U.S. Women’s Open

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.”

Video: Minjee Lee leads heading into U.S. Women’s Open final round

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SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. (AP) — Minjee Lee appears to be on mission.

The 26-year-old Australian shot a 4-under 67 on Saturday to take a three-stroke lead over American Mina Harigae into the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open.

“My approach (Sunday) is going to be the same as the last three days — I’m just going to try and make as many birdies as I can and give myself as many opportunities as I can on the greens,” Lee said.

At 13-under 200, Lee was within striking distance of the U.S. Women’s Open scoring record in relation to par held by Juli Inkster, who finished at 16-under 272 in 1999 at Old Waverly. Inkster did that on a par-72 course, while par is 71 at Pine Needles.

“I haven’t really thought about it,” Lee said. “If I play good, it’s going to come with it, right?”

The fourth-ranked Lee won the Founders Cup three weeks ago in New Jersey in the tour’s last stroke-play event for her seventh LPGA Tour victory. She’s trying to win her second major title after taking the 2021 Evian Championship.

Harigae shot a 70. England’s Bronte Law was third at 7 under after a 68.

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko and American Nelly Korda, the top players in the world ranking, failed to take advantage of moving day.

The top-ranked Ko struggled with her putter and finished at even-par 71, leaving her tied for fourth place at 6 under with three-time major winner Anna Nordqvist, Xiyu Lin, Lydia Ko, Hye-Jin Choi and amateur Ingrid Lindblad. Lydia Ko had the best round of the day with a 66, while Lin shot 67, Jim Young Ko 71 and Nordqvist and Choi 72.

Korda was 4 under after a 70.

“Definitely not the finish I wanted,” said Korda, who bogeyed the last three holes after battling to get to 7 under. “That was tough. I’m sure that was tough to watch, too.”

It appeared Harigae might make a run when she used a pitching wedge from 115 yards and her ball rolled within an inch from the cup. She tapped in for birdie and moved to 10 under, taking a one-shot lead over Lee.

But that seemed to awaken Lee.

Lee stormed back, making birdies on Nos. 9, 10, 11 and 12 to get to 13 under and took a four-shot lead after Harigae bogeyed 11 and 12. Lee repeatedly outdrove Harigae and used solid approach shots to set up putts of 12, 12, 8 and 6 feet, all of which she made during the four-hole run.

Harigae birdied the 16th to pull within three.

“She hit some great shots the next few holes, and I just couldn’t keep up with that,” Harigae said.

Said Lee: “I didn’t really think about how Mina was playing. I was just trying to make as many birdies as I could just to try and post a good score. I didn’t really notice her playing that much because I was really kind of in my zone.”

Lindblad provided a little excitement early on when she birdied three of her first four holes to move into the tie for the lead at 9 under, creating a buzz around course over whether she could become only the second amateur to win the U.S. Women’s Open and the first since 1967.

However, the LSU player from Sweden played the final 14 holes in 3-over par.

“It was a good start, and then I kind of hit a really bad shot on five and made bogey,” Lindblad said.

If she wins, she would be unable to collect the $1.8 million first-place prize because of her amateur status.

Women’s golf is on the rise, led by young stars Nelly Korda and Jin Young Ko

Nelly Korda competing at the 2022 U.S. Women's Open
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SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. (AP) — Women’s golf is on the rise, a momentum swing not lost on fans and sponsors.

With an abundance of emerging stars gaining notoriety, the sport is drawing more attention — and sponsorships — in the post-Covid era. Tickets sales for this week’s U.S. Women’s Open are up more than 50% over the three-year, pre-COVID average, according to the USGA.

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South Korea’s Jin Young Ko and America’s Nelly Korda are not yet household names, but are leading the charge. They combined to win nine LPGA Tour tournaments last year. Ranked 1-2 in the world, both landed on Forbes’ 2022 list of top 10 highest-paid female athletes in the world.

Ko collected $4 million from endorsements deals with LG Electronics, Jeju SamDaSoo mineral water, Korean Air and Rejuran skincare products. Korda, who returned to action this week after surgery to repair a blood clot in her arm, earned $3.5 million in endorsements with more than 10 sponsors, per Forbes. She has more than 504,000 followers on Instagram.

