Jeongeun Lee6, from South Korea, fired a closing 1-under-70 to finish at 277 and not only win for the first time on the LPGA Tour, but to capture her first major championship.
And by the way, she also picked up the first million-dollar winner’s check in women’s professional golf history, something that should come in handy for someone who’s favorite hobby, by her own admission, is shopping.
The enormity of the moment didn’t overcome just Lee6, who added the numeral to her surname to differentiate herself from five other women with identical names playing professional golf in Asia. Even her manager/interpreter, Jennifer Kim, struggled through tears as she tried to convey her client and friend’s sentiments when Lee6 was asked what the win meant to her.
After Lee6 answered in her native Korean, Kim tried to translate verbatim but apologized for not being able to get the words out.
“Sorry, I'm just really proud of her, how she played,” Kim said before continuing to speak for Lee6 in third person.
“She couldn't imagine coming this far, you know, winning the first LPGA tournament, also major championship, and she feels proud of herself, and she worked so hard.”
In his book, Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate, one of the great golf books ever penned, Jenkins titled his chapter about the U.S. Open “Wide Open.” And though the book will turn 50 next year, the term was never more apt than in the final round at the Country Club of Charleston.
Americans Angel Yin and Lexi Thompson joined 2011 U.S. Open and two-time major champion So Yeon Ryu, also from South Korea, in a tie for second at 280, 4 under par and two shots back.
Early in the day, more than a dozen players entertained legitimate hopes of hoisting the Harton S. Semple Trophy. Going into Sunday’s final round, Boutier (photo) and her former Duke University teammate Yu Liu of China, two players in their sophomore year on the LPGA Tour who would eventually be part of a five-way tie for fifth, set the pace at 7-under-par. But back up six shots, and 21 players crowded the leaderboard at 1-under 212 or better.
Why six? A bogey-free 6-under 65 carded by Mamiko Higa of Japan in Thursday’s opening round still stood as the low round of the week when Sunday dawned. And besides, the way things ended, “6” emerged as the most consistently important number on an otherwise inconsistent, even crazy, day.
To show just how crazy the day would be, within minutes of the final twosome teeing off, seven players, spread from the second hole all the way to No. 13, were tied for the lead. Gerina Piller, who would go on to finish tied for sixth—nearly two and a half hours before the eventual winner—quickly dropped away, thanks to two quick bogeys. Then, when Yin birdied 15 and 16 to get within one of the lead, which had now shifted to Boutier, the leader was still playing the eighth hole.
Even Lee6 had her challenges early, making a bogey “5” at the long first hole.
“Every time, if I make a bogey on the first hole, I kind of feel a little bit calm, because I know that I will play well at the end,” she would later tell the crowd gathered around 18.
She didn’t have to wait until “the end,” to show good form. She bounced back immediately, with a birdie at No. 2, and remained outwardly calm while running off eight straight pars, starting at the third, while seemingly every player in the field was making moves around her, both forward and backward.
Lee6 grabbed the reins at, ironically enough, the par-3 11th hole, the Reverse Redan that had been the hardest hole all week statistically, playing more than four-tenths of a shot over par and inflicting more double bogeys or worse than it allowed in birdies.
But Lee6 cashed in a short birdie there, then added another at 12 to get to 7 under par. She added a birdie at the par-5 15th and seemed to have things in hand, leading by three. But did we mention this day was crazy?
She bogeyed 16 when her approach came up short of the false front just left of the Lion’s Mouth bunker, for which the par-4 is named, then dropped another shot when her drive at 18 found deep rough left of the fairway, shaving her lead to one over Boutier.
But the craziness ended when Boutier, who needed to hole from off the green at 18 to tie, closed with a double bogey 6 – that number yet again.
“I felt pretty nervous starting on the holes 16, 17, and 18,” Lee6 said as she stood on the 18th green to accept the trophy, “but I tried the best that I can. I know I made two bogeys, but I just didn't want to think about it too much. I tried the best that I can.”
Lee6 wasn’t the only player feeling “major championship” nerves. All day long players, players moved into contention and fell back, missing fairways, missing greens and missing putts with efforts that could only be chalked up to the pressure of an Open. We won’t try to document all the to-ing and fro-ing that ensued, but simply put, the day saw more ups and downs that a playground see-saw.
Yu and Boutier set the tone, making bogey and double bogey, respectively, at the very first hole. Moving forward, Jaye Marie Green, who started the day one back and tied with Thompson and would end the day in that big T-5 logjam, would lead after a birdie at 5. Then Boutier would tie her with a birdie at 6 and then lead on her own when Green bogeyed the seventh.
Thompson (photo), a clear crowd favorite looking for her first U.S. Open and her second major, got off to a horrible start with three early bogeys and a par at the very birdie-able par-5 fifth. But even so, she would get within two when she birdied 7 from the back fringe.
When Yin birdied 15-16 to get within one, leader Boutier was still on the eighth hole, all of this before Lee6 got to the iconic 11th and scored her first of back-to-back birdies.
Lee6 came into the week ranked 14th in the LPGA Rookie of the Year race, but her year had not been without its highlights. In eight starts since January, she had six top-15 showings, including a tie for second at the Mediheal Championship in early May and a T-6 in the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration a month earlier. Seven times a winner on the Korean LPGA Tour, she had two top-10s in majors prior to this year, including a tie for fifth in the U.S. Women’s Open in 2017 and a T-6 finish at the Evian Championship last year, but in neither season did she have enough starts on the LPGA Tour to cost her rookie status this year.
NOTES OF INTEREST:
- Easily the hardest hole of the week, the Reverse Redan par-3 11th was no problem for two-time major champion Lydia Ko. Ko scored a hole-in-one on Sunday at the hole that had gave up just 32 birdies, only three on Sunday, versus 159 bogeys, 29 doubles and five triple bogeys or worse for the week. The 11th, which played just 159 yards Sunday, some 30 yards shorter than the day before, was the hardest hole for the week, just as it was for each of the first three rounds. However, on Sunday, it slipped to third hardest behind the first and 18th holes, respectively, both long par 4s. Certainly Ko’s ace helped bring down the average. The ace got Ko to 1-under for the day – she started with three straight bogeys – but a bogey at 18 left her with an even-par 71 and a 5-over 289 finish.
- Duke freshman Gina Kim captured low amateur honors by a comfortable 8-shot margin. Her 1-under-par 283, punctuated by a closing 72, was ignited by a first-round 66, 5 under par and just one shot higher than the low round of the week, shot by Japan’s Mamiko Higa on Thursday. The 65 by Higa, who was playing in her first U.S., Women’s Open, was the lowest debut score in U.S. Women’s Open history.
- Kim, who went 2-1 in match play in helping Duke win the 2019 NCAA Women’s Golf Championship in mid-May, beat out Americans Rose Zhang (291) and Andrea Lee (292) to win the low am medal. Korean Jiwon Jeon and American Jennifer Chang both shot 293, as five amateurs made the 36-hole cut, which came at 3-over-par 145.