SOUTHERN PINES, NC — After three days of some of the lowest scores in US Women’s Open history, a fight broke out in Pine Needles.
Challenging hole locations, an increase in wind and the largest bag in women’s golf history finally got things burning.
Only the battle wasn’t on top, as no one could mount a charge to challenge the graceful and unflappable Minjee Lee, who entered the final round with a three-shot lead and finished 13-under, four ahead of the American Mina Harigae. claim the second major title from her. Lee, 26, became the first Australian to win the US Women’s Open since Karrie Webb triumphed at Pine Needles 21 years ago.
“It’s been my dream since I was a little girl,” Lee said. “He is the one I always wanted to win; now I have, and he feels amazing.”
When the Women’s Open was held here in 2001, World Golf Hall of Famer Peggy Kirk Bell, who won an LPGA major as an amateur and, along with her husband Warren “Bullet” Bell, built Pine Needles in what has become a cathedral for women’s golf. her, she invited Patty Berg, Louise Suggs and Kathy Whitworth to give a clinic.
The total purse that week was $1.2 million and Webb earned $212,500 for his efforts. Whitworth wrote in his memoir, The Gift of Golf, that it was money the legendary quartet couldn’t fathom.
“We were blown away by the lifestyle these girls have on tour today,” Bell wrote. “They have babysitters, free meals and courtesy cars!”
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What would Mrs. Bell have said then, about a $10 million purse and Lee’s $1.8 million payday, the largest in women’s golf history to date? (The winner of the CME Group Tour Championship in November will win $2 million.) Going into this week, no one on the LPGA had crossed the $1 million mark so far this season.
“It is such a large sum,” said Lee, “and I am truly honored to be the first winner of this sum. We’re just going to get better and better.”
The only real drama of the day centered around second place, as it marked the first time in women’s golf history that two women would earn seven-figure checks. As the back nine played out on Donald Ross’ revamped design, three players, Lydia Ko, Hyejin Choi and Harigae, battled it out for a $1,080,000 paycheck.
Harigae, who just two years ago felt the walls closing in as she struggled to keep her tour card and pay bills, delivered a decisive birdie on the par-5 15th hole to finish second solo. Her previous biggest payday on tour was $268,657.
“I’m not going to lie, I had a stomach ache on the last two holes,” Harigae said. “I was really stressed out, but I was really just concentrating on one shot at a time, making solid contact and hitting good putts.”
Consider that while the LPGA went on hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, Harigae earned $2,300 for winning a mini-tour event on the Cactus Tour by 16 strokes with a closing 61.
Choi was third solo with 7 under par. World No. 1 Jin Young Ko shot a 71 on Sunday to claim fourth place solo. Lydia Ko bogeyed her last two holes to shoot 72 and finish solo fifth.
“I think this was the most challenging this year,” said Jin Young, “and also had the most fun at the same time.”
World No.2 Nelly Korda, competing in her first event since early February after being sidelined by a blood clot that required surgery, finished with 73 to tie for eighth place.
“Overall, I’m very happy with how this week went,” Korda said. “I had no expectations. I actually got my best result at the Women’s Open, so maybe I should keep it up.”
Born in Perth, Australia, Lee was introduced to the game through her parents. Her mother, Clara, was a teaching professional near her home and her father, Soonam, was a good player in his own right. Her younger brother Min Woo, 23, will compete in her first US Open later this month at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Two-time DP World Tour winner Min Woo tied for 14th on his Masters debut in April, where Minjee was his caddy in the Par 3 Contest.
Minjee and Min Woo are the only sibling pair to win USGA titles, with Minjee winning the 2012 US Girls’ Junior and Min Woo claiming the 2016 US Junior Amateur.
Minjee now has eight LPGA worldwide titles, including the 2021 Amundi Evian Championship, from which she came from an LPGA record equaling seven strokes to win in a playoff.
Lee joins Webb (7) and Jan Stephenson (3) as the only female Australian golfers with multiple major titles.
Pine Needles is now the first place to host four Women’s Opens, and all three previous winners – Annika Sorenstam, Cristie Kerr and Webb – were first-class world champions.
Lee, who is currently No. 4 in the world and has gone as high as No. 2, is the only player on the tour to have won multiple events this season and if she keeps up this pace, she could become the first Australian to become at No. 1 since the Rolex Ranking debuted in 2006.
She is now tied with Rachel Hetherington for the third most wins by an Australian player, after Webb (41) and Stephenson (16).
“I think this is going to be great for all the little girls and even the boys and kids watching,” Lee said. “I know there has been a really big boom in WA (Western Australia). The girls have been much more interested in playing, so I hope they see me on TV and I can be a good role model for them and they will start to get more involved.”