Jeongeun Lee6 illustrated that she is more than an LPGA Tour rookie with a confusing name, outdueling a posse of challengers and earning $1 million by winning the 74th U.S. Women’s Open on Sunday.
She shared the spotlight on a sultry Sunday with the venue, the venerable Country Club of Charleston layout that proved itself worthy of the description supplied by USGA senior managing director of championships John Bodenhamer: “Fantastic.”
“There are six players on the (Korean Tour) with the same name, and I am the sixth player with the name,” Lee6 said in explaining why she added the number to her last name.
But no one by any name could match the Republic of Korea native in the most prestigious championship in women’s golf. She began the final round two strokes off the pace, seized the lead with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 11 and 12, and survived bogeys on two of her final three holes.
“Six” — she says she prefers that moniker — moved three clear with a birdie at the par-5 15th and withstood the wobbly finish to collect her first victory in the U.S. Her 1-under-par 70 on Sunday gave her left her at 6-under 278 for the week
Her closest pursuer toward the end, third-round co-leader Celine Boutier, wasted an opportunity by lipping out a short birdie putt on No. 16. With Lee6 making bogey after a wayward drive at the last, Boutier then needed to birdie one of her final two holes to force a playoff.
Instead, she parred the 17th and made double-bogey on 18, falling into a tie for fifth after Sunday’s 75.
The trio sharing second, two shots back at 280, included Lexi Thompson, who shot 73 Sunday, Angel Yin, after a final 68, and So Yeon Ryu, who finished with 70.
This day in the sun for the Country Club of Charleston course, which dates to 1925, has been a decade in the making. The Seth Raynor design annually stages one of the country’s top amateur events, but one member wondered if the course could expand its influence.
Frank Ford III, a Charleston member and an accomplished amateur golfer who has served on USGA committees, made inquiries, and the club received the opportunity to host the 2013 U.S. Amateur.
“The USGA and the players loved the experience,” Ford said Sunday.
What next for the club?
“Tom O’Toole (then USGA president) asked me, ‘When are you going to ask us back?’ ” Ford said. Maybe that’s not proper etiquette, but Ford said, “We did ask, and here we are.”
The experience earned rave reviews.
Lydia Ko, who illustrated the notorious 11th hole can be conquered by making a hole-in-one there Sunday, called the Charleston layout “a great representation of golf courses. It’s not tricked up. It’s right in front of you, but it can play really tough. ... A great venue.”
“Really tough” proved prophetic to those who started the day within four shots of the lead. Only Lee6 broke par.
Ford, the general chairman, felt all pieces of the puzzle came together “as close to as perfect as it could have been. We wanted the players to have a great experience, and they have. And the golf course has proved itself to be a great test of championship golf.”
No doubt about that, Paula Creamer said.
“The crowds, the venue here, it’s been awesome,” she said. It’s a good U.S. Open venue for sure.”
Said Gerina Piller, who shared fifth place: “It’s phenomenal. The place is great. The golf course is great.”
The USGA likes its championship courses to play firm and fast, and Charleston certainly did. Superintendent Paul Corder and his staff drew accolades for the conditioning.
“What more could anyone want?” Ford asked. “The quality of the golf course should be no secret. Look at the players who has won the Azalea (amateur) and gone on to have great careers. If you can play well here, you can play well anywhere.”
Now that the course has proved its quality emphatically, what’s next?
“A lot goes into putting on a tournament like this, and we probably need a rest,” Ford said. “Two major championships in seven years is a lot.”
But no one will be surprised if the USGA calls again. And soon.
How SC golfers fared at Open
Austin Ernst, Seneca: 71-73-72-74—290. After an early birdie, she made four bogeys over her final 13 holes and finished 6 over par for the tourney.
Mi Hyang Lee, Blythewood resident: 71-73-73-70—287. She had her best round of the week with two birdies and a lone bogey and posting 3 over par for the week.
Nanna Madsen, Former USC player: 73-71-66-74—284. After making the turn in even par for the day and 3-under for the tournament, she made double-bogey on the par-4 10th to fall from contention.
Sarah Schmelzel, Former USC player: Missed cut.
Heather Young, Clemson assistant golf coach: Missed cut.