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Minjee Lee Wins First LPGA Title at Kingsmill Championship

Minjee Lee, an 18-year-old Korean Australian rookie, won her first LPGA title on Monday at the Kingsmill Championship in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Lee, who turned pro last September, stumbled to a three-putt bogey at the 16th hole on Sunday before the play was halted due to darkness. The next morning, the teen 2-putted for par on the final two holes, and then waited to see if anyone would catch her.

Alison Lee, 20, had a chance to match Lee, but after she had birdied the par-5 15th, she bogeyed on the final hole and dropped to third. Meanwhile, Ryu So-yeon, 24, shot three straight birdies to jump minus-13 and parred the last to finish in second place.

Lee’s pair of clinching pars cemented her victory, earning her a $195,000 winner’s check.

“I didn’t think this moment would come this year, so I’m stoked to have won,” Lee told the Associated Press. “Just because I won in my rookie season, I feel like I could probably do it again.”

With her new title, Lee became the seventh player to win on tour before her 19th birthday. Alongside Korean golfers Kim Sei-young and Kim Hyo-joo, Lee is also the third rookie to win a tournament this year.

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Featured image courtesy of Gabrielroux.com.mx/LPGA.com

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Lydia Ko Defends Her Title at Lake Merced

by DOUG FERGUSON, AP Golf Writer

DALY CITY, Calif. (AP) — The steady hands over important putts. The easy laughter even while playing a sudden-death playoff. Lydia Ko can make it seem like child’s play on the LPGA Tour even as she keeps piling up victories at an alarming rate.

The 18-year-old says she gets just as nervous as anyone else.

“You have to take my word on that,” Ko said with a smile after winning the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic for the second straight year.

It sure didn’t look that way Sunday at Lake Merced. Not after she opened with a pair of bogeys when she needed to make up ground on the leaders. Not after she missed a 6-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to tie for the lead.

Instead, the Korean-born Kiwi calmly sank an 8-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th hole for a 2-under 70 that got her into a playoff with Morgan Pressel. She won on the second extra hole — her third time playing the 18th — by rolling in a 5-foot birdie putt for her second LPGA Tour victory of the season, and the seventh of her career. She now has won five of her last 25 starts on the LPGA Tour.

“She’s very, very impressive and always there,” Pressel said. “At her age, she plays with so much poise and calmness I don’t think you see from other kids her age.”

Pressel caught herself and smiled.

“I guess she’s not a kid anymore,” she added.

Ko celebrated her 18th birthday Friday, and then had cause for another celebration by outlasting Pressel and 17-year-old Brooke Henderson of Canada on a back nine that featured a burst of great shots followed by some sloppy game that turned the final hour into a test of survival.

Ko had reason to believe this week wasn’t going to end favorably for her. Right when she was about to fall three shots behind, Ko made a 40-foot birdie putt on the par-3 15th hole that curled in from the left side on the final turn. And then she chopped up the 16th hole for a bogey and failed to convert a great birdie chance at the 17th.

Just her luck, Pressel and Henderson were struggling, too.

Henderson holed a bunker shot for eagle on the par-5 14th to get within one shot of Pressel, but only as long as it took Pressel to get up-and-down behind the 14th green for birdie to stretch the margin to two shots.

Pressel made bogey on the next two holes. Henderson chunked a chip on the 15th and made bogey.

“I think it’s always very close whenever I play this event,” Ko said.

A year ago, she had to make a 6-foot birdie on the last hole to hang on for a one-shot victory. She learned then that every shot counts, so Ko figured she had wasted a chance when she missed her short birdie try on the 17th hole for a chance to catch Pressel.

“I said, ‘If I want to put some pressure, I need to make a birdie or better on 18,'” Ko said. “Ended up being good for that. But yeah, this tournament always makes my heart clench. I got so nervous. It’s a good thing they’re going in the hole.”

It was a crushing loss for Pressel, who missed a playoff at the ANA Inspiration by one shot earlier this month and has not won on the LPGA since 2008 at Kapalua. It was a wild day for Pressel, who made a 40-foot eagle putt on the front nine, along with missing three putts from about 4 feet — two for birdie, one for par — that kept her from getting some separation she could have used.

Pressel had a 15-foot birdie putt for the win on the 18th in regulation. She missed and shot 72.

