Highlights: Minjee Lee wins U.S. Women’s Open, largest payout in women’s golf history

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SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. (AP) — Minjee Lee won the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open by four strokes over Mina Harigae at Pine Needles on Sunday to earn $1.8 million, the largest payout in the history of women’s golf.

Lee closed with an even-par 71 to finish at 13-under 271 after the Australian flirted with the tournament record of 16 under set by Juli Inkster in 1999 at Old Waverly.

“I mean, I’m speechless,” Lee said. “I can’t believe it right now. No, it’s just super, super special and just a great honor. It’s been my dream since I was a little girl. It’s the one that I always wanted to win on; now I’ve done it, and just feels amazing.”

Lee’s winnings came from a record $10 million purse.

“We’re only moving in the right direction,” Lee said. “I think it’s only going to get better and better from here. It’s such a large sum, and I’m really honored to be the first winner I guess of this sum. We’re only going to get better and better.”

Harigae shot a 72 for her best finish in a major and a check of slightly more than $1 million.

Although she knew she had no chance to win down the stretch, Harigae said it was still stressful knowing that $1 million — a check that is larger than the winner makes at most LPGA Tour events — was at stake.

“I’m not going to lie, my stomach hurt the last couple holes coming down the stretch,” Harigae said. “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.”

South Korea’s Hye-Jin Choi was one of only two players to break par Sunday, carding a 70 to finish third at 7 under.

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko, the world’s No. 1-ranked player, finished fourth at 6 under, seven shots back of the lead after a 71. Lydia Ko was at 5 under after a 72.

Ingrid Lindblad, the LSU player from Sweden, was the low amateur at 1 under, tying for 11th after a 76.

The 26-year-old Lee was never challenged on a course that played significantly tougher than the previous three days. She opened with rounds of 67, 66 and 67.

Lee became the sixth straight international player to win the U.S. Women’s Open and the first from Australia since mentor Karrie Webb in 2001. It was her second win at a major championship overall after winning the Evian Championship last July. Her previous best finish at the U.S. Open was a tie for 11th in 2017.

Lee, who entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, has won eight LPGA Tour events and became the first repeat winner this year following her victory at the Founders Cup three weeks ago in New Jersey.

Lee entered the final round with a three-stroke lead over Harigae and said after the third round her goal was to continue to stay aggressive and make birdies.

She lived up to that early on, birdieing the first two holes to move to 15 under and take a five-stroke lead over Harigae.

She stumbled a bit with bogeys on Nos. 5 and 7, but was still able to make the turn at even-par 35 and with a four-stroke cushion when Harigae also bogeyed the seventh. The lead increased to five after Harigae bogeyed the par-4 11th hole, all but sealing the win.

Lee then knocked in a bending nine-foot birdie putt on No. 12 to push the lead to six, prompting her to thrust her arm in celebration. She appeared to eye Inkster’s record when she got to 15 under after a birdie on the par-5 15th hole, but closed with two bogeys.

Harigae didn’t make her first birdie until the 15th hole.

Lee said she’s never been more nervous on a golf course — even though she never led by fewer than three strokes.

“Even with a three-shot lead I never felt comfortable today,” Lee said. “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 lead, so I was able to just play my game just to finish.”

Webb, Australia’s greatest female golfer with seven majors, has known Lee since she was 14. She has a scholarship program to bring young Aussie amateurs to majors to spend a week with her and experience it all. Minjee won the scholarship twice.

Webb won her second U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles in 2001 by eight shots.

Webb was at Philadelphia Cricket Club at a prearranged outing, charged up her phone until it was time to tee off and spent the day checking scores, then watched on streaming the final three holes.

“So amazing. Just the way she played all week, she never looked like the moment was getting to her at all. I think she struggled a little bit at the start of last year with putting, and now it’s the best part of the game for her. If she keeps putting like that, she’s got the whole package.”

Webb said she texted her during the week, not with any advice but simple phrases like “I love your work.”

Nelly Korda closed with a 73 on Sunday to tie for eighth at 2 under in her first tournament since undergoing surgery to repair a blood clot in her left arm.

“The first week back you have rust, right, so you don’t really expect much from your game,” said Korda, the world’s No. 2 player. “You don’t know where your game is at. Knowing that I can play on a really tough golf course at a major and even kind of be in contention is definitely a positive.”

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
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The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.


How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.


Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.


More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.