In her 1st start in U.S., South Korean birdies last 3 holes to win, denying grief-stricken American Amy Olson her 1st LPGA victory
HOUSTON – Heroics and heartbreak dominated the final round of the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open on Monday as South Korea’s A Lim Kim birdied the final three holes with brilliant approach shots for a one-shot victory. In the process, American Amy Olson was denied the victory that she wanted so badly to honor her grieving family.
Kim, making her first appearance in America, recorded birdies on holes 16, 17 and 18 at historic Champions Golf Club for the stunning victory (scores).
“I can’t even feel it right now,” she said through a local translator. “It’s such an exciting finish.”
Her caddie, Dai Haun An, added: “I just can’t believe it. We have been working together for seven years. I didn’t know this was possible.”
While the 25-year-old Kim exalted in the most unlikely of victories, the ending proved to be devastating to Olson, who held a two-stroke lead with five holes to go, despite playing with a heavy heart. She was informed late Saturday night that her father-in-law had unexpected died. Her husband, Grant Olson, had flown in from their home in North Dakota for the weekend to see his wife play, but departed Sunday morning to return to his grieving family.
“I felt weak and helpless on the golf course today,” said Olson, a non-winner in seven LPGA seasons, fighting back tears in post-round interviews. “I’m pleased with my golf this week, but I didn’t have a lot of strength in my bones [today]. The Lord carried me through.”
Kim shot a final-round 67, the low round of the day, for a 3-under 281 total. After starting the day five strokes out of the lead, she prevailed to tie the largest comeback in tournament history.
Olson, who birdied the 18th hole for a closing 72, and South Korea’s Jin Young Ko, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, who closed with 68, finished one stroke behind.
It was the fourth straight Asian victory in the U.S. Women’s Open. Kim’s title gives South Korea 11 winners of the U.S. Open, dating to Se Ri Pak’s momentous victory in 1998, which launched a surge of golf interest in her homeland.
Though Olson has given away some tournaments in the past with untimely shots – notably, a double bogey on the 72nd hole to lose the 2018 Evian Championship by one stroke – she can take comfort that Kim simply won this one outright. Kim made extraordinary shots when it mattered most, and it carried her to the most unexpected of victories in a new land.
“I’m greatly honored to have my name etched on this trophy with so many great Korean players,” Kim said.
Olson took the lead for the first time on the par-4 10th hole when third-round leader Hinako Shibuno of Japan bogeyed to fall one back. Another bogey by Shibuno on the 11th lifted Olson’s lead to two shots. Olson was in the midst of nine straight pars on the tough Cypress Creek layout, which has hosted the Ryder Cup, U.S. Open and the Tour Championship, among other national and international events. However, Kim was just getting started.
Playing three groups ahead of the leaders, she came to the 16th hole trailing Olson by two shots, but nearly aced the watery par 3, putting her tee shot to within 4 feet of the cup for birdie. On the par-4 17th, she drove into the right center of the fairway and nearly holed her approach shot again, leaving a 2-foot tap-in birdie for a share of the lead. On the par-4 18th hole, Kim hit her approach shot to within 8 feet of the cup and calmly rolled in her third straight birdie putt, for the outright lead.
Moments later, Olson posted her only back-nine bogey, on the par-3 16th, her first since the fourth hole.
“On that bogey, I thought it was a beautiful tee shot, but I just got a tough break with the lie behind the pin,” Olson said. Her chip ran past the hole, and she missed the putt for par, leaving her two shots behind Kim and one behind Ko, who rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt on the last hole to finish at 2 under. When Olson parred the 17th hole and was unable to eagle the 18th, finishing with a birdie, the celebration began for Kim, who was doused by a shower of champaign from her Korean friends and fellow players while waiting in the players’ dining room.
“This was really the course I like to play,” Kim said. “I wanted to learn much, but this is amazing.”
Shibuno, the 2019 Women's British Open who has been dubbed the "Smiling Cinderella," finished alone in fourth place with a closing 3-over 74 for a 1-under 283 aggregate. American Megan Khang shot 72 to finish alone in fifth place at 1-over 285.
Kaitlyn Papp, a University of Texas senior from Austin, closed with 74 to finish as the low amateur, in a tie for ninth at 3-over 287.
“I felt it was a great learning experience,” said Papp, one of six amateurs to make the 36-hole cut. “I was excited for today, and while I didn’t play my best, I felt I could compete and look forward to returning.”
Kim plans to return to South Korea with the $1 million prize money, the Mickey Wright Medal named for the late LPGA champion and a slew of exemptions, which should bring her back to America frequently.
There was no modern USGA record of a player ever birdieing the last three holes to win the U.S. Women’s Open. The last man to win a major with three closing birdies was South African Charl Schwartzel, who birdied his final four holes to win the 2011 Masters.
Olson quickly departed for a flight back to North Dakota, where her husband is the linebackers coach at their alma mater, college powerhouse North Dakota State.
“Like every week out here, somebody played good, and Kim was tremendous,” Olson said. “I was pleased with my putting and my shots. It’s been a long two days, but I’m glad to have made it.”
So, too, was Kim.
“To be honest, I was very nervous when I arrived here,” Kim said through a translator. “My first trip to America, my first U.S. Open. The course was overwhelming to me.”
In any language, it was all evidence to the contrary.
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