taking too long, you know she’s nervous.”
Kim concurred. “I don’t normally have a lot of conversations with my caddie during a round so on the back nine, the added talk was Paul sensing that I was nervous and trying to calm me down,” she said.
Kim wasn’t the only player with nerves in the final group. Korda’s driver went haywire. The top-ranked American hit one left into the hazard at No. 9 and made a tremendous bogey. Showing extraordinary grit, she bounced back with a birdie at 10 but then flared an iron right trying to go for a tucked flag on the par-4 11th. That ball also found a hazard, which led to yet another bogey.
A lot of players would have mailed it in after that, especially given that Kim never relinquished the lead. But Korda bounced back again, hitting two good shots into the 13th and making a 10-footer for another birdie to stay within striking distance.
The problem for Korda was a two-way miss that often happens when the path of the club comes deep from the inside, “stuck” in the parlance of the modern instructor. Keep the hands quiet and the ball goes right; rotate fast and it’s a sweeping hook. The latter is what happened on 14, a reachable par-5 for a player with Korda’s length. She hit a sweeping hook across the wide fairway and the ball nestled into a Palmetto bush. After an unplayable lie, Korda hit a good 3-wood, a bad wedge and made an ugly bogey.
But a life-changing payday can bring out things you don’t normally see. While Kim was missing straightforward birdie putts on 15, 16 and 17, Charley Hull, who started the day five shots back in the penultimate group, made birdies on the final three holes to shoot 66 and post 17-under par, temporarily tying Kim.
That set up the dramatic finale. Kim read the 31-footer herself. “I came in and she said, ‘I got it,’ which I thought was great,” Fusco said. “That meant she was confident. It was downhill, sliding right and she hit it perfect. Just perfect.”
She did, indeed, capping a closing 70 to finish at 18-under par. As the tournament winner, Kim emerged as the Race to the CME Globe champion and $1.5 million richer. Any of the 60 players who qualified for the season finale through the season-long points race were eligible for the prize by virtue of winning the tournament. Previously, the sponsor awarded $500,000 to the tournament winner and a separate $1 million bonus to the Race to the CME Globe champion.
“I’m very thankful for Terry Duffy of the CME Group and for women’s golf in general,” Kim said after collecting the winner’s check and the trophy. “This is a great day for everyone.”
RESULTS | MONEY LIST