KPMG Women’s PGA Championship

KPMG Women’s PGA Championship

Ten different champions in the last 10 women’s majors and this may have been the most unexpected of all. Hannah Green entered the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship ranked 114th on the Rolex Rankings. Six previous majors had brought three missed cuts and a best result of 16th. In a season and a half on the LPGA the Australian had not finished higher than third. Although she won three times on the Symetra Tour in 2017 and was runner-up to Jin Young Ko for LPGA Rookie of the Year honors in 2018, the 22-year-old from Perth had to date been overshadowed by compatriots Minjee Lee, the world No. 3, and Su Oh, a winner in Australia and a three-time runner-up on the LPGA.

No longer. Not after a command performance at Hazeltine National which saw Green secure a wire-to-wire victory with a sand save on the final hole that Karrie Webb described as “world class.” For two days on the weekend playing alongside Ariya Jutanugarn, the undisputed player of 2018, Green turned from plucky newcomer into a gritty and determined champion. It was the Thai who ultimately wilted, coming home in 40 on Sunday for a 77. Green faced her own adversity when she made three bogeys in four holes around the turn on the final day — having recorded only three over the previous three days. A fine chip to save par at the 13th stopped the rot and then she hit her best drive of the week at the 16th before holing from 20 feet for a birdie that gave her a two-shot cushion.

Still the trophy was not won. Defending champion Sung Hyun Park was the only player to score four sub-par rounds and with a last desperate, brilliant stroke — a curling putt from almost 18 feet — she birdied the 18th, the most difficult hole on the course, to get within one. Green knew immediately from the roar that she needed a par at the last, but a poor four iron up the hill was pulled into the greenside bunker. A fine recovery left a five-footer for par. Her hands were shaking, she admitted — how could they not be? — but the putt was holed.

“I was really nervous playing the last five holes,” Green said. “I’m so relieved I don’t have to play 18 again for a playoff.” How do you explain this week, she was asked? “I have no idea. I can’t believe I’m in this position right now. I’ve always wanted to win an event and to win a major championship as my first is crazy.”

Green was engulfed on the 18th green by her supporters, including boyfriend Jarryd Felton, an Australasian Tour professional, Oh and Webb. Green was the third Australian woman to win a major after Webb and Jan Stephenson. Also present were Grace Kim and Becky Kay, two Australian junior players who as part of their Webb scholarships got to stay with Webb, Green and Oh for the week. The pair’s garish outfits had given Green a smile every time she spotted them in the gallery.

Since 2008 Webb has brought promising young Australians over to the States so they can see what a major championship looks like close up. Green attended the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open, her first time on site at a professional tournament. “Without a doubt getting to know Karrie,” Green rated the best part of the experience. “Being able to stay in a house with her, watching everything she does in a tournament, it definitely gave me a big insight into what it was like. I’m very grateful to her and I know everyone that has had her scholarship is very grateful too.” Hazeltine National, where America beat Europe in the 2016 Ryder Cup, has thrown up the odd unexpected winner in the past — Rich Beem and Y.E. Yang (over Tiger Woods) in the PGA Championship, for example. Tony Jacklin and Payne Stewart won U.S. Opens on the layout, while Sandra Spuzich and Hollis Stacy won the U.S. Women’s Open here. For Spuzich, in 1966, it was also her first LPGA victory.

At 6,807 yards, the course was the longest in the championship’s history and a cool, occasionally windy, and mostly wet opening day saw only 16 players break par. Hyo Joo Kim led at lunchtime on three-under-par 69, which was matched by England’s Melissa Reid and beaten only by Green’s bogey-free 68. The Australian dislikes wearing waterproof trousers so soldiered on in only shorts and a not, as it turned out, very waterproof top. Green took the lead by holing out from a bunker at the seventh, her 16th, for her fourth birdie of the day. The key to the round was actually her putting. Making up for an indifferent long game, she made 11 one-putts and had only 23 in total. “I don’t think I ever had a tap-in for my par putts when I missed the green,” she said. “Nearly every hole was a six-footer. I made all of them.”