Lexi Thompson remains one of the biggest draws in women’s golf with her powerful swing along with former NCAA champion and August National Women’s Amateur winner Jennifer Kupcho, who is coming off her first major championship.

Then there’s 19-year-old Rose Zhang, who in the next few years might become the biggest crossover player on the LPGA Tour since Michelle Wie West, who received immense media attention when she turned pro a week before her 16th birthday in 2005.

Zhang won the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur and has been the top-ranked amateur in the world since. She won the NCAA championship last month as a freshman at Stanford and helped the Cardinal to a national title while amassing an NCAA record 69.68 scoring average.

The youth parade also includes 16-year-old Anna Davis. She turned heads after winning the August Women’s Amateur and twice receiving a sponsor’s exemption to play on the LPGA Tour — making the cut both times. Like the other players this week at the U.S. Women’s Open, Davis was gifted with a new rental car to use to get around Southern Pines.

Only problem is she doesn’t have a driver’s license.

“Yeah, it’s all right,” she said with a shrug. “It’s a pretty car, though, so I’m OK just sitting in it.”

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In all, there are 22 players under the age of 20 competing at the U.S. Women’s Open this week and 29 amateurs. The three U.S. major winners last year were 19, 21 and 23 years old.

“Look at all the amateurs that continue to either be exempt or qualify into this championship,” said Shannon Rouillard, a senior director with the UGSA. “We’ve averaged somewhere in the vicinity of 30 amateurs in this championship over a number of years. I think right there that just speaks to the future of the women’s game moving forward.”

While tomorrow looks promising for the women’s game, it’s not doing too bad today — especially overseas, where it is incredibly popular.

There are about 30 credentialed international media members on site at Pine Needles this week and approximately 200 more in the USGA’s virtual media hub.

Of the top 10 players in the women’s world ranking, eight are international players. It’s been that way for years, as the LPGA Tour was well ahead of the PGA Tour in attracting the best players from every corner of the globe.

On Thursday, Sweden’s Ingrid Lindblad recorded the lowest round by an amateur in the 77-year history of the U.S. Women’s Open, a 6-under 65 that left her one shot behind first-round leader Mina Harigae.

VIDEO: Ingrid Lindblad breaks 18-hole amateur record at 2022 U.S. Women’s Open

Lydia Ko, who was born in South Korea and raised in New Zealand, won her first LPGA event as an amateur when she was 15. She reached No. 1 in the world for the first time at age 17 and now has 17 LPGA Tour victories.

Yuka Saso, with dual citizenship in The Philippines and Japan, won the U.S. Women’s Open last year at age 19.

And corporations are taking notice.

New Jersey-based technology firm Cognizant invested in golf by becoming a global partner for the Presidents Cup, but not without investing in the LPGA Tour as title sponsor of the Founders Cup. It raised the purse to $3 million, the largest among regular LPGA events.

Aon, the London-based financial risk insurance company, created the “Aon Risk-Reward Challenge” bonus for men and women, awarding a $1 million prize to the winner of each tour. KPMG and Chevron initially entered the men’s golf market. Both are now title sponsors for women’s majors and have raised prize money to record levels.

Total prize money this season has crested $90 million, a big leap from $67 million two years ago. That still pales in comparison to the men, which has a deeper heritage and has leaned on the powerful appeal of Tiger Woods. Purses top $425 million on the PGA Tour.

The increased purses are a step in the right direction for women.

USGA chief executive Mike Whan, the former LPGA commissioner, recently added ProMedica, a health care company, to sponsor the U.S. Open. The purse nearly doubled from $5.5 million to $10 million in one year. The winner gets $1.8 million, the largest payout ever in women’s golf.

Annika Sorenstam, who returned to play in the U.S. Open this week after a 13-year hiatus, was the biggest name in women’s golf for years, amassing 72 wins and 10 majors on the LPGA Tour while winning more than $22 million during her career.

But at 51, her playing career is essentially over.

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She’s primarily competing in the U.S. Open this week to spend time with her family and celebrate her prestigious career.

But Sorenstam, who spent years helping to grow the women’s game through her Annika Academy in Florida, is excited to see where the game is headed with the up-and-coming stars.

“It’s so neat so see that women’s golf is in good hands,” she said.