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A Thriller at Kemper Lakes

The 2018 KPMG Women’s LPGA Championship at venerable Kemper Lakes Golf Club in Killdeer, IL was the host for the 63rd edition of the second oldest Major in women’s golf.

With very difficult but fair (the USGA please take notice) course conditions, players’ games were tested for any weaknesses.

The LPGA Championship is a very special event for us because our very own East Coast Director of Instruction, Mary Mills, was a two-time Champion of the tournament https://www.birdgolf.com/lpga-championship-tribute-to-mary-mills/ . The LPGA invited Mary to be one of their honored guests this week and it was wonderful to see this amazing lady honored.

After the opening two rounds, the leaderboard was made up of a kaleidoscope of 11 players from 9 countries. A trio of players would share the halfway lead at 6-under par. South Korea’s So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park and 2016 Champion, Canada’s Brooke Henderson led a very tightly bunched field heading into the weekend.

A stroke behind the leaders was Spain’s Carlota Ciganda with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko a shot further back at 4-under. Ko, the former wunderkind and World #1, who is now undergoing her second game overhaul (she left David Ledbetter last fall and began working with ted Oh) at the ripe old age of 21, was in danger of missing the cut after opening with a  2-over par 72. A superb second round of 66 though would catapult her into contention and was perhaps a harbinger of things to come with her game.

Joining Ko at 4-under were Thailand’s Moriya Jutanugarn, who is having a breakout season and is coming out of the large shadow that her older sister Ariya casts, and up-and coming American Annie Park.

In Saturday’s pivotal third round Ryu would take control of the tournament with a superb 5-under par 67. That was enough to give the two-time Major Champion (the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2017 ANA Championship) a three shot advantage over Henderson heading into Sunday’s final round.

Park was one behind Henderson at 7 under after a 71, and American Angel Yin had a 68 to get to into contention at 6-under. Given the separation that Ryu had created with her superb round, the field of contenders was considerably shrunken and it appeared likely that Sunday’s winner would be one of the top four on the leaderboard.

Ko’s return to form was short lived as she stumbled to a 1-over 73 leaving her at 3-under for the Championship and seemingly out of it.

Sunday’s biggest charge came from up and coming Japanese star Nasa Hataoka whose sensational 8-under 64 gave her the clubhouse lead at 10-under.  Hataoka first qualified for the LPGA Tour as a 17-year old in 2016 and won her maiden Tour win at this year’s NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G.

Ryu still had command of the Championship at 12-under until a disastrous double bogie on the par-3 17th hole saw her fall into a tie with Hataoka. To her credit, Ryu made par on her final two holes and she and Hataoka were joined in the playoff by Park who had fashioned a finishing 3-under.

Both Park and Ryu made birdie-3’s on the opening hole of the playoff, while Hataoka could only manage a par, becoming the first player eliminated.

After a short weather delay, Park made her second consecutive birdie on the par-4 16th to claim her second Major Championship. Park won the 2017 U.S. Open in what was a landmark rookie campaign in which the 24-year old captured Rolex Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year awards as well as the money title.

Park has cemented her place as one the game’s brightest stars in a sky filled with them.