Hugely competitive field assembles for U.S. Women's OpenIt's barely been 6 months since Kim A-lim came from behind for her first major win at the U.S. Women's Open. Now it's time to defend that title.
As defending champion, Kim joins a hugely competitive field for the U.S. Women's Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, California. Kim is joined by 12 other former U.S. Women's Open winners, seven of whom are Korean: Park In-bee (2008, 2013), Ji Eun-hee (2009), Ryu So-yeon (2011), Choi Na-yeon (2012), Chun In-gee (2015), Park Sung-hyun (2017) and Lee Jeong-eun (2019).
As well as the former tournament winners, all 11 winners on this year's LPGA Tour will be competing as well as world No. 1 Ko Jin-young, No. 3 Kim Sei-young and No. 7 Kim Hyo-joo, the only high-ranked Koreans not to have already won the U.S. Women's Open.
Kim A-lim took a dramatic win last year, battling inclement weather to become only the seventh player in the tournament's history to overcome a five shot deficit on the final day. Last year's U.S. Women's Open was delayed to December because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
By shooting three under par, 67, on the final round last year, Kim overcame a five-shot difference to win the tournament at Champions Golf Course in Houston, Texas, finishing at three under par, 281, one shot ahead of the runners-up.
This year, she gets to enjoy the experience of being reigning champion.
"It is my honor to be defending champion in here, and they've treated me so well," Kim said in a pre-tournament press conference. "This is my first experience to be treated as a defending champion, and everyone here is so nice to me, and everyone took care of me so well so far."
Kim was practically unknown going into last year's tournament, ranked at No. 94 in the world, the lowest-ranked player in the tournament, and without an LPGA card. At the time, Kim was strictly a KLPGA golfer.
"I was playing the Korean Tour, and I never dreamed about the U.S. Tour," Kim said. "At this moment I'm able to make a bigger dream, and as I always dreamed from my childhood, I'm here, and I can be a top player in a U.S. championship."
When asked how exactly she pulled off last year's big upset, the defending champion had a very simple response.
"Well, frankly, let me be honest with you," she said. "I think I was lucky."
The biggest threat to Kim's title may well come from world No. 2 Park In-bee, who has recorded seven top-10 finishes and two wins since 2007.
“I think it's just my game really suits the tough golf courses, and probably I'm pretty calm on the golf course too," Park said in a pre-tournament interview. "Whatever happens on the golf course, I kind of manage myself to stay calm no matter what happens.
“This golf course definitely needs some patience. The course is going to play tough. It's going to be windy, cold, and we're going to have to hit some fairways on this golf course. Otherwise, you don't have much shot.”
Park's first win in 2008 made her the youngest person ever to win the U.S. Open, at 19 years, 11 months and 17 days, a record that still stands today. It was the Hall-of-Famer's very first LPGA Tour win, kicking off the career that has already seen her take 21 LPGA victories, seven of them majors.
Her career goes even further back, with her first appearance at the tournament coming in 2004, just before her 16th birthday.
“I think since my first U.S. Open, I think it's a lot of things has changed," Park said. "I was an amateur, so I had nothing to be afraid of.
"I'm definitely a different player than I was 15 years ago. A lot more mature, a lot more calm on the golf course. Probably I don't really get surprised with a lot of things on the golf course anymore.”
If Park can manage another win at the Open this year, she will become the seventh person ever to win at least three times, and only the second person in the 21st Century, following Annika Sörenstam who recorded her third win in 2006.
But while Park and Kim are looking to repeat their past success, world No. 1 Ko is yet to add the U.S. Open title to her impressive trophy cabinet. Ko came closest last year, tying for second, but was pipped to the post by Kim on the final day.
This year, Ko is feeling confident.
"Major tournaments are always tough," she said. "The wind is going to be more tough as the other golf course, so it's going to be fun. I'm playing good, and I played last week in Vegas, and my swing or putting or short game, everything is not bad."
Ko has spent the time leading up to the tournament familiarizing herself with the course on YouTube, and admits to being a little concerned by what she's seen.
"I think fairways are so narrow on this course, so first the important thing is keep the fairway," Ko said, "and the greens are small, too, so if you hit drivers well and irons well, I think playing is good. But if not, it's going to be tough."
Ko isn't the only golfer wary of The Olympic Club going into the tournament. The club has hosted the men's U.S. Open multiple times, but has never hosted a U.S. Women's Open before. In fact, this will be the first LPGA tournament at the club, making it unfamiliar for a lot of the competitors.
The field of 156 players at the 76th U.S. Women's Open will compete for a $5.5 million purse, the largest purse in women’s golf history.
Ko will tee off at 8:17 a.m. on the ninth hole alongside Danielle Kang of the United States and Hannah Green of Australia. Park In-bee will tee off at 1:51 p.m. on the first hole alongside Lydia Ko of New Zealand and Shanshan Feng of China. Kim A-lim will tee off on the first hole at 2:02 p.m. alongside Rose Zhang of the United States and Sophia Popov of Germany.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]