When Sei Young Kim hit her fourth birdie putt in five holes on the 17th hole during the final round of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Aronimink Golf Course, she sealed her fate.
The 27-year-old South Korean flashed a big smile, but then immediately returned to a determined gaze. She still had one hole left to play. One hole until she became a first-time major winner.
After securing the deal with a short par putt on 18, Kim raised both her hands in the air, fist-pumping toward the sky. Kim shot a 7-under 63, finishing 14-under 266. That calm composure was wiped away with a grin, illustrating just how monumental this moment was for the Seoul native.
For the 10-time career winner, the moment had finally come. "I feel so emotional," Kim said after claiming her 11th win and first major on Sunday. "It's a dream come true. I'm waiting for a while to reach my biggest goal to win a major tournament, so I'm very glad to win the first major tournament at the KPMG."
When Kim birdied five of her final six holes at Aronimink on Friday during the second round, she took the lead. But the leaderboard was stacked. Jennifer Kupcho, Danielle Kang, Carlota Ciganda and Anna Nordqvist were all one stroke back. Throughout the entire weekend, the depth of the LPGA's talent was on full display as the top-10 seemingly fluctuated with every putt.
On Sunday, Kim started out two strokes ahead of Brooke Henderson and Nordqvist and three strokes ahead of LPGA tour Hall of Famer Inbee Park. Throughout the final round, Park crept up on Kim and threatened her hold over Aronimink. But, even the 20-time winner, looking for her eighth major and fourth KPMG Women's PGA Championship victory, couldn't overtake Kim. Just five years ago, Park defeated then-rookie Kim at the KPMG PGA Championship. Park won her sixth major that day, and Kim the runner-up, got a taste of what it meant to be on top of the leaderboard.
"Sei Young was just really untouchable," Park said at the news conference. "She definitely deserves a major win. It really reminds me of 2015 when we went head-to-head on the final day and it was just the opposite today."
This season, both Germany's Sophia Popov and South Korea's Mirim Lee found first-time major wins at the British Open and the ANA Inspiration, respectively. Heading into the KPMG, Popov said she wasn't "surprised about any of the girls winning this week." And added, "It just speaks to the depth of the field and how good everyone is now, and everyone is capable of winning. That's why not the same person wins every week."
It's no surprise that first-time major winners have become more normalized on tour. Kim's win at the KPMG made her the ninth first-time major winner from the past 10 majors. The leaderboards reflect the depth of global talent on the major stage. With the LPGA composed of over 125 international members representing over 30 countries, every tournament provides a new opportunity to showcase this field's talent. At the KPMG, the top 10 (and ties) represented nine nations. At the ANA Inspiration, the top 10 (and ties) represented seven nations. And at the British Open, the top 10 (and ties) represented six nations. As the women's game grows, so does the talent at the highest level.
In a time when society is holding up a critical (and definitely warranted) light to the game of golf, the women's game continues to demonstrate the global diversity of golf. Although the LPGA is flush with international talent, there's still growth to be had, especially for Black and African women. There's always room to further open up that leaderboard.
First-time major winners like Kim exemplify that the talent will follow as the women's game grows and flourishes globally. That expansion will inspire a generation of golfers that reflect our world. And this is a good thing for women's golf.