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Sei Young Kim shines brightest of many stars at Women's PGA

Sei Young Kim celebrates victory at the 2020 KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa.
Sei Young Kim celebrates her victory Sunday in the KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa.

South Korean wins the KPMG Women’s PGA at storied Aronimink as the LPGA and women's golf take a big step forward

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – The golf at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship was sensational. Inbee Park, the LPGA’s graceful queen, made a spirited run at her eighth major championship, but fellow South Korean Sei Young Kim was better. Kim’s winning 7-under 63 Sunday at storied Aronimink Golf Club tied the lowest round in the long history of this tournament, once played under the LPGA Championship header, with roots nearly six decades old (scores).

As good as the golf was, the overall vibe at the Women’s PGA was something even better. Something bigger. Stronger. Something tangible that you could grasp, and feel, the way a good batter rubs clay through his hands. There’s a grandness to the event, which amped up even higher at Aronimink, a rolling Donald Ross classic that has a certain old-school bigness about it. The Women’s PGA, having completed its sixth edition, is bringing its major championship to venues where golf history has been told. If you want to build something, that in itself is a brilliant beginning.

Gary Player, 85, who won a PGA Championship at Aronimink in 1962, was prowling the grounds on Saturday. Asked what he did with his $13,000 winner’s check in ’62, he laughed. “Probably gave it to my caddie,” he said. (An LPGA player by the name of Pornanong Phatlum earned more than that on Sunday with her tie for 48th.) In 2021, the Women’s PGA will move to Atlanta Athletic Club, where three men’s PGA Championships and men’s and women’s U.S. Opens have been staged. Congressional is on the dance card. As is Baltusrol. Cue the history. It drips off these places the way a snow cone drips in a Florida summer.

Laura Davies, who turned 57 last Monday, has played in 32 editions of this event. She had her share of fun at old DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, Del., where, starting in 1994, she went 1-2-1. She sent a spectator to the hospital once at DuPont when she snap-hooked a 2-iron on the ninth hole “and nearly killed someone.” Her thoughts on the event from then to now? “I don’t think you can recognize it,” said Davies, shaking her head.

Despite being played amid a COVID-19 pandemic that shifted the tournament from June to October, the Women’s PGA bumped its purse 12 percent, to $4.3 million. Since KPMG has taken over sponsorship, Paul Knopp, U.S. chair and CEO, boasts that the tournament prize fund has nearly doubled. (The purse at the 2014 Wegmans LPGA Championship was $2.25 million.)

The pay raise is nice, but it’s a small part. The venues are great, sure. But it’s more about the general feeling of belonging that the players derive from this event. And little things, little feel-good details. Players normally would pay a $200 fee to register for this tournament. KPMG picked up the fee. As part of their “bubble,” LPGA players aren’t allowed to eat inside public restaurants. So Aronimink stayed open late and fed players dinner.

Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa.
Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa.

Angela Stanford headed to the first tee on Monday afternoon looking like a child who’d just been told she finally could go downstairs on Christmas. She was genuinely excited. “Aronimink,” Stanford said as she walked briskly. “Wow.” Stanford plays a lot of her golf at Shady Oaks in Fort Worth, Texas, so she knows a little about tradition. To a competitor who has played golf around the world, Aronimink, which will host the PGA Championship in 2026, was a treat.

“Being onsite, walking through the clubhouse, the locker room … it feels that KPMG just keeps bringing us to these places, and it feels good to think that you should be here,” Stanford said. “That they feel like we should be here. What it’s done for women’s golf is unbelievable. Just to be on property here, it’s just so cool, to think that our tour belongs on these historic golf courses.”

The biggest part of the week might not be the handing off of a silver trophy and check on Sunday, but the KPMG Leadership Summit held the day before the event starts, an hours-long think tank of ideas and experiences that more than 300 female corporate leaders tuned in virtually this time to share. ABC’s Robin Roberts, who has overcome cancer, was given this year’s KPMG Inspire Greatness Award. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took part. It’s all inspirational, frankly. The reimagined KPMG event isn’t solely about lifting women’s golf, but elevating, and celebrating, women. End of story.

“We’ll continue to do our part to elevate the women’s game and elevate women in business and in sports,” Knopp said on Sunday’s telecast. What tells him what KPMG is doing is working so effectively? Having built the first women’s empowerment event tied to an LPGA tournament, Knopp said there are now 20 such events associated with the LPGA. The Women’s PGA no longer is just a ripple in a pond that barely gets noticed. Other LPGA major championships are watching, knowing they’ll have to step up to keep up. A rising tide lifts all boats, right?

All in all, it’s a terrific recipe. The golf. The venues. The three-way collaboration between the PGA of America, LPGA and a sponsor that really gets it, and is truly invested. Again, the golf was great. Sensational, in fact. But it’s just a small piece of the overall picture at the KPMG Women’s PGA. That’s saying something.

“Once you launch it and it works, everybody sees the value in it,” said Seth Waugh, the PGA’s CEO, who sat on an old stone porch behind Aronimink’s clubhouse on Saturday afternoon, taking in the scene. Waugh knows what it takes to build something, having been the lead force (along with current PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan) in creating what originally was the Deutsche Bank Championship, a PGA Tour event outside Boston that’s now an every-other-year playoff tournament.

“KPMG has seen the value, seen the purpose,” Waugh said. “Hopefully for them it’s economic in the sense of brand. For us, it’s the right thing to do.”

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