She has twice helped to stay in the race for a major title that for a very long time seemed to go to Nelly Korda or Brooke Henderson. And then after a 5 wood that caromed a temporary blue wall behind the 18th green and kept it from going into the water, Lee scaled for the eagle and a 5 under 67.
This got him into a three-way playoff, and Lee ended it quickly.
She hit 5 woods right across the green – no help needed from the wall on that one – chipped off 5 feet and made the bird putt. Korda missed the 18th fairway for the second time and par, while Henderson’s 7-foot playoff bird putt remained to the left of the hole.
“I must be a little crazy to win,” Lee said through a translator.
When asked on television at the 18th green if she was in disbelief, Lee was too busy wiping away tears to answer, so the translator finally offered, “Yes. ”
Korda, the 22-year-old American in contention for her first major, had a two-stroke lead with four holes to go and didn’t birdie well the rest of the day and shot 69. Henderson, 23 already with more LPGA wins (9) than any Canadian, also used the wall as a safety net to birdie on the 18th to rally to a double bogey and join the playoffs.
Lee never looked like a winner until she calmly poured the bird putt in the playoffs, the first major championship for the 29-year-old South Korean ranked 94th in the world.
It was another wild ending in the LPGA major that went from the first weekend of April to the 100 degree heat of September, and no one was more surprised than Lee.
“I think I got a little bit of luck which helped me out,” she says.
Lee played for birdie on the No.6. His biggest hit came on the 16, a 90-foot pitch-and-run to a back pin that dropped for an unlikely birdie. The only time she lost hope was after her bogey on the par-3 17th, leaving both of her shots behind with a hole to play.
“My plan for 18 was just to birdie and do what I need to do to keep my head up,” she said. “And when the blow came in, I think I was really surprised. ”
The wall has become a big part of history.
The tournament erected it in place of a hospitality chalet which was not needed this year because there were no spectators or customers allowed as a precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The chalet in normal years served as a buffer for overly heavy gunfire, but it was of no use except for some signage that didn’t really stand out. He stopped the 18th green from being the island it is, and he played a huge role for Lee and Henderson in the final hour.
“The point is, it was far too contrived,” Hall of Fame member Judy Rankin said on the Golf Channel show. “There was no real reason for it to be there. There were no spectators, no customers or anything like that. And that affected the game way too much. ”
Lee practiced this shot earlier in the week. “I really thought about using the back panel,” she said of her shot.
Henderson was one shot behind the 18, her ball sitting in the rough, when it hit 5-wood which came out flat and was hot until it disappeared under the blue honeycomb. She received a free fall from the temporary immobile obstruction, dropped to 2 feet for birdie and a 69, and joined the playoffs at 15 under 273.
The wall did not decide the playoffs, however.
Lee hit a nice fairway metal that caused her to go up and down for birdie. Korda couldn’t get close enough with a wedge after having to lie down. Henderson came just short, and his eagle putt just to the front of the green missed an extra 7 feet over the quick, sun-baked Mission Hills greens.
“You play against the best in the world, and it’s hard to lose that way,” said Henderson. “I felt like I missed a lot of putts. … But Mirim and Nelly played really well, and I really fought, so I’m happy.
Henderson lost his lead with a double bogey on the 13th hole that nearly cost him. But she birdied the 16th and 18th to at least give herself a chance. Korda had a two-stroke lead with four to go, but it was her tee shots on the 18th, both in a deep rough, that kept her from having a reasonable chance of birdie in settlement for the win and in playoffs.
“That’s what got me in trouble there,” Korda said.
Even with world No.1 Jin Young Ko and US Women’s Open champion Jeongeun Lee6 staying at home due to coronavirus-related travel issues, Lee has managed 10 straight years with a South Korea winning a major.
It was his fourth victory on the LPGA Tour, and the first since the Kia Classic three years ago.
United States amateur champion Rose Zhang birdied for 18th for a 72 tied for 11th. She finished at 8 under 280, setting the tournament record for an amateur’s lowest score.