For the final round of the U.S. Women's Open on Sunday, Minjee Lee didn't go after one of the best fields in women's golf because she was too busy chasing history. Lee led by three going into the final round at Pine Needles in Southern Pines, North Carolina, and shot even-par 71 to finish at 13-under 271, which set a U.S. Women's Open scoring record. She defeated Mina Harigae by four and Hyejin Choi by six. It was never as close as it looked.
The USGA dialed up a golf course whose defense is its green complexes, and the field scoring average rose above 75 (it was the first time this week it even ballooned past 74). It didn't matter. Lee birdied her first two to take control and never relinquished the lead all day. She ran it all the way to 15 under at one point before making two bogeys in her last three holes after the tournament was effectively over.
On the week, Lee gained over 24 strokes on the field average, a preposterous number that is rarely achieved at majors but almost always guarantees you a victory. Playing partner Harigae battled with Lydia Ko and Hyejin Choi for the $1 million runner-up prize (the biggest in women's golf history) more than she ever put a real scare into Lee's lead.
The win is Lee's second in 2022 and also second in her last three starts. She took the Cognizant Founders Cup at 19 under by two over Lexi Thompson just under a month ago. It's also her second major championship win in her last four starts (she also collected the Evian Championship last year) and her fourth consecutive top-12 finish. If possible, the No. 4 golfer in the world is still on an upward trajectory.
"I'm speechless, I can't believe it right now," Lee said on NBC. "It's super, super special and a such a great honor. It's been my dream since I was a little girl. It's the one I've always wanted to win, and now I've done it. This feels amazing."
Lee now holds both the 54-hole U.S. Women's Open scoring record of 200 and the 72-hole record of 271. She became the seventh golf in nine tries since 2000 to take a three-stroke (or more) lead going into the final round of this tournament who went on to hold the trophy.
Lee's 271 eclipses the 272s shot by Annika Sorenstam (1996), Juli Inkster (1999) and In Gee Chun (2015) and was part of tournament that will be remembered for how it reset the record books.
Lowest 72-hole score in U.S. Women's Open
|2015||In Gee Chun||272|
Lee's record wasn't the only history made at this event. Amateur Ingrid Lindblad, who plays her college golf at LSU, shot the lowest score ever for an amateur in the U.S. Women's Open (65) and set the 18-, 36- and 54- hole scoring records for an amateur at this tournament and the second-lowest 72-hole score ever. She was undone a bit on Sunday by a 76 but she still finished T11 and was one of just 13 golfers on the week to finish under par.
"[I learned] it is possible to score low," said Lindblad, who finished runner up at the Augusta National Women's Amateur earlier this year. "Overall it was a great week, and I feel like my game is trending in the right direction."
For the first time in the history of the event, the U.S. Women's Open had a sponsor this year, which bumped the purse to $10 million and paid first prize to Lee of $1.8 million, and Harigae earned just over $1 million for finishing runner up. All figures (total, first and second) are the biggest they've ever been. While I'm not sure any of that affected the contenders down the stretch, it's certainly noteworthy as the best tournament in women's golf gets pushed into a bigger modern spotlight.
Everywhere you looked at Pine Needles, numbers were falling. Fewest strokes in the 77-year history of the event. Most money ever earned at a women's golf tournament. And while the home stretch wasn't exactly a thrill -- Lee's performance removed any drama (and doubt) from the festivities -- this U.S. Women's Open will always be remembered for what it was in the moment and how it will look when folks talk about it 20 years from now: historic.