Looking back on a thrilling year in the major championships
The women’s majors are over for another year, and a what a fascinating five events it has been ever since the curtain-raiser at the ANA Inspiration back in March, and then just last week the Evian Resort played host to a nail-biting finale at the Evian Championship. Keel Timmins revisits the year’s major stories…
The opening major of the year has always brought drama – last year Lexi Thompson was addressed a four-shot penalty after marking her ball incorrectly, managed to regroup to make a play-off, and then lost to So Yeon Ryu. The year before, Lydia Ko was handed the title on a platter after Ariya Jutanugarn suffered a late meltdown as she finished with three straight bogeys. And back in 2012, In-Kyung Kim missed a one-foot putt on the final green for the win and then went on to lose a playoff to Sun Young Yoo.
This year’s renewal certainly didn’t disappoint, either.
It was an incredibly tight leaderboard on Sunday, with the likes of Jutanugarn, Jessica Korda, Charley Hull and Sung Hyun Park all with chances to win. But the resulting play-off couldn’t have been contested by a more diverse trio: Hall of Famer Inbee Park, former US Amateur Champion Jennifer Song, and the winless Swedish veteran Pernilla Lindberg.
Song was the first to wilt, failing to match the birdies of her opponents on the third extra hole. When Park and Lindberg exchanged pars on the next in almost complete darkness, it was settled: they’d be coming back the following morning to settle things for good.
After three straight pars on Monday morning, Lindberg made a birdie-bomb on the par-4 10th, and Park had no answer. It took eight play-off holes and over 190 starts on the LPGA Tour, but Lindberg was finally a major and LPGA champion for the first time.
US Women’s Open
Ariya Jutanugarn broke through to win her first and only major of her career at the British Open in 2016, but over the years, the long-hitting Thai star has been susceptible to major meltdowns.
When she held a commanding four-shot lead at Shoal Creek heading into the final round, and then opened up with a blistering front-nine 32 in brutally tough scoring conditions on Sunday, it seemed as though she was well on her way to her second major trophy.
That was until a triple-bogey on 10, a missed birdie chance at the par-5 11th, and a further bogey at the 12th. Jutanugarn still held a comfortable lead, but Korea’s Hyo-Joo Kim was tearing up the golf course and managed to post 11-under.
A birdie at the 16th restored some parity for Jutanugarn, but she then made a monumental mess of the par-5 17th and made bogey – she needed a par down the 18th to win. After putting her approach into the green-side bunker and failing to get up and down, the winner would be decided via a play-off, and with Jutanugarn clearly not in the right head-space, Kim was surely the favourite.
Kim took the early lead with a birdie at the first, which she then gave back with a bogey at the second. The playoff then moved on to sudden-death, and thanks to an exquisite bunker shot on the fourth extra hole, Jutanugarn won after Kim failed to make her 15-footer for par. Why did we ever doubt her?
KPMG Women’s PGA Championship
Major drama continued into the PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes. So Yeon Ryu held a three-shot advantage over Brooke Henderson going into the final round, and when Ryu double-bogeyed the second hole, she opened the tournament up to the rest of the field.
But the Korean battled back with three straight birdies, and went into the final two holes with a two-shot advantage over Sung Hyun Park and Nasa Hataoka, who had just posted a blistering 64 to get into the clubhouse at 10-under.
The par-3 17th was a devilish little hole; it wasn’t particularly long, but there’s water left of the green and the wind was howling out of the right. Ryu’s ball started out to the right, but the wind got a hold of it and pulled it into the hazard. She’d go on to make another double-bogey and, with a par up the 18th, a major would be decided by a play-off for the third straight time.
Hataoka was eliminated with a par at the first extra hole, so the tournament would be contested between the two great Korean rivals, Ryu and Park. Ryu’s birdie attempt rolled agonisingly wide on the second, and Park then compiled the damage by rolling in her birdie to win her second major. For Ryu, this was one that got away.
Ricoh Women’s British Open
The British Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes was all about one player: Georgia Hall.
Well, it wasn’t quite that simple, but it certainly felt like that on the Sunday afternoon when the flocks of British golf fans descended onto the famous Lancashire links to cheer on the Bournemouth 22-year-old who was looking to make history.
For Hall, there was just one obstacle: Pornanong Phatlum, the 16-time worldwide winner who was quite simply enjoying the tournament of her life. The Thai player was a prolific winner, but she had never won on the LPGA Tour and her best previous finish in a major was over four years ago, a T7 at the US Open.
For Hall and Phatlum, this was uncharted territory, but it didn’t stop the two from playing out one of the most incredible duels seen in Women’s British Open history.
Combined, the two made seven birdies in the opening six holes and neither looked to be showing any signs of relenting.
From the 13th onward, Hall began to turn the screw, picking up shots at 13, 15 and 16 as a result of arrow-straight driving, terrific approach play and a delicate putting touch. When Phatlum double bogeyed the brutal 17th, Hall had a three-shot lead going down the final hole. A closing bogey and the title was hers, becoming the first British woman to win their home trophy since Catriona Matthew in 2009, and the first English player since Karen Stupples in 2004.
The final major of the year at the Evian Resort has often been incredibly unlucky with the weather, having shortened the tournament to 54-holes twice in the previous five years. This time around, the weather was perfect as America’s Amy Olson took a two-shot lead over Sei Young Kim into the final round.
Olson held her never superbly early on, but she would’ve been looking over her shoulder at the move Angela Stanford was making in the final round.
Stanford, the 40-year-old veteran who had never won a major, picked up shots at two of the opening four holes to close the gap, and she eventually drew level with Olson at the top after a stunning eagle at the par-5 15th, where her fairway wood approach rolled to within five feet.
On the very next hole, a par 3 over water, Stanford seemingly threw her chances away after missing the green right and taking several poor chips on the way to a double bogey.
Incredibly, on the par-4 17th, she immediately put the disappointment behind her by rolling in a huge birdie putt to get within one, but when her birdie putt somehow failed to drop on the 18th, it seemed as though her chance of winning was over with Olson still holding the advantage.
The winless Olson stood on the 18th tee knowing that she needed just a par to win. She hooked her drive into thick rough and then failed to advance her ball out of the rough with her second. She still faced a daunting approach over the water from the rough, but she played it superbly as it rolled into the middle of the green where she would have a lengthy putt to win.
Olson raced her par putt by five feet, which she needed to make to take Stanford to a play-off. Painfully, she left her par putt short, handing Stanford the title.
For Stanford, 18 years and 77 attempts later, she is now a major champion, in the most incredible fashion.
Where will the 2019 majors be held?
ANA Inspiration: Mission Hills Country Club
US Women’s Open: Country Club of Charleston
Women’s PGA Championship: Hazeltine National Golf Club
Women’s British Open: Woburn Golf Club
Evian Championship: Evian Resort Golf Club