How the world’s No. 2 women’s player mixes golf and a third-degree black belt

Sei Young Kim

Sei Young Kim hits a tee shot during the Pelican Women's Championship last November.

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The martial artist sets her left foot forward, pivots from it and spins 360 degrees into a kick with her right foot. Her hips explode so forcefully that the impact into her padded target makes a loud thump. A group of children yell, “Whoaaa!” She laughs. If you think that’s good … The clip on the left side of this split-screen video stops, and the right one starts. 

The golfer takes her club back, down and through into a tee shot on a range. Her hips explode so forcefully that the impact of her club into her ball makes a loud thump. The six-second video, sent out by the LPGA Tour a few years back, stops. 

Sei Young Kim is one of the best golfers on the planet. She has 12 wins and 55 top 10s and is ranked No. 2 in the world. She won last fall’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in stunning fashion — Kim blistered Aronimink Golf Club on her way to a final-round 63 and a five-stroke victory. Kim’s also a third-degree black belt in taekwondo. Her dad, Kim Jeong-il, ran an academy in South Korea when she was young. 

Her sports are not opponents. Kim’s golf and Kim’s taekwondo are quite actually joined at the hip. 

“Taekwondo is very helpful for my golf game because when I impact, when I turn to my hip turn, it’s very helpful,” she said during Golf Channel’s broadcast of the CME Group Tour Championship, the last event she played in before this week’s Gainbridge LPGA. 

“I trained a lot when I was young. I think that experience and workouts are very helpful for my impact.”

It’s hard to argue. (Actually, never argue with a third-degree black belt.) About 5-foot-4, Kim ranked 20th last season on Tour in driving distance, at 262.2 yards a drive. Moving down the bag, she also ranked first in both greens in regulation, at 77.6 percent, and putts per green in regulation, at 1.734. All of it overpowered Aronimink at the Women’s PGA last October. 

Kim opened with a 71, then shot 65 and 67 for a two-shot lead entering the final round. Still, she had never won a major — her 10 victories at the time were the most of any active player on Tour without one — and afterward admitted: “I won’t lie, I did feel the pressure starting last night.” Kim then shot the 63, which tied the tournament record, and her 266 total set the event mark. 

“I feel the pressure every week but especially in a major championship,” said Kim, who’d also win her next start, the Pelican Women’s Championship. “I’ve felt pressure every time I’ve played in one, and I feel it in the players’ eyes when I come to a major championship. Everybody is really eager to win this one, so again, nice to get it done.”

Here, too, taekwondo may have helped. Hall of Famer-turned-analyst Judy Rankin believed off-course demanding activities have other benefits besides physical ones.  

“I know all these different things that people do — something like this, working out, whatever — makes you physically stronger,” Rankin said on the Golf Channel broadcast of the CME Group Tour Championship. “But I go back to Annika Sorenstam explaining to me in great detail how the way she worked out so hard built her confidence on the golf course and playing golf and endurance-wise and all that, and I think this taekwondo is the very same thing.” 

At the PGA, after all the records, after her first major, Kim walked into the interview tent, where a computer had been set up. Her former taekwondo instructor was on the screen. Kim waved at her dad and smiled. 

“Dad, I did it,” Kim said. 

“My daughter is a great, great player,” he said. 

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Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor