Category - Member Events

Paez Makes History as First Woman to Win Southwest PGA Section Championship

By Abby Parsons, PGA
Published on

Kim Paez with Southwest PGA Vice President Le Ann Finger. (Zac BonDurant/Southwest PGA)

Kim Paez, PGA, is currently a Player Development Director for PING and a PGA Coach at Cave Creek Golf Club’s Reed West Academy. She was just one of three women competing in this year’s Southwest PGA Section Championship at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club in Fort McDowell, Arizona, and it was her first time teeing it up in the Section Championship.
After the final round had wrapped, it wouldn't be her last.
With a 6-under performance, Paez wrote her own historic chapter in the Championship's 66-year history, becoming the first woman to win, beating 2022 PGA Professional Champion Jesse Mueller by a stroke.

“When I signed up, the goal was just to finish top five so I can qualify for the national PGA Professional Championship,” recalls Paez. “I listed off all of the top dogs in the Section to see who I would be up against, and of course I knew Jesse would be there.”
Kim Paez, PGA. (Zac BonDurant/Southwest PGA)
Kim Paez, PGA. (Zac BonDurant/Southwest PGA)
In addition to his national championship title, Mueller has 13 PGA TOUR starts and several Section titles under his belt.

“I mean I totally think of him as the Tiger Woods of the Section,” Paez laughs.

Kim had her husband, Nick, on the bag for the championship, who is currently on the Asian Tour and an excellent player.

“He is familiar with my strengths and my weaknesses,” Paez says. “We worked a lot on wedges, putting, and confidence to prepare for this event. I always struggled with confidence and comparing myself to other players when I played college golf at UC Irvine. Nick really helps me focus on me and what I can control.”
Paez with her caddy and husbank, Nick. (Zac BonDurant/Southwest PGA)
Paez with her caddy and husbank, Nick. (Zac BonDurant/Southwest PGA)
Paez shot an impressive two-under par 70 on day one, sitting tied for third going into the second day. Mueller was at the top of the leaderboard with a four-under par 68 after already winning the first two Southwest Section major championships of the season: Spring Masters and Match Play Championship.

“I still had the mindset of hoping to finish top-five after day one,” Paez remembers. “I was proud of myself because I did exactly what I wanted to do. Every single shot I would say ‘committed’ in my head before I took the club back. I didn’t let myself feel hesitant before any shots.”

Paez consulted with her mentor and fellow PGA Professional Kevin Compare before the championship and he gave her wise words.

“If you focus on the results, you will be fearful. If you focus on the process, you will be fearless.”
Round two set up for perfect conditions at the Cholla Course at We-Ko-Pa, and Kim was ready to take on the day.

“Nick helped me with course management,” Paez says. “I was not hitting it as well as I did on the first day. You would not believe how hard I had to work for some of those pars."
(Zac BonDurant/Southwest PGA)
(Zac BonDurant/Southwest PGA)
With a bogey-free round of five-under par 67, Kim Paez was tied for the lead going into the final round with two former Southwest PGA Section Champions: Jesse Mueller and Dennis Downs.

“When I was at scoring, the scorer said, ‘Okay, Kim, a 67 today?’ And she could tell by my face I had no idea that is what I shot," Paez notes. "I had no idea that this score put me in the final group and tied for the lead. I was in my shot-by-shot mode."

The final round of the 66th Southwest PGA Championship started with some rain showers, but ended with sunshine for Paez.

“On the drive to the course, Nick said, ‘We’re still just wanting to do top five, right?’ And that meant a lot to hear,” Paez remembers. “It was taking some pressure off myself.”

Throughout the final round, Paez and Mueller were going back and forth with the lead. Whenever she was behind, she reminded herself to stick to her game plan and just focus on herself.
“If I would bogey a hole, Nick would always try to keep the mood light and fun," says Paez. "He would crack jokes and make me smile, which really helped me stay in my zone.
"When I birdied the 16th hole, Nick told me I took the lead, and on the 17th tee the wind was blowing and I had the worst butterflies in my stomach. I hit a perfect drive though.”

Paez noticed that Mueller had a club in his hand that signaled he was going for the green in two on the difficult par 5.
“Nick asked if I wanted to go for the green once he saw that, but I said, ‘No, let’s stick to the plan and lay up,’” Paez says.

Both players made par to head into the final hole with Paez in the lead.

“We had to wait on the 18th tee for a while, and it was like I was marinating in my nervousness,” Paez says.
(Zach BonDurant/Southwest PGA)
(Zach BonDurant/Southwest PGA)
With the wind gusting into her face on the final tee, Paez and her caddy had to make a difficult decision: hit the tee shot safely to the right and hope the wind holds it so it doesn't go in the water, or hit it over the bunker on the left to have it land in the fairway with a better angle while risking the wind pushes it into the sand.

“After a lot of deliberation, Nick finally said, ‘Full send,’ and I pounded my drive over the bunker on the left,” Paez says, “I even let out a grunt when it was in the air.”

Eventually, Paez and her playing partners made their way to the putting surface, where both her and Mueller had long birdie putts.

“I putted first," Paez recalls. "I just took two deep breaths before I lagged it to the hole, and left myself an easy tap-in.”
Mueller made par on the final hole, as well, all but finalizing Paez’s one-shot victory in the 2023 Southwest PGA Section Championship.

“There were a bunch of pros waiting to congratulate me off of the green,” Paez says. “I remember getting teary-eyed and being so proud of myself.”

Kim is now the fourth woman to win her respective Section Championship along with Suzy Whaley in 2002 (Connecticut), Taylor Collins in 2021 (South Florida) and Sandra Changkija in 2022 (North Florida). She'll head to Frisco, Texas, and Fields Ranch at PGA Frisco for the 204 PGA Professional Championship next spring alongside six other Southwest PGA Members.
When asked how she celebrated her win, Paez says she "just ate pizza and went to bed because I was so mentally drained.”

She became a PGA Member this past December, and has hit the ground running ever since.

“I’m so proud to be a PGA Member. I went to Q-School twice and it didn’t work out,” Paez says. “I still have these incredible opportunities to compete as a PGA Member and it means the world to me.”
(Zac BonDurant/Southwest PGA)
(Zac BonDurant/Southwest PGA)
Ever since I was elected, all of these positive opportunities have come my way. So far, the experience as a PGA Member has been unreal.”
Count this as one those "unreal" moments . . . and perhaps the best yet.