Grace Kim jumps out to Day 1 lead at the JM Eagle LA Championship

Grace Kim jumps out to Day 1 lead at the JM Eagle LA Championship

By Jeff Babineau


Thursday at Wilshire Country Club, it was a good day to be a Kim. Grace Kim, from Australia, set the pace early, shooting 7-under 64, her best round of the season. Playing late in the day, Sei Young Kim, a 12-time winner from South Korea, produced the best round of the afternoon at the JM Eagle LA Championship presented by Plastpro, a nifty up-and-down for par at the last leaving her at 65.


Golf can be a never-ending learning cycle, no matter how one is playing. If Grace Kim took anything from a missed cut a week ago at the LPGA’s first major of the year, the Chevron Championship, it was that she was overthinking things.


So Rule No. 1 at this week’s JM Eagle LA Championship presented by Plastpro is a rather simple one: Stop thinking so much. On Thursday at Wilshire Country Club, the up-and-comer from Down Under relied more on self-belief and muscle memory, and the result was refreshing. She shot 64, which tied the tournament course record, and seized the first-round lead.


Sei Young Kim is 31, and has a major (KPMG Women’s PGA) mixed in among those 12 victories of hers. Her round fell a shot shy of the lead, but was no less impressive considering it came late in the afternoon, when temps cooled and scores were higher. She ran off four consecutive birdies beginning at the 12th, and did not have a bogey on the card.


She finished as one of three players at 65, joining Chevron runner-up Maja Stark and Thailand’s Chanettee Wannasaen. Both players shot 65 in the morning wave, when conditions were better for scoring.


“I did not see that 65 coming in the afternoon,” said Golf Channel’s Morgan Pressel, lead analyst on the day’s telecast.


Grace Kim proved a year ago that she can win on the LPGA, earning her first title at the LOTTE Championship in Hawaii. Thursday, there was little to point to from recent results that a great round coming, but the 23-year-old Kim, from Australia, just got out of her own way and let it happen. Even her bad shots sometimes led to success.


She chunked a tee shot on the 156-yard finishing hole at Wilshire, her ball not reaching a bunker that protects the green. Instead of dwelling on a rare poor shot, Kim stepped up and holed her pitch for birdie.


It was that kind of day for her.


“I think I overthought a lot of things through my first and second round last week and struggled a little bit mentally,” said Kim, who shot 76-72 at The Woodlands, failing to make it to the weekend.


“Just that self-belief, not forcing anything, and trusting that my muscle memory of a golf swing would work,” Kim said of the recipe that delivered her 64, her low round of the season by two shots. “Yeah, I guess that kind of worked out well.”


Stark, 24, a six-time winner in Europe and member of the European Solheim Cup team that retained the cup in Spain, extended her streak of bogey-free holes to 44. Wannasaen came close to matching Kim’s first-round effort. She went 15 holes bogey-free, getting to 7-under, but ran into her lone bogey at the 367-yard 16th.


A day earlier, Wannasaen had wondered if this golf course was a good fit for her. She said the small greens are “not her style,” nor are the types of grasses the players are putting on this week. To her, the course seemed long and hard in practice. “It’s challenging,” she said. On Thursday, she was a good match for it.


A group at 66 included American Auston Kim, South Korea’s Haeran Ryu and Nataliya Guseva, a rookie from Russia. Australia’s Hannah Green, who has enjoyed a good deal of success at Wilshire and was last year’s champion, opened with a 67. So, too, did Amy Yang, who won for the first time in the U.S. last season at the CME Group Tour Championship. 


Celine Boutier of France, a four-time winner in 2023, was in a group at 68. Rose Zhang opened at 2-under 69.


April 25, 2024
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