Jeongeun Lee6 Holds Off Ryu, Thompson and Yin for Two-Stroke Victory in Charleston
History hangs heavy on the Country Club of Charleston, like the Spanish moss that drips from the majestic live oaks lining the Seth Raynor masterpiece that meanders through the South Carolina Low Country. Another notch of greatness was draped on that proud legacy when golf greeted a compelling new star at the 74th U.S. Women’s Open, one whose backstory touched the hearts of all.
Teeing it up in Round 1 just two days after celebrating her 23rd birthday, Jeongeun Lee6 found an even more effective numerical way to distinguish herself from the other Lees in Korean women’s golf than adding the “6” to her name: A 6-under-par 278 that gave her a two-stroke victory in the Women’s Open.
That 6 – as she is now known to her growing legion of fans – won at 6 under par was more than a little eerie, especially since her first professional win in Korea was also at 6 under par. That she won for her paralyzed father back home was more than a little emotional.
The victory was the first by Lee6 on the LPGA Tour, adding it to a half-dozen titles on the Korea LPGA Tour – there is that 6 again – and it launched her to a runaway win as Rolex Rookie of the Year. Lee6 is well accustomed to making splashy debuts at the U.S. Women’s Open. In 2017, she tied for fifth in her first start.
She now has five top-10 finishes in just 10 professional major championships. It could well be that history will look back on her triumph in Charleston as the beginning of something special.
Sunday was a special cap to a scintillating week as Lee6 held off 2011 U.S. Women’s Open champion So Yeon Ryu, 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior titleholder Lexi Thompson and long-hitting 20-year-old Angel Yin, who all tied for second. If this was the beginning of something big for Lee6, she picked the appropriate place.
Golf in Charleston is traced to 1739 when the first clubs arrived from Scotland, and the first organized golf club emerged in 1786. The Country Club of Charleston was engraved on its present site by Raynor from 1923 to 1925. Part of the club’s rich history is Beth Daniel, who twice won the U.S. Women’s Amateur as well as being a two-time member of the USA Curtis Cup Team.
Daniel was a proud host for this year’s Women’s Open, and what she saw was a display of golf that showcased the depth and breadth of talent in the women’s game. The field of 156 had players from 29 countries, including college sensations Maria Fassi of Mexico and American Jennifer Kupcho, who were making their professional debuts, with Fassi finishing T-12 and Kupcho T-62.
Mamiko Higa of Japan, playing in her first U.S. Women's Open, shot a 6-under-par 65 to take a one-stroke lead over Ester Henseleit of Germany and American amateur Gina Kim in the first round. Lee6 opened with a 70.
A two-hour weather delay pushed completion of the second round into Saturday morning, after which Higa still had a one-stroke lead, this time over Celine Boutier of France and Jessica Korda, with Lee6 pulling within three of the lead with a 69.
A 69 by Boutier and a 66 by Yu Liu of China put the former Duke University teammates into Sunday’s final twosome as they completed 54 holes one stroke head of Higa, Thompson and Jaye Marie Green, with Lee6 two back after another 69.
On Sunday, the Country Club of Charleston bared its teeth, proving itself to be an extremely demanding U.S. Women’s Open test. Lee6 would need to leapfrog five players to get to the top of the leader board, and her steady round of 1-under-par 70 did the trick as the quintet ahead of her struggled in the cauldron of Sunday at the U.S. Women’s Open.
Boutier and Liu both closed with 75s; Green and Higa each carded 74 and Thompson, who made bogeys on three of the first four holes, needed to rally for a 73. A birdie barrage by Lee6 on the back nine – three in five holes beginning on No. 11 – gave her enough of a cushion so she could bogey two of the final three holes and still win by two strokes.
When all was said and done, Lee6 won hearts as well as the championship trophy. She impressed as much with her thoughtful grace as she did with her rock-solid play.
“I apologize that I cannot speak English,” she said before conducting her post-championship interview through a translator.
“I'm still trying really hard,” she said. “I'm still studying for English, so next time if I win the tournament, I will start speaking English.”
Lee6, who was only 4 years old when her father, a truck driver, was paralyzed in a traffic accident, then reached out to her family.
“And, of course, I want to thank my family, who's in Korea right now watching me on TV and supporting me all the time,” she said, fighting back a rush of emotions. “I couldn't imagine it without you guys, with all your support.”
Lee6, who says she is motivated for greatness by the need to support her family, took a negative – being the sixth of six members of the KLPGA with the exact same name of Jeongeun Lee – and turned it into a positive by owning it. She marks her ball with a 6; she has a big 6 on her bag and now people in the gallery call out to her by shouting 6.
“So my goal was, if I win the tournament, I can eat ramen,” she said to laughter about how she would spend her share of the $5.5 million purse, the largest in women’s golf.
“That was my goal,” she said. “If I finish the top five, I can buy shoes. But I can buy shoes and eat ramen. So it's a double.”
There is so much to like about this young woman and now she has the most emphatic way to distinguish herself from any other player of any other name: Now she can be called U.S. Women’s Open champion. Put a 1 next to her name.
|Jeongeun Lee6’s victory marked the 18th win in the last 36 majors for players from the Republic of Korea. She is also the 11th different player in 11 years to win the U.S. Women’s Open.|
|Angel Yin and Gerina Piller posted closing 3-under 68s; Yin moved from T-18 to T-2, while Piller moved from T-22 to T-5.|
|Lydia Ko finished T-39 but made the 28th ace in U.S. Women’s Open history on Sunday on No. 11, the toughest hole for the week.|
|Maria Fassi, 21, of Mexico, the NCAA women’s individual champion, shot 68-70 on the weekend to finish T-12.|
|“If I’ve got to be 100 percent honest, I was just trying to make the cut and make it to the weekend.” – Gina Kim, 19, a rising sophomore at Duke University who finished T-12 to earn low-amateur honors|