WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) — Minjee Lee didn’t get the dousing with champagne often afforded a winner on the LPGA Tour.
Instead, she signed autographs and posed for photos with fans behind the 18th green on the Kingsmill Resort’s River Course, waiting to see if her two-shot lead would hold up through the final pairing.
When it did, the surprise of victory was more than enough for the 18-year-old Australian.
“I didn’t think this moment would come this year, so I’m stoked to have won,” Lee said after overcoming a three-putt bogey on her first hole in the morning with a pair of clinching pars.
“Just because I won in my rookie season, I feel like I could probably do it again.”
Lee, who turned pro in September, had already seen fellow rookies Sei Young Kim and Hyo Joo Kim win tournaments this season. She joined them thanks to a blistering charge to the lead Sunday night.
She was 5 under over a five-hole stretch and started Monday with a four-shot lead over Alison Lee.
Her three-putt bogey from about 15 feet on the par-4 16th, coupled with Alison Lee’s birdie on the par-5 15th, cut the lead in half, but she made good on her plan to finish with pars for the victory. Her closing round was a 6-under 65.
Her 15-under 269 total also made her the seventh player to win on tour before her 19th birthday, joining a very accomplished group that includes top-ranked Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson and Paula Creamer.
And it made her goal coming into the week obsolete because the victory earned her a spot in the U.S. Open.
“I’ve had a pretty good start to the season, but I didn’t really see this coming. … I was actually trying to get ready to play the (U.S. Open) qualifier,” she said, “but I don’t have to anymore.”
Very briefly after the 7 a.m. start Monday, Lee looked to be in trouble.
Having marked her ball on No. 16 when darkness halted play Sunday night, she knocked her first putt about 4 feet past the hole, then missed the comebacker. She didn’t let the mistake bother her, helped perhaps by not knowing that Alison Lee had birdied the par-5 15th to get within two shots.
A pair of two-putt pars made the lead stand, earning her a $195,000 winner’s check.
So Yeon Ryu, who began the day six shots off the pace, started with three consecutive birdies and finished second, with Alison Lee dropping into third after making a bogey on the final hole.
“Sometimes early morning my body is still not awake, but this morning my body condition was even better than yesterday,” Ryu said. “So I pretty much made every shot and every putt.”
After her birdie at No. 15, Alison Lee’s approaches to Nos. 16 and 17 left her with long putts.
“On 16 and 17, I felt like I hit two good putts, but they didn’t go in,” the 20-year-old UCLA student said. “And on 18, I just kind of gave up on myself and I shouldn’t have done that. I should have finished strong.”
Like Minjee Lee, Alison Lee had planned to play in a U.S. Open qualifier near Richmond on Monday. The USGA allowed her to switch to another sectional qualifying site Tuesday at Goose Creek Golf Club in Mira Loma, California.
Perrine Delacour of France, the leader entering the final round, closed with a 71 and wound up fourth, easily the best finish of her three-year career. Ko tied for 16th at 5 under.
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