South Koreas mighty womens golf contingent sent one more jolt through its homeland Sunday.
When Eun-Hee Jis 20-foot birdie putt disappeared at the 72nd hole, another South Korean star was born.
Its going to be all over the news in Korea , Ji said.
Just like it was when Inbee Park won the U.S. Womens Open last year. Just like it was when Birdie Kim won it four years ago and Se Ri Pak 11 years ago.
Trailing American favorite Cristie Kerr by three shots with eight holes to play, Ji rallied with three birdies on the challenging back nine at Saucon Valley Country Clubs Old Course. Her even-par 71 left her even par for the week, a shot better than Taiwan s Candie Kung (69) and two better than Kerr (75) and South Korea s In-Kyung Kim (70).
I didnt even dream about winning this tournament, said Ji, 23, who claimed her third LPGA title in 13 months. This is going to be one of the most memorable moments of my life.
Her putt brought a last bolt of thunder in a week that started with a storm of LPGA controversy.
With news breaking last Monday that LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens was being forced out in a player revolt, the championship never seemed more like a diversion from bigger news in womens golf.
Two-time U.S. Womens Open champion Juli Inkster, one of seven player directors on the LPGA Board, said she spent six of her seven days at Saucon Valley on teleconferences dealing with the controversy. She left Sunday saying the board was actively seeking an interim commissioner to serve while a more thorough search is conducted for Bivens successor.
Right now, our golf is the best its ever been, Inkster said. We have a lot of great players and we need you guys writing about our golf instead of this other garbage going on. We are going to be fine.
South Korean golf is more than fine.
Ji helped that countrys growing dominance in womens golf surge to another level. Thats three major championship triumphs for South Korea in the last five majors played.
Among players who tied for 13th or better Sunday, eight were South Korean.
About all thats left to complete the nations rise to power is for one of its players to ascend to No. 1 in the world rankings.
That might not be long in the making with Lorena Ochoas struggles reaching a new level.
Ochoa, who holds the No. 1 spot, suffered through three double bogeys in the final round and finished tied for 26th. She has yet to contend in a major this season and is 0 for her last six majors. Her frustration in trying to win her first U.S. Womens Open was never more evident than Saturdays round, when she angrily spiked her ball leaving the 14th green after a double bogey and shot 79. She made four doubles over the weekend, 6 over the final 54 holes.
Saucon Valley gave everyone fits, rubbing emotions raw with its severe shot-making test. Ji made double bogey starting the back nine but still won. If the U.S. Womens Open is all about overcoming adversity, she lived up to the spirit of the competition with her brilliant finish.
I think that double bogey gave me an opportunity to calm down, Ji said. Cristie Kerr was so far ahead, I didnt think anyone was going to catch her. I basically just cleared my mind.
Ji finished at even par 284, the only player in the field who wasnt over par.
Kerr was the last player with a red number beside her name on the leaderboard until making bogey at the 60th hole.
Kerr, seeking her second U.S. Womens Open title in three years, wasnt immune to the frustration that wore down most of the field.
At the 17th hole Sunday, Kerr slammed a club into her bag. At the 18th tee box, she slammed her driver into the turf. She missed short putts and sprayed her driver.
Today wasnt my day, Kerr said.
Her swing was off from the first pass. She pushed her first tee shot wildly to the right and opened with a bogey.
I couldnt hit the 15th fairway with a 7-iron, she said shaking her head.
It was Kerrs second painful close call in a major this season. She birdied the 72nd hole at the Kraft Nabisco Championship but lost by a shot when Brittany Lincicome made eagle there. Lincicome was in the hunt on this U.S. Womens Open Sunday, too, making birdies at the 10th, 12th and 13th holes to draw within two shots of the lead, but she couldnt get closer.
Paula Creamer, bidding to win her first major, started the week with a cortisone shot taking the sting out of an inflamed joint in her left thumb. In the end, the pain was in her wounded psyche. She left thinking hard about her adventures on the 10th hole. With the tees up and the hole playing 253 yards on Saturday, she tried to drive the green and made triple bogey. On Sunday, with the green reachable again, she played safe, hitting 7-wood, but she still ended up in a bunker and made bogey.
I havent hit the fairway there once this week, Creamer said.
She was 4-over par on the hole on the weekend. She ended up finishing four shots behind the winner.
I think its by far one of the best golf courses Ive ever played, Creamer said. I would love to come back and play again, No. 10 again several times more.
Ji would relish that, too.
When Se Ri Pak won the U.S. Womens Open in 1998, there were just three exempt South Koreans playing the LPGA. There were 36 teeing it up this week. Ji said you can count her among her fellow country women who were inspired by Paks triumph. Theyre called Se Ri s kids, and there seems to be no stopping them.