CHARLESTON, S.C. – When Celine Boutier’s bunker shot rolled back off the green, the crowd standing around the 18th at the Country Club of Charleston turned around to find Jeongeun Lee6. The 23-year-old South Korean was on the practice putting green preparing for a possible playoff when she realized that she’d won the 74th U.S. Women’s Open. Lee6 bent over as the weight of the moment sunk in and emotions poured out.
It was a beautiful scene.
As Ladies European Tour player Meghan MacLaren so eloquently stated, “It isn’t names that win major championships, it’s people.”
It is not lost on most that Hank Haney’s prediction came true. A player named Lee did win the U.S. Women’s Open. No one disputes the way South Koreans have dominated this championship (eight of the last 12 U.S. Women’s Opens) and majors in general (18 of the last 36).
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Jeongeun Lee6 holds the trophy after winning the U.S. Women's Open. (Photo: Jasen Vinlove, USA TODAY Sports)
South Korean players are an extraordinary force in the women’s game. Haney wasn’t trying to educate his listeners of that fact, though he tried to pass it off as such in subsequent tweets after the championship. Haney even managed to spell her name wrong while patting himself on the back. The fact that he doubled down on his position after being suspended from SiriusXM at the instruction of the PGA Tour is baffling.
Haney admitted on his radio show on Wednesday that he was unaware that the U.S. Women’s Open was being held this week and said that he couldn’t name six players.
Lee6 said she didn’t pay attention to Haney’s comments and her limited English made it difficult to understand. The LPGA rookie is taking English classes online twice a week while traveling the globe. She opened up her winner’s news conference with an apology.
“Next time if I win the tournament, I will speak in English,” she said through an interpreter.
What began as a wide open race among a bevy of stars and up-and-comers looked all but over as Lee6 built a three-shot lead with three to play. Bogeys from Lee6 on two of the last three holes, however, tightened it up until Boutier’s bunker troubles on the 18th. It felt like an episode of “Survivor” broke out in the Charleston sauna.
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Jeongeun Lee6 after winning the U.S. Women's Open at Country Club of Charleston on June 2, 2018. Photo: Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports
It was a barrage of missed putts and mediocre wedge play on a Seth Raynor design that shined throughout the week. Lee was the only player in the last five groups who broke par.
In the end, Lee finished at 6-under 278, a fitting number for a player who goes by the nickname “Lucky 6.” The first time she won in South Korea she finished at 6 under, too.
This player has kismet for days.
Lee puts a “6” at the end of her name because there were five other players with the same name on the Korean LPGA when she joined. She won six times on the KLPGA before taking medalist honors at the inaugural LPGA Q-Series last fall to earn her LPGA card. She even marks her ball with the number.
Lee’s consistency on the LPGA this season – her worst finish in nine starts is T-26 – put her atop the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings two weeks ago.
Her veteran caddie, Adam Woodward, said playing in front of large galleries in South Korea as the tour’s money leader helped her to handle a stage of his magnitude with poise.
“There’s no substitute for winning in Korea,” he said.
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Jeongeun Lee6 is sprayed with champagne by So Yeon Ryu after winning the U.S. Women's Open at Country Club of Charleston. Photo: Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports
Lee actually thought about quitting the game while playing in in her homeland because she felt the players there were too competitive.
She finds the vibe on the LPGA more appealing.
Becoming the first player to collect a $1 million paycheck for winning a major helps, too.
When she was 4 years old, Lee’s father, Jung Ho Lee, a truck driver by trade, fell asleep at the wheel while driving through the night. The accident left him paralyzed.
Lee’s parents don’t travel with her in the U.S. because it’s too complicated and costly to get around with her father’s wheelchair. Because neither of her parents work, being able to support her family financially is a big motivation for her success.
“Looking at my family situation back then,” she said, “I thought about wanting to play golf because I wanted to support my family no matter what.”
As the last group came up the 18th hole, So Yeon Ryu stood near the scoring area with a bottle of champagne waiting at her feet. Ryu won this championship eight years ago for her first victory in the U.S. and eventually rose to No. 1 in the world.
What did the thoughtful Ryu make of Haney’s comments?
“I am hoping more people are going to recognize women’s golf,” said Ryu. “To be honest, I sort of feel like because of what he said, maybe people will start to look on the LPGA more because they might feel sort of shame not to know LPGA golf, and they don’t want to be dumb like Hank Haney. It could be like noise marketing.
“I’m trying to see the bright side.”
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