Jutanugarn and Park both opened with 70s. For the first time all season Jutanugarn carried a driver in her bag and used it twice, although at the 11th, her second hole, it led to a bogey-six. She dispensed with the club after the 15th and did not use it the rest of the week. Three birdies in her last four holes put the Thai in contention, while Nelly Korda and Lexi Thompson had 72s, Jeongeun Lee 6 a 73 and Jin Young Ko a 77.

Michelle Wie, in her first round for two months in another comeback following wrist surgery in October 2018, scored 84. Her right wrist needed icing as early as her second hole after tangling with the thick, wet rough. “I’m not entirely sure how much more I have left in me,” she said, close to tears. “So even on the bad days I’m just trying to take time to enjoy it.”

An 82 followed the next day and Wie announced she would take the rest of the year off. Green dropped her first shot of the week at the opening hole on Friday morning but scored a 69 to extend her lead to three at seven under par. The only other player to score in the 60s all day was Jin Young Ko with a 67, 10 better than the day before. With Reid scoring 76, the player closest to Green from her half of the draw was Park, who posted a 71 to be four back. Jutanugarn got within one of Green in the afternoon by going to the turn in 32, including an eagle at the seventh, but she came home in 38 for a 70 to lie second.

The highlight of Green’s second round came at the 12th, where her second shot found the lake short-right of the green. She promptly pitched in from 54 yards for a par. “When it went in,” Green said, “I just laughed because, I guess, with the hole-out on seven yesterday and with the hole-out today, it’s really going my way.”

Staying with a seven-time major champion has its advantages and on Saturday morning, after Webb had read the leader’s interview transcriptions, she had a word with Green. “She had some lucky breaks and that seemed to be a topic, how lucky she had been,” Webb recalled, “and I just wanted to tell her that lucky breaks always happen to people that win. I said, ‘Don’t be embarrassed by them, enjoy them.’”

Webb also reminded the youngster that it would not just be her who was feeling nervous on the weekend. Chatting with the personable Jutanugarn during the third round helped settle Green down, as did holing from 40 feet at the fifth. The Thai went out in 32 but was three behind again after her three iron at the 16th found the reeds alongside Lake Hazeltine. But Jutanugarn had a two at the 17th from six feet and then Green three-putted the last. A 70 put her on nine under, with Jutanugarn on eight under after a 68. Lizette Salas, also with a 68, and Korda, with a 69, were on five under, with Park on four under following a 71. On the same mark was Sei Young Kim, who holed out for an eagle at the 14th in a best-of-the-day 67.

After an Australian barbecue at the house on Saturday evening, Green birdied two of the first seven holes to go four ahead once Jutanugarn had bogeyed the eighth. However, a three-putt from Green at the ninth sparked a run of three dropped shots in four holes. Although Jutanugarn was off her game, suddenly Korda, after birdies at the fifth and seventh holes, was only one behind. But the American bogeyed the par-five 15th and had to settle for a 71 to finish on six under par in a share of third place. Reid got to the same mark with a 66, although the lowest score of the week came from 2018 runner-up Nasa Hataoka with a 65. Salas, playing with Green and Jutanugarn in the final threeball, had a 72 to share fifth place with former champion Danielle Kang.

Park was three behind Green after a bogey at the 12th, but the Korean made a birdie-four at the 15th, came close at both 16 and 17 before burying her putt at the last for a 68. That forced Green to get up and down at the last for a 72 and a one-stroke victory on a nine-under-par total of 279. Webb, bursting with pride, was thrilled with how her compatriot had handled herself. “It’s taken her 12 to 18 months to feel she belongs out here,” Webb said, “and what a way to show it. The way she played for four days leading a major wire to wire, that’s really impressive. And the up-and-down on the last was world class.”

On the front nine, Green had been handed a note by a young girl. “I got a cute little poem saying that I had given her a ball at the ANA and also said, ‘You can win this.’ A couple of times on the back nine when I was feeling nervous and had some time, I actually read it to myself. I have to thank Lily for writing that. I think it really helped me.”


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