Ko was on the putting green listening for a cheer that never happened. She figured the 18th would come down to putting, and she was right. The 18th hole could not be reached in two, so it effectively became a wedge-and-putt contest.

Pressel had a 10-foot birdie putt for the win on the first extra hole that grazed the edge of the cup. On her third try, an 8-foot birdie putt was pulled and never had a chance. Ko calmly stepped in and made her 5-footer.

“I just couldn’t convert the putts,” Pressel said. “It all comes down to putting. She birdied it twice and I didn’t.”

Ko hit a 4-iron hybrid for her second shot on the 18th in regulation and then a 5-iron hybrid in the playoff. Both times left her with an easy pitching wedge. On the third time, she decided to get more aggressive by hitting a 3-iron hybrid. That left her 96 yards, and she was able to close the face on a 54-degree wedge that she could hammer. It was her best shot of the tree, leaving her 5 feet below the cup for the winner.

Henderson opened with two bogeys in three holes to fall out of the lead for the first time since Friday morning. The Canadian never caught up, though she was never out of it until missing her 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole.

“It was one of the least nervous putts I had all day,” Henderson said. “I could see it going in in my mind, but it didn’t happen in real life.”

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Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Featured image via Robert Laberge/Getty Images and LPGA.com

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Just In Case You Missed It: Sei Young Kim’s Eagle to Beat Inbee Park

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

When one thinks walk-off win, golf isn’t the sport that immediately comes to mind. But Sei Young Kim made two incredible shots this past Saturday and took the LPGA Tour’s Lotte Championship in Kapolei, Hawaii.

The 22-year-old rookie nearly didn’t make it there: Her drive on the 18th hole went into the water. “I saw the ball go into the hazard and I thought, ‘What have I done to deserve this fate?'” Kim told Golf.com. ”Then the gift came right back after that. I still can’t believe what just happened.”

Kim recovered with a chip-in from 18 feet to force a playoff with fellow South Korean Inbee Park, who was seeking her 14th LPGA title. However, Park would fall victim to another brilliant shot by Kim in the sudden-death playoff.

On the approach, Kim lifted a 154-yard shot that bounced twice before it dropped into the hole for eagle. She didn’t know if shot had gone in, but the cheering crowd let her know quite clearly.

Park’s attempts to match Kim’s shot came short, leading Kim to win the championship.

“Inbee said two things to me,” Kim said. “‘How did you get that in?’ And ‘congratulations.'”

Watch both shots below:

Kim collected her second-career LPGA victory while becoming the first South Korean winner in the tournament’s four-year history. She has a cool $270,000 winner’s check to boot.

However, when Kim was asked how memorable this shot ranked in her career, it came up only second. “In 2013, I won a tournament, which had the biggest prize money on KLPGA,” she told Golf.com. “I won that tournament by making a hole-in-one on 17, so that was probably my most memorable shot.”

South Korean players swept the first five places: I.K. Kim finished third, while Hyo Joo Kim and Chella Choi tied for fourth.

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LPGA Player Danielle Kang Endures Death Threats from Two Men at Dinner

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

LPGA player Danielle Kang had a rough day on the course at the ANA Inspiration after she finished up a third-round 77 and tied for 53rd place on Saturday. Her night, unfortunately, got a lot worse.

Kang, 22, tweeted that she was dining with her mother and a friend at Midori, a sushi restaurant, in Rancho Mirage, Calif. when two men “randomly started yelling” at them. At first, Kang and her companions ignored the hecklers, but the situation quickly escalated when the men screamed at them to “turn around” and began threatening to kill them.

According to the Golf Channel, the men shouted, “I’m going to f—– kill you. It’s not my fault you played like s—, you stupid b—-. I could slap you.”

“I was actually scared for my life,” Kang said. She added that one of the men accused her party of insulting his heritage. He then claimed that he was going to wait outside for Kang.

“We are going to beat the s— out of you,” the man said before he left the restaurant.

Kang immediately called the police, but the men were gone before the officers arrived at the restaurant around 6:30 p.m. Riverside Sheriff’s Department Deputy Michael Vasquez said officers are currently investigating the incident and threats. Two officers escorted Kang and her mother back to the hotel, and multiple security officers took turns following the LPGA player during Sunday’s round.

Although the two men in question have yet to be identified, Kang said she gave the deputies a credit card that one of the men left behind at the restaurant.

