With a stellar front nine and final-round 65, Auston Kim won the 2023 Epson Tour Championship on Sunday in Daytona Beach. Fla. Not only did the Vanderbilt University graduate claim her first professional victory, but she also earned a spot on the LPGA Tour for the 2024 season.
Starting in the group behind the leaders, Kim began her leap up the leaderboard starting on the par-4 2nd hole. From Nos. 2 to 4, Kim started a streak of birdies to move from 17-under to 19-under overall. Her birdie streak was temporarily interrupted by an eagle on the par-5 5th hole to move to 5-under on the day through five holes. The American picked up right where she left off in her run up the leaderboard, making another pair of birdies on holes 6 and 7 to get to 23-under. Kim was 7-under through seven holes before making two more pars on the last two holes of the front nine.
After shooting a 29 (7-under) on the front nine to tie the nine-hole scoring record at the Epson Tour Championship, Kim had a much quieter back nine. The 2022 Epson Tour rookie recorded just one bogey on the par-4 11th hole before hitting a six-hole streak of pars. Once Kim made the turn, she consistently held a one-shot lead for the rest of the tournament and held off the pressure from others looking to sneak into the top spot. She secured her spot in the winner’s circle and her LPGA Tour card with a birdie on her last hole, thanks to a clutch up and down from a tough location just short of the green.
“We talked all year about if we do the right things, if I create good habits, it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when,” said Kim, who was embraced by her season-long caddie and mother after sinking the final putt. “I knew I needed a big week this week, but also last week it was a little disappointing, but I knew that I was close, and just having her by my side and encouraging me and keeping me patient and just knowing that I could learn from last week's disappointment and turn it into something really positive this week, she really helped with that. I can say that she was expecting me to win this year, and she was right.”
After the third round, South African Kaleigh Telfer was tied for first going into the final round. On Sunday, Telfer recorded a three-under 69 with three birdies, a double bogey and an eagle. She consistently held second just behind Kim for a majority of the round, until an errant shot on No. 17 led to a double bogey. Telfer quickly bounced back for a shot at the trophy by making an eagle on the last hole but fell two shots short in a tie for second.
“I mean, it was huge. I've been playing well for the last couple weeks, and just to be able to finish strong, and I knew I had to come in the top 3 this week, and for me to close it out on the last hole to guarantee me a spot in the top 35 was unreal,” said Telfer.
Baylor University alumni Gurleen Kaur also moved her way up the leaderboard from a tie for fourth to a tie for second. On her front nine, Kaur made four birdies on Nos. 1, 4, 5 and 8 to make the turn at four-under for the day and at 20-under for the tournament. A bogey early on the back nine caused her to drop one shot, but she was able to bounce back with later birdies on the par-3 14th and the par-5 18th.
In addition to Kim, nine additional players secured their LPGA Tour cards for the 2024 season; Gabriela Ruffels, Natasha Andrea Oon, Jiwon Jeon, Minji Kang, Agathe Laisne, Jenny Coleman, Roberta Liti, Isabella Fierro and Kristen Gillman.