“I was like, ‘If I don’t play well, I’ll still come in