U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Lang Prevails in Playoff to Claim First Major Title July 10, 2016 | San Martin, Calif. By David Shefter, USGA

Brittany Lang prevailed in a three-hole aggregate playoff to claim the 71st U.S. Women's Open on Sunday at CordeValle. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

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Brittany Lang almost didn’t know how to react. When her short par putt dropped at the end of a three-hole aggregate playoff to decide the 71st U.S. Women’s Open Championship at CordeValle late Sunday afternoon, the Texan appeared a bit numb.

There were no raised hands or fist-pumps. Just a hug for her caddie and brother, Luke Lang, and husband, Kevin Spann, after receiving a heartfelt congratulatory embrace from runner-up Anna Nordqvist.

If it all seemed a bit anticlimatic, maybe it was. Most of the fans gathered around the 18th green likely were not aware of the Rules situation that ultimately decided the championship, unless, of course, they were plugged into Fox’s television broadcast.

Only a few minutes earlier, Nordqvist, who had played a brilliant bogey-free, 5-under-par round of 67 to get into the playoff, was informed by USGA officials that high-definition video clearly showed the 29-year-old Swede touching a speck of sand with her 5-iron as she played a bunker shot to the 17th green, the second of the three holes used for the playoff. Nordqvist received news of the breach of Rule 13-4b after hitting her third shot into the par-5 18th hole.

“I just wish they would have told me a little earlier,” said Nordqvist. “It might not have changed anything, but I just wish it was a little bit earlier.

“I couldn't really believe that it happened. It wasn't my intention to ground the club. It's blowing out there, and I had a 5-iron off a downhill lie in the bunker. It's been a long day, a long week. So I probably misjudged it a little bit and touched a little bit of sand. That’s a penalty.”

Before playing her third shot on  No. 18, Lang, 30, of McKinney, Texas, received word of Nordqvist’s infraction from USGA officials Mark Newell and Ben Kimball. Lang immediately changed her approach to the shot, playing conservatively away from the flagstick and eventually two-putting from 40 feet to finish the playoff at even par.

Admittedly flustered by the ruling, Nordqvist three-putted No. 18 to finish the playoff at 3 over par.

When it concluded, Lang was congratulated by American players Brittany Lincicome, Stacy Lewis, Morgan Pressel, Angela Stanford and 2010 champion Paula Creamer. It was Lang’s second career win and first major, making her the first Women’s Open champion 30 or older since Annika Sorenstam a decade ago. An All-America player at Duke University, Lang was the runner-up with Pressel as a 19-year-old amateur in the 2005 Women’s Open at Cherry Hills Country Club.

It was the second aggregate playoff in Women’s Open history since the USGA switched to a three-hole playoff after Sorenstam’s 18-hole playoff win over Pat Hurst in 2006. So Yeon Ryu defeated fellow Korean Hee Kyung Seo in 2011 at The Broadmoor.

“It's pretty special,” said Lang. “I've always dreamed of winning the U.S. [Women’s] Open. I have so much respect for the USGA and for this tournament. I actually said something to somebody in Arkansas [two weeks ago], that I just feel like I have extremely underachieved as a golfer. I feel like I'm so capable of doing so much more than I've done. And this is just a little start to boost me.”

The playoff concluded a wild Sunday at CordeValle that saw the world No. 1, Lydia Ko, lose her 54-hole lead, and the latest sensation from the Republic of Korea, Sung Hyun Park, hit her second shot into the water on No. 18, costing the 22-year-old a chance to join the playoff and become the second consecutive player and fifth overall to win the U.S. Women’s Open in her first appearance.

Park settled for a share of third with Ko, 2009 champion Eun Hee Ji and two-time runner-up Amy Yang at 4-under 284, two strokes behind Lang and Nordqvist. Yang, 26, has now finished in the top 10 in six of her last seven Women’s Open starts.  

On another challenging day due to gusty winds and firm conditions, only three golfers among the final six groupings bettered par: Nordqvist, Lang (71) and 2014 runner-up Stacy Lewis (71), who finished seventh at 285.

Nordqvist started the day six strokes behind Ko, but got into contention with three birdies and an eagle on the par-5 15th to reach 6 under. One of the best ball-strikers on the LPGA Tour – she ranked third coming into the week – Nordqvist hit 17 of 18 greens, nearly topping her 18-for-18 performance from Round 1, a Women’s Open record since such records have been kept, starting in 1986.

“I was hitting my irons beautiful all day,” said Nordqvist, who owns six LPGA Tour wins, including a major, the 2009 McDonald’s LPGA Championship. “I hit tons of fairways, and made a couple of good putts coming in. I was bogey-free and that's all you can ask for on a Sunday of a U.S. [Women’s] Open.”

Lang, who began the round two strokes behind Ko, was nearly as impressive. She had two birdies and two bogeys on the outward nine, then birdied the par-4 13th and rolled in a 24-footer on the par-3 16th to take a one-shot lead over Nordqvist, who was already in the clubhouse. But a three-putt bogey on 17 and a missed 24-foot birdie at 18 sent the championship to extra holes.

“I hadn't seen the leader board, so I had no clue what was going on,” said Lang. “And that was a very dumb mistake on 17. I hit two beautiful shots and I had a putt that was not very difficult and I just hit it too hard. I thought the wind might hold it up a little bit. That was really, really dumb to run that putt by like that. I had no clue where I was, so I was just trying to get a birdie look on 18. I was definitely feeling some nerves.”

When the day began, most expected the storyline to include Ko, the winner of two of the last three majors, who was coming off her 13th LPGA Tour victory two weeks ago in Arkansas. The preternatural 19-year-old from New Zealand seemed poised to become the youngest U.S. Women’s Open champion, surpassing 2008 winner Inbee Park by 9 months, and the youngest to win three majors – male or female – since Young Tom Morris (19 years, 4 months) won three consecutive Open Championships from 1868-70.

But after draining a 25-foot birdie on the sixth hole to extend her advantage to two strokes, Ko had a disastrous two-hole stretch to close the outward nine. A bogey at the par-3 eighth – her first in 42 holes – preceded a double-bogey 7 on the par-5 ninth when her second shot from the rough found the hazard. Her lead gone, Ko never could recover, making only a short putt on the par-5 15th for her lone birdie of the second nine and posting a 3-over 75, matching her highest score of the 2016 season.

Despite the disappointment, the Kiwi still smiled about her experience. Her tie for third was her best Women’s Open finish in five starts, bettering the tie for 12th last year at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club.

“I have a lot of great memories with the USGA, being a past U.S. Women's Amateur champion [in 2012],” said Ko, whose grouping fell behind and was put on the clock on the 11th hole. “I loved it here. The fans are great. This was a great experience. And this is something I'm going to learn from.”

Nordqvist said she, too, will move on from what became a disappointing outcome.

“I think I've taken a bad drop sometime, but it's just such small margins,” said Nordqvist. “Unfortunately it happened today. But we live and we learn.”

Lang felt sympathy for her close friend, who attended Lang’s wedding to Kevin Spann two years ago in Texas. Perhaps that’s why her immediate reaction on the 18th green was subdued.

“I just said ‘Sorry, bud, good playing,’ because I know Anna really well, and I know she wanted that [title],” said Lang. “I know it's going to be a little rough for her, but she's a great player.

“You never want to win with a penalty or something like that happening, especially to Anna, who is a friend of mine and a classy girl. It's unfortunate. It's part of the game and it happened that way.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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