South Korea’s Choi Na-yeon survived a tumultuous four-hole stretch after the turn to win her first major title by four shots at the US Women’s Open in Kohler, Wisconsin, on Sunday.
A commanding six strokes ahead of the chasing pack overnight, Choi triple-bogeyed the 10th and did well to salvage pars at the 12th and 13th, before regaining momentum to close with a one-over 73 at Blackwolf Run.
The 24-year-old birdied the 15th and 16th in dazzling sunshine and shrugged off a bogey at the last for a seven-under total of 281, finishing four ahead of her fellow South Korean and playing partner Amy Yang (71).
World No. 5 Choi embraced her caddie in delight, before being showered in champagne by her compatriots after becoming the sixth South Korean to win the US Women’s Open and the fifth in the past eight years.
After being presented with the champion’s medal and the glittering US Women’s Open trophy, Choi was asked greenside how she had recovered from her triple-bogey at the 10th.
“I tried to forget it from there and then I had a really good [birdie] bounce-back on 11,” she replied with a smile. “I also had a really good save for par on 12, so I got some momentum from 11 and 12, and that’s how I kept it going until the 18th hole.”
With her US Women’s Open triumph, Choi emulated fellow South Koreans Pak Se-ri (at Blackwolf Run in 1998), Birdie Kim (2005), Park In-bee (2008), Ji Eun-hee (2009) and Ryu So-yeon (2011).
“Actually, before Se-ri won in 1998, my dream was just being a professional golfer, but after I watched her [win], she really inspired me to be a LPGA player. So I really appreciate what Seri did before and she is a legend in [South] Korea,” said Choi, who was projected to climb to second in the world rankings.
Five-time major champion Pak, whose victory 14 years ago sparked the South Korean surge at the highest level in women’s golf, led the charge on to the 18th green to congratulate Choi with champagne bottle in hand.
“She said: ‘Hey, Na-yeon, I’m really proud of you. You did a really good job.’ She talked to me a lot and she was hugging me,” Choi said. “And 14 years later, I’m here right now and I made it. My dreams have come true. It’s an amazing day.”
Germany’s Sandra Gal signed off with a 74 to end up alone in third place at one-over, her first top 10 in a major championship.
Shanshan Feng, the first player from China to win a major title with victory at last month’s LPGA Championship, closed with a 71 to share fourth place at two-over with South Korea’s Lee Il-hee (70) and Italy’s Giulia Sergas (72).
In pursuit of her sixth victory on the LPGA Tour, Choi made a stumbling start to the final round with a bogey on the opening hole, but she maintained her advantage after Yang also faltered.
Both players birdied the par-four fourth, before Yang picked up a shot at the ninth to trim Choi’s lead to five.
Choi, who reached the turn in an even-par 36, made a complete hash of the par-five 10th where she lost her ball after a wayward drive and went on to record a nervy triple-bogey for her lead to be cut to just two.
However, she responded with a “bounce-back” birdie at the 11th after hitting a superb approach to five feet to stretch her cushion to three strokes.
Choi did remarkably well to save par at the 12th, sinking a 20-footer after her approach had ended up in thick grass to the left of the green.