Despite the death threats, Kang played beautifully and closed with a 67.

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Featured photo courtesy of Danielle Kang/Instagram

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Cristie Kerr Ends Winning Streak for South Korean-born LPGA Golfers

Pictured above: Mirim Lee of South Korea tees off the 2nd hole during Final Round of the LPGA Kia Classic at the Aviara Golf Club. (Photo courtesy of LPGA/Getty Images)

by the ASSOCIATED PRESS

CARLSBAD, Calif. (AP) — The birdie putts had not even reached the hole when Cristie Kerr marched right after them because she knew they were going in. Sunday at the Kia Classic had a familiar feeling to Kerr, even though so much in her life has changed.

Four birdies in a five-hole stretch helped Kerr erase a three-shot deficit in the final round at Aviara Golf Club. Four straight birdies on the back nine enabled her to pull away from Mirim Lee and 17-year-old Lydia Ko.

Kerr closed with a 7-under 65 for a two-shot victory, the 17th of her career, this one different from all the others. Before posing with the trophy, Kerr first clutched her 15-month-old son, Mason, to celebrate her first win as a mom.

“I could just tell by everybody’s reaction that I had won,” Kerr said. “It was just amazing having him there, and he just gave me a big smile and a squeak. He’s screaming now. That’s his thing, and I always hoped this day would come. And now it has. Just so proud.”

Kerr ended 42 straight LPGA events without a victory dating to the 2013 Kingsmill Championship. She finished at 20-under 268, breaking by six shots the 72-hole scoring record at a tournament that began in 2010.

It also ended a streak of seven consecutive LPGA events won by South Korean-born players dating to the CME Group Tour Championship last year.

“I love to win,” Kerr said. “Golf has always been great to me, always given me special moments like this.”

Lee nearly made it eight in a row when she drove the par-4 16th green to 4 feet for an eagle to get within one shot. But her next tee shot didn’t work out so well. She pushed it into the trees and chopped up the par-5 17th for a double bogey, costing her any reasonable chance of winning. She closed with a 70.

Ko was tied for the lead with a birdie on the par-3 14th hole, but the No. 1 player in women’s golf didn’t make another birdie the rest of the way. She lipped out on a 5-foot putt on the 16th and finished with a three-putt bogey on the 18th for a 67 to finish third.

It was her 28th consecutive round under par on the LPGA Tour, one short of the record Annika Sorenstam set in 2004. Ko’s next event is the ANA Inspiration at Mission Hills, the first LPGA major of the year.

“Last three holes were a little iffy, like yesterday, but 67 around here is good and I’ve improved my placing compared to last year, so a lot of positives to take from this week,” Ko said. “And I’m excited for the first major next week.”

Ko had her 10th consecutive finish in the top 10.

The 37-year-old Kerr couldn’t hold back tears after she won. The father of her caddie, Greg Johnston, died a week ago and Kerr said she wanted to win it for both of them.

“I’ve been working with a new coach, and I definitely found something this week,” Kerr said. “He said I was going to have a hot round, and he was right. I just found something. I’m just real happy right now.”

Having her son around made it all the more sweeter.

“I think when I got in contention last year, I thought about winning a little too much, wanting him to be on the green,” Kerr said. “But you know, everything happens for a reason, and last year he couldn’t have run out to meet me. So maybe that was fate, too. But it was just huge.”

Ilhee Lee became the third player this week to match the course record with a 64. Morgan Pressel had a 64 in the second round, and Se Ri Pak had one in third Saturday.

Allison Lee (71) finished alone in fourth, while Inbee Park had a late surge for a 67 to finish fifth.

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Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Top-Ranked Lydia Ko Set for Kia Classic

Pictured above: Lydia Ko prior to the start of the Kia Classic. (Photo courtesy of LPGA)

by the ASSOCIATED PRESS

CARLSBAD, Calif. (AP) — Top-ranked Lydia Ko doesn’t want to get too far ahead of herself at the Kia Classic — a week before the first major championship of the LPGA Tour season.

“I’m going to concentrate on this week first,” Ko said.

The ANA Inspiration is next week in Rancho Mirage.

“To play well in a major, you pretty much got to have your ‘A’ game,” Ko said. “Hopefully, if I have a good week here, I’ll bring a lot of confidence into next week. But two different courses. So you know, it’s hard to compare them course-management wise.”

