Minjee Lee rounded off a perfect 22nd birthday with one-shot victory over I.K. Kim at the LPGA Volvik Championship in Ann Arbor in Michigan this morning.
The win was Lee’s 4th LPGA Tour title and was sealed with a dramatic birdie at the par-five 18th hole.
The victory was extra special for the West Australian coming on her 22nd birthday and is redemption for the playoff loss to Lydia Ko at the MEDIHEAL Championship four weeks ago and her runner-up finish in this event in 2017.
The victory was worth US$195,000 to Lee and takes her season earnings to US$628,726, moving her up to 4th place on both the LPGA Money List and the Race to the CME Globe table.
The pressure was clearly on Lee from the start of the day, the talented Perth resident had already notched three LPGA wins by the age of 20 but had gone 0-for-her-last-38 LPGA starts since winning the 2016 Blue Bay Championship.
Beginning the day with a two-shot lead, Lee was off to a brilliant start with birdies at the 2nd, 4th and 5th holes to make the turn in 33, maintaining her two-stroke overnight advantage. Kim, playing in the group ahead of Lee, became Lee’s closest challenger after making four birdies in six holes from the eighth to get within one stroke of the lead. The Korean narrowly missed an eagle putt on the 14th which would have been to take the outright lead, but when she missed a putt from a metre on the 15th and Lee also birdied the par 5 14th hole the margin was again two strokes.
Lee looked to be cruising to victory with two-shot lead walking onto the 17th green, but when Kim closed out with a tap-in birdie on the 18th hole and Lee, moments later, missed a two-metre par putt the pair were again tied for the lead at 15 under par.
The long-hitting Australian drove down the right side of the 18th fairway, leaving herself only 175 metres to the front of the green on the 435-metre par-5 closing hole, but needed to cut her 5-iron around the tall trees standing in her way if she was going to find the green.
Lee started the ball a little too far right of her target and as it headed towards the trees she could only watch on anxiously. Lady luck was once again on her side and the ball sailed through the trees ending in a perfect position just short right of the green. Lee’s facial expression said it all as she knew she had just dodged a bullet and that stroke of luck had probably sealed the victory.
Lee was left with a simple pitch and run which she played beautifully, leaving less than a metre short of the hole and made no mistake confidently holing the putt for a birdie and a one-stroke victory.
Lee’s fourth LPGA win was an exhibition in ball-striking and rock-solid putting. She made only three bogeys over 72 holes and in this kind of form is no doubt equal to the very best in the world.
Lee held off not only I.K Kim but also bold challenges from Moriya Jutanugarn and a four-month pregnant Stacy Lewis, Lewis blundering over the final stages with a double bogey and bogey at her final two holes.
Lee’s final round 68 left her at 16-under-par 272, one stroke better than Kim and two better than Moriya Jutanugarn who finished alone in third place.
Lindy Duncan and Lee’s compatriot Su Oh, who produced her best LPGA Tour finish in nearly 12 months and reversed what has been to date a very ordinary season in 2018, finished in fourth place at 275, with Megan Khang alone in 6th place at 276.
Lee’s win made her the 13th different winner in 13 events on the LPGA Tour in 2018.
For Lee the victory could not come at a better time ahead of the second LPGA major of the year, the US Women’s Open in Alabama this week.
Lee is never one to give much away in interviews and played down the significance ahead of what will no doubt be a demanding test next week,
“Not really,” Lee responded when asked by on course commentator Gerry Foltz how this win will assist next week. “Next week is going to be a totally different week. I know I am hitting it pretty solid and putting solid so hopefully I will have a great week."
Of the other Australians in the field this week Sarah Jane Smith showed glimpses of her 2017 form finishing 32nd, while Hannah Green finished 63rd.
Next stop on the LPGA Tour is to Shoal Creek in Alabama for the US$5 million US Women's Open where Tropical Storm Alberto threatens to create havoc for the practice rounds and will no doubt make the long, tree-lined course play even longer.
Keep track of news and stories on our website alpg.com.au
Facebook page “Australian Ladies Professional Golf Official”
Twitter page @ALPGTour
Youtube channel “GameOnALPG”