It seems appropriate that since 1998 the Toledo Ohio LPGA stop hosted by a former cast member of the television show M*A*S*H has been won by a South Korean golfer seven of the last twelve years. The Queen of Toledo, Se Ri Pak, won the Farr in 98, 99, 01, 03, 07. In 2006 Mi Hyun Kim won the tournament in a playoff over poster girl Natalie Gulbis. In two of the years a South Korean didn’t win, they came tantalizingly close. Se Ri Pak lost to Meg Mallon by one shot in 2004 and missed a playoff by one shot in 2000. In 2005 Gloria Park lost a sudden death playoff to Heather Bowie.
The latest chapter of Korean dominance at the Farr was written by the most unlikely of heroes. Eunjung Yi, a former U.S. Public Links Champion, defeated Morgan Pressel on the first hole of sudden death. Finishing tied for third were Seon Hwa Lee, Michelle Wie, and Song Hee Kim. Kim had a birdie putt to tie at 18 but three putted.
Yi opened the final round with a 4-shot lead. After 4 holes, the lead was increased to six. With Yi at twenty under par, the tournament record of 23 under set by Se Ri Pak in 1998 looked beatable.
Then Yi couldn’t get much done over the last 14 holes. She played them in two over. Still the tournament looked to be hers. She teed off 16 with a 3-shot lead over Morgan Pressel who was playing the par five 17th at the same time.
Then Pressel holed out 70 yards for a eagle three. Yi, who didn’t hit a good drive at 16, saw her second shot to par four go through the green. It took her three shots to get it up and in and all of a sudden there was a tie at the top of the leaderboard.
After the swing, I thought Pressel was going to come out on top. Two years ago she dueled Se Ri Pak on Sunday. On the 6th hole that year, Pressel made a hole in one and saw her lead trip. Pak was unfazed and rolled in a birdie putt from twenty feet to cut the deficit to two. Pressel didn’t play the last 12 holes badly in 2007, but Pak showed why Jamie Farr once said she owns the Highland Meadows Golf Club. She didn’t just pass Pressel but beat her by 4 shots.
Pressel pared 18 today, and while Yi had opportunities at both closing par 5 holes, she could only make a pair of pars. For the third time in five years, the Farr went to a playoff.
Both Yi and Pressel hit good drives and second shots on the 18th hole(The LPGA has of late been using the 18th hole at all tournaments for sudden death playoffs). Pressel’s 3rd shot came up 20-25 feet short and just off the green. Yi put her approach to 12 feet. After Pressel missed, Yi rammed her birdie putt in the center of the hole for the title.
I said Yi was a surprising winner. She had never finished in the top 10 of a previous LPGA tournament. The win earned her $210,000 and a spot in next week’s U.S. Open.
Yi’s win marks the 5th time in the last six LPGA tournaments, that the winner has hailed from Asia. Four different South Koreans and Taiwan’s Yani Tseng. I hope the ugly talk doesn’t start up again that resulted in the LPGA’s English policy debacle of last summer.