Sports Outside the Beltway

Ji Whiz- Eun Hee Ji wins the U.S. Open

For the second consecutive year a South Korean golfer wins the biggest tournament in all of Ladies professional golf. 23-year-old Eun Hee Ji birdied the 18th hole to edge Taiwanese born Naturalized American citizen Candie Kung by one shot. In-Kyung Kim and 3rd round leader Cristie Kerr finished two shots back in a tie for third.

It was an exciting last nine holes of golf between the four golfers above and 2009 Kraft Nabisco Champion Brittany Lincicome who finished fifth. Kerr began the final round with a two shot lead and got to three strokes ahead after a birdie at hole #3 but bogeys at holes five and six decreased her lead to one shot. From that point on the tournament was a multi- player battle.

First came Lincicome. She made a birdie at 10 and nearly scored a double eagle at the par 5 12th. Lincicome got it to as low as plus two but a closing bogey at 18 took out of the hunt.

In-Kyung Kim who with constant smiling looks like she is always having a good time on the golf course, pulled her way into a 4-way tie for the lead after making a birdie at 16. A bad tee shot at 18 which found a fairway bunker finished Kim’s major title chances. Like Lincicome, she made bogey on 18.

Kung for the first 14 holes played the steadiest golf(with the possible exception of Kim who made 7 pars, 1 birdie and 1 bogey on the closing nine) of the leaders. Then Candie started hitting a series of poor shots on holes 15-17. She made great recoveries at the first two of those holes, but after nearly holing her sand shot at 17 missed the comeback putt for par. Kung then parred 18 to finish one over par. Then Kung had to wait as Kerr and Ji played the last two holes.

Ji looked like she wrote herself out of contention after making double bogey at the short par 4 10th. It was the same hole that destroyed Paula Creamer on Saturday. With 8 holes to go, Ji was three back and had Kung and Kim between her and Kerr. Then birdies at 12 and 14 brought her back to one over. Ji1 Kerr who had been leading and usually by herself for most of Saturday and Sunday, was undone by missed short par putts on 13 and 16(A three putt), that so angered the 2007 champion kicked her golf bag at least twice while waiting on the 17th tee. NBC showed Kerr taking out her frustration, but I don’t remember announcer Johnny Miller making comment about it. Miller spent most of the last two rounds hyping Kerr’s play, and one point on Saturday saying she was getting ready to run away with the tournament. 3 shot leads with 28 holes to go aren’t runaways Johnny!

Ji and Kerr both parred 17. With one hole to go, Kung and Ji were tied for the lead and Kerr was one back. That meant Cristie had to close with a birdie to have any chance.

On 18 Ji and Kerr hit drives to almost identical spots in the fairway but Kerr found herself standing below the ball which means she had a hook lie on a hole she needed a fade instead. Kerr’s approach to 18 came up short of the hole but on the green(Almost a replay of what Kung and Kim did at 18 also). Ji’s approach to 18 settled about 20 feet to the left of the hole.

Kerr made a run at birdie with her first putt, but missed by a inch or two of having it fall. Then Ji calmly stroked her putt in to the middle of the hole. For the 2nd time in 4 years, a South Korean golfer birdied 18 to win the U.S. Open.(Birdie Kim in 2005 was the other) Of course for the winner, there was the customary dousing with some form of beverage. Since it was a major, Ji got showered in champagne.

When interviewed by NBC after the finish of play today, Ji used a translator. Just like she did after her 2008 Wegmans triumph. Some say it was the lack of acceptance speech in English by Ji that sparked last year’s English policy controversy. I hope that storm isn’t revived again, but considering the tournament that was won today and the nationalism of some members of the golf media and sports fans, a debate about English usage by LPGA players or even a quota on foreign players could flare up again.

Ji’s win is her 2nd LPGA triumph and the over $500,000 winner’s check will put her perhaps as high as fifth on the money list for the year. Both the player of the year and money titles for 2009 are up for grabs between Ji-Yai Shin, Lorena Ochoa, Kerr, IK Kim, Ji, and Lincicome*.

There is no more LPGA golf for two weeks till the Evian Masters begins in France. Nor is there another U.S. based tournament till the end of August. With the Carolyn Bivens saga playing itself out, the LPGA won’t totally be out of the news but I’d prefer watching them play than talk about the mess that the tour has become in part due to the faults of its Commissioner.

*- Lincicome probably can’t win the money title, but her Kraft Nabisco win gives her enough points to be a contender for player of the year.

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