The biggest tournament in women's golf remains the only victory in her professional career. A year ago, Lunke coolly sank a 15-foot putt on the 90th hole of the U.S. Women's Open to win a three-way playoff and become the first qualifier to capture the trophy.
The dramatic victory catapulted Lunke's name among golf's elite. But she nearly got swallowed up in the whirlwind of attention that followed.
'I said 'yes' to everything that was asked of me in the first week and was completely worn out,' she said. 'I just didn't really know how to balance that with the other things that are going on in my life. I just needed a big break.'
The off-season gave her time to work on that balance. Slowly, Lunke said she has learned how to handle it just in time to defend a title she never expected to win.
Despite not having any top 10 finishes this season, Lunke, 25, said the part of her game that suffered the most -- putting -- is starting to come around.
'I struggled with my putting absolutely horribly,' she said. 'I feel like my game is better than it was last year and I'm hopeful to defend my title. I didn't go into the U.S. Open last year with the aim to win it. I went in hoping to have a good week.'
What a week it turned out to be.
Lunke is among the shortest hitters on the LPGA Tour, yet her game proved to be a good fit on the longest U.S. Women's Open course ever at Pumpkin Ridge, where the fairways were hard and fast.
She was the only one who thought she could win, and even after her dramatic birdie putt on the 18th hole of the Monday playoff, it still didn't sink in for everyone involved.
'I honestly thought I had won,' said Angela Stanford, who finished second along with Kelly Robbins. 'It wasn't until we started playing the end-of-the-year events and Hilary was always there with me. She was always introduced as 'U.S. Women's Open champion,' and I thought, 'OK, wait a minute. That's not me.'
'I know I did finish second,' Stanford said. 'But for a while there -- a good six months -- I thought I won.'
It didn't take Lunke that long to realize what had happened.
'The whole week my cell phone was clogged up with messages, night and day,' Lunke said.
She showed up for her next event in Vancouver to register, thinking it was just another day.
Not a chance.
'There were reporters everywhere, writing down everything about me, what I was wearing,' she recalled. 'I hadn't showered. It was pretty much nonstop press conferences.'
But the U.S. Open title also opened doors and provided some security for Lunke and husband and caddie, Tylar, who married 11 months before the Open. The newlyweds put her $560,000 winner's paycheck to good use. Weary of paying rent, they bought a home a week before the Open even though they knew that making the mortgage was going to be a stretch each month.
'It couldn't have come at a better time. It made a nice place for us to go home to,' she said.
Tylar Lunke will caddie for his wife through this year's British Open before returning home to Texas to attend business school.
Lunke defends her title this week at the historic Orchards Golf Club, a course originally made for a woman.
Donald Ross designed the course in 1922 for Holyoke industrialist Joseph Skinner, who had it built for his daughter, Elisabeth, a talented golfer. The course drew its name from the rows of apple trees Skinner planted on the 80-hectare (200-acre) site. It later was purchased by Mount Holyoke College and is set among the rolling hills of the quintessential New England town.
A friend gave Lunke a yardage book to The Orchards the day after she won the Open, and the champ liked what she saw during a recent visit to the course.
'It looks like an old-fashioned style golf course with small greens and emphasis on ball-striking,' she said. 'I like old style courses. My plan is to go into it hoping to have (all) of my skills and hoping they'll all show up with me.'
Lunke acknowledges there's more pressure on her now than ever before and she's been trying to separate herself from it by keeping her attitude light.
'I am the same person and the same player that I was at this time one year ago. I wasn't a person who was expected to go out and win major championships,' she said. 'But I respect the position I'm in and making sure I'm working as hard as I can to defend my title.'
And if she doesn't, Lunke figures she's already ahead of the game.
Her only goal when she joined the tour in 2002 was to win one tournament, to have one week that would always be special no matter what happened the rest of her career.
'And to have that week be the U.S. Women's Open and in the fashion that it happened, I would be absolutely content,' she said.
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