Arizona section champion who couldn’t play WM Phoenix Open earns LPGA exemption

Kim Paez was awarded a sponsor exemption into the LPGA's upcoming Ford Championship.

Kim Paez was awarded a sponsor exemption into the LPGA's upcoming Ford Championship.

X: @LPGA

In September, 37-year-old Arizona section pro Kim Paez made history.

After firing rounds of 70-67-73 at We-Ko-Pa’s Cholla course, Paez, a PGA player development director for clubmaker Ping, beat a field of nearly all male competitors at the Southwest PGA Championship, marking the first time a woman has won the event in its 66-year history, and becoming only the fourth woman ever to win a PGA of America section championship.

In addition to a $9,000 winner’s check, the Southwest section champion is traditionally awarded an enviable perk: an exemption into the following year’s WM Phoenix Open. But in order to qualify for the exemption, players must play from the back tees during the championship. (Female players have the option of playing 85 percent of the back tee yardage to compete in the championship, which is what Paez elected to do.) Players are made aware of this stipulation before teeing off, so when Paez ultimately claimed the trophy, the section championship runner-up, Jesse Mueller, was awarded the exemption instead.

Paez was unbothered by missing out on the WM Phoenix Open when contacted for comment by GOLF.com in September, but said she would welcome a similar opportunity to play on the LPGA Tour.

“If that were offered to me, that would be a dream come true because I tried going to Q-school a couple years,” she said. “It was tough. It was expensive, which is why I decided to go through this route in the golf industry. But to just even say that I was able to play in an LPGA event, that’s a check off my bucket list, to have that opportunity and to see how I could perform there.”

Later this month, Paez will finally get her chance.

The LPGA’s Ford Championship will be played at Seville Golf and Country Club in Gilbert, Ariz., March 28-31, and in a surprise announcement at Ping’s headquarters, Paez was awarded a sponsor’s exemption into the field.

“I am inspired by Kim Paez’s remarkable achievement in earning a spot in the Ford Championship presented by KCC,” Ford Motor Company global CMO Lisa Materazzo said in a press release. “Her success is a testament to the talent, dedication and resilience of female athletes in the world of golf. Let’s continue to celebrate and support women breaking barriers and making history in sports.”

The Ford Championship will mark the first of a three high-profile appearances for Paez. She’ll tee it up in the PGA Professional Championship in April and she also qualified for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in June.

“I’m absolutely shocked and excited. I’m very grateful for this opportunity and I can’t thank Ford enough,” Paez said in the release. “I’m excited to play against the best in the world here in my hometown and to represent Ford.”

Golf.com Editor

As a four-year member of Columbia’s inaugural class of female varsity golfers, Jessica can out-birdie everyone on the masthead. She can out-hustle them in the office, too, where she’s primarily responsible for producing both print and online features, and overseeing major special projects, such as GOLF’s inaugural Style Is­sue, which debuted in February 2018. Her origi­nal interview series, “A Round With,” debuted in November of 2015, and appeared in both in the magazine and in video form on GOLF.com.