Lee – following her emphatic win – photo USGA Jeff Haynes

In one of the most clinical displays possible of high quality golf throughout the week, Minjee Lee has won a second major title and, importantly, the most significant in the female game with a four shot win at the US Women’s Open at the Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines in North Carolina.

Beginning the day with a three shot lead over Mina Harigae, Lee served notice of the  direction that day would go with birdies at the opening two holes, the second from 40 feet and the substantial 54 lead became even more so as she played her way to a round of 71.

Hiccups would come at the 5th when she missed the green at the par 3 5th and again at the  7th hole when she three putted from long range but a series of crucial par saving putts in the middle of her round were followed by a birdie at the 12th from 8 feet and again at the 15th when she two putted from 30 feet.

At that point Lee was six shots ahead and although she would bogey the 16th and 18th she ran out the winner by a massive four shots, setting a championship scoring record in the process.

For Lee it was her second major title, extends her lead on the LPGA Tour standings in 2022 and secures a cheque for US$1.8 million courtesy of the huge boost in prizemoney the event received this year. The figure surpasses the US$1.5 million Lee earned in her best full season on the LPGA Tour to date, recorded in 2021.

“I mean, this is pretty special,” said Lee trying to find words to describe how she felt. “This is the one I’ve always wanted to win since I was a little kid, so it just feels pretty amazing to be able to get it done today. I just can’t believe it.

“I was pretty nervous all day, to be fair. I started good; I had two birdies off the bat. It was nice just to have that little buffer. I made two bogeys on the front nine, as well.

“You know, even with a three-shot lead I never felt comfortable today. I felt like I still needed to play well. I still needed to hold my ground. That’s pretty much what I did.

“To start aggressively, I think it was the right move, and then after that I had quite a big shot lead, so I was able to just play my game just to finish.

“I didn’t hit it that well. I had really good saves, up-and-downs from a lot of the places, and then finishing I had a couple birdies and a couple bogeys. I think that was enough to get it done today.”

Asked what this might mean for the game and women’s sport in Australia, Lee responded;

“I think this will be huge for all the little girls and even the boys and the children watching. I know there’s been a really big boom in WA (Western Australia). The girls have been a lot more interested in playing, so hopefully they watch me on TV and I can be a good role model to them and they’ll start getting more involved.”

Harigae, who has yet to win on the LPGA Tour, did remarkably well to hold on to second place and in the process earned a cheque for US$ 1.08 million and secure her immediate future on the LPGA Tour.

While the win could well be career altering for Lee, so too was the performance of Harigae who had previously recorded only three top three finishes in 226 starts on the LPGA Tour. It was her equal best career finish and by some way her best cheque.

The $1.08 million won by runner-up Harigae was 37 percent of her career earnings ($2.9 million) in 13 years on the LPGA Tour.

“I think that was probably one of the top rounds where I was really nervous,” said Harigae, perhaps reflecting just what this performance would mean for her.

“But I think I handled it pretty well for this situation. I’m proud of myself and the main takeaways are I really am able to handle myself out there. I belong up there.

I’m not going to lie, my stomach hurt the last couple holes coming down. I was really stressed out, but I was really just focusing on one shot at a time, making solid contact, and just hitting good putts.”

New Zealand’s Lydia Ko appeared to be moving in on second place when she birdied the 13th but she would bogey three of the last four holes to finish alone in 5th place although she enjoys her best ever US Women’s Open finish.

“Yeah, I started off really well, birdieing the first couple on my first three holes,” said Ko. “I think overall I played solid, maybe not as sharp as the last couple days, and finishing off three bogeys in the last four holes is probably not the best way to finish.

“But other than that, I think in general I played really solid, and there was a lot of good golf, considering where I was hitting into the second day I’m happy with a top 10 finish here at the U.S. Women’s Open which I think is only my second time.

“I think this was probably the least nervous I was playing at the U.S. Women’s Open. I was excited to be here. I really liked the golf course. I felt like it was — the trophy was there for anyone that was in the field. When it’s kind of like that, you feel like it’s a very level playing field and you know you’re trying to play the best golf you can.”

SCORES

Photo – Darren Carroll USGA