Ko has two worldwide victories this year, winning the tour’s Women’s Australian Open and the Ladies European Tour’s New Zealand Women’s Open in consecutive weeks. The 17-year-old New Zealander has 10 straight top-10 finishes and has broken par in her last 24 LPGA Tour rounds and 27 worldwide. She has six LPGA Tour victories and 10 worldwide wins in pro events.

Ko will play alongside defending champion Anna Nordqvist and Lizette Salas in the first two rounds at Aviara Golf Club. Last year, Nordqvist won the second of her two 2014 titles. The Swede closed with her second straight 5-under 67 for a one-stroke victory over Salas.

Nordqvist tied for sixth on Sunday in Phoenix in the Founders Cup, finishing with an 8-under 64.

“I feel like my game’s been pretty solid, haven’t really putted very well,” Nordqvist said. “Sunday a couple of them started to drop and all of a sudden I shot a low score.”

Michelle Wie tied for 64th in Phoenix. She has an endorsement deal with title sponsor Kia.

“Kia has been such a great sponsor to me. They’re kind of like family,” Wie said. “They’ve just been so supportive. It’s great to come to a tournament with my sponsor.

Second-ranked Inbee Park took last week off after winning in Singapore and finishing second behind So Yeon Ryu in a Ladies European Tour event in China.

“I took it easy last week, just practiced a little bit and just relaxed at home,” Park said.

Hyo Joo Kim won in Phoenix for her second LPGA Tour victory in 13 career starts. The 19-year-old South Korean player beat third-ranked Stacy Lewis by three strokes.

Kim, now fourth in the world, was the fifth South Korean winner in the first six events this year — and the other champion, Ko, was born in South Korea.

ANA Inspiration winner Lexi Thompson is coming off a two-week break.

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Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Korean Women Winning Every LPGA and LET Event in 2015

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Korean-born female golfers have been dominating the 2015 season, as they have been winning every tournament in the LPGA and Ladies European Tour (LET) season so far, according to the Korea Times.

The list of tournament winners includes Choi Na-yeon, Park Inbee, Ryu So-yeon, Oh Su-hyun, Amy Yang and 17-year-old Lydia Ko, who became the youngest golfer of either gender to reach No. 1 in the world rankings.

According to the Korea Times, an average of two South Korean players have finished in the top five of this year’s LPGA and LET events. That average slightly increases if Korean-born players are included in the equation. The winning streak for Korean-born golfers is quite impressive as there are currently 25 active Korean players on the LPGA tour, while the U.S. has 45 active players.

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Ryu So-yeon and Park Inbee competed in Mission Hills World Ladies Championship in China this past Sunday. Ryu beat Park by just one stroke and won her first world World Ladies Championship title.

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Featured image courtesy of LPGA website

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Lydia Ko Wins Women’s Australian Open

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Lydia Ko, the youngest golfer to reach No. 1 in the world ranking, won the Women’s Australian Open on Sunday with a two-stroke victory over South Korea’s Amy Yang, who carded 72.

Despite hot and steamy conditions at the Royal Melbourne Composite Course, the 17-year-old golfer kept her cool as she shot a two-under 71 in the final round, according to the Associated Press.

Ko and Yang dueled for the lead throughout the final round, but the play was suspended for about an hour due to lightening. Before the siren sounded to suspend play, Ko had just dropped a shot on the eighth, whereas Yang was prepared to putt for a momentum-changing eagle on 10th hole. When the play resumed, Yang settled for a birdie to take the lead from the teen golfer. But, the lead didn’t last long as Ko added two birdies on the back nine.

The New Zealander admitted that the weather delay helped her regain focus.

“I think that break was really good for me,” Ko said. “I had some lunch and got my stuff together there and I played much better after that.”

With her victory, Ko became the youngest player to win the Australian Open. This marks her sixth LPGA title and her first win since topping the world ranking two weeks ago.

“I’ve always played well in Australia, so it’s always cool coming back here,” Ko said.

Thailand’s Ariya Jutangarn, who shared the overnight lead with Ko, shot a 76 and finished third. Meanwhile, Korean American golfer Jenny Shin tied for fourth place with first-round leader Ilhee Lee.

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Featured image via LPGA.com

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