Dec 15th, 2020
Debutant Kim wins U.S. Women’s Open
Hat trick of closing birdies delivers title for South Korean
Words: GolfPunk Photography: USGA/Chris Keane/Robert Beck
Both Olson and Ko needed to hole their second shots at the final hole to force a playoff. The miracle shots did not materialise and despite both players birdying the 18th hole they agonisingly came up one shot shy.
Kim closed out the weather-delayed final round at Champions Golf Club on a cold Monday in southeast Texas with three consecutive birdies to edge countrywoman and world number one Jin Young Ko and Amy Olson of the USA.
Kim's four-under-par 67 matched the lowest round of the championship and gave her a three-under total of 281. Hinako Shibuno, the overnight leader, finished two strokes back alone in fourth.
The world number ninety-four in the Rolex Rankings coming into the event becomes the 10th different Korean to claim the Harton S. Semple Trophy since Se Ri Pak’s breakthrough moment for South Korean golf at Blackwolf Run in 1998.
Kim is also the third Korean in the last fifteen years to win the U.S. Women's Open championship in her first start, joining Birdie Kim (2005) and In Gee Chun (2015). Even more amazingly, this was Kim’s first-ever competition in the United States and her first women’s major.
“Can't really describe it in words,” said Kim through a translator. “I never expected that I was going to appear in the U.S. Women's Open. I still can't feel what it's like right now, but I'll probably feel it when the ceremony and everything wrap up today.”
The championship had to be completed on Monday due to torrential rain on Sunday that saturated the Cypress Creek Course. It is only the second time the event has been completed on a Monday other than for a playoff.
As the temperature hovered around the mid-40s with a biting wind the practice ground resembled the nursery slopes of a ski resort with an array of woolly hats, earmuffs and padded jackets.
Starting the round five strokes behind Shibuno in a tie for ninth, Kim played most of the final round under the radar. All eyes were on the trio of Shibuno, the 'Smiling Cinderella' winner of the AIG Women’s British Open in 2019; 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Amy Olson, who was looking for her first professional win; and Moriya Jutanugarn, the 26-year-old from Thailand who was seeking to match younger sister Ariya's feat of winning a U.S. Women’s Open championship.
Shibuno struggled from the off, her incredible short game keeping her nose ahead but it always seemed to be a matter of time before she would give up shots.
Olson meanwhile got off to an awful start with three straight bogeys before she found her game. Bouncing back with two straight birdies followed by a string of pars she was clear favourite as the players entered the final few holes.
Olson who was playing under the cloud of the loss of her father-in-law on Saturday evening could not find the birdie she needed to put daylight between her and the field. The turning point came at the short 16th where Olson's tee shots overshot the green and she failed to get up and down for a par.
Given Lim's finish Olson suddenly found herself two back from the new leader and could only find one of the two birdies she needed in the last two holes to take the event to extra holes.
“Obviously super mixed emotions,” said Olson, who was looking to add the U.S. Women’s Open to her U.S. Girls’ Junior title.
“It was a long day yesterday not being able to play, but I did get some good rest. Coming out this morning I had no idea what to expect. It was just one of those things I felt very weak and helpless the last couple days, and probably same way today on the golf course. I really believe the Lord just carried me through. It just makes you realize how much bigger life is than golf.”
Another player that quietly tiptoed through the field was Jin Young Ko. As the leaders started to drop shots the word number one move into contention with a two-under front nine. However, like many, she was tripped up by the slope on the 10th green three-putting to drop back to level par.
Despite not being able to find a birdie until the 16th hole Ko still looked like a possible winner that is until her countrywoman spoiled the script!
“This week is my best finish at the U.S. Open, so I can play next week as well. I'm really thankful. This season is too tough with coronavirus, so I want to say thanks to USGA and all the volunteers,” said Ko after her tied second finish which earns her a spot in next week’s season-ending LPGA Tour event in Naples, Florida.
Kaitlyn Papp ended as the top amateur after an impressive top ten finish. Papp closed with a creditable three-over-par 74 to end in a tie for ninth on three-over for the event and two clear of her nearest rivals Gabriela Ruffells of Australia and Sweden's Maja Stark.
Linnea Strom was the leading European player alongside her countrywoman Stark. England's Charley Hull and Bronte Law finished in a log jam of players tied for thirtieth on eight-over one shot ahead of Women's Open champion Sophia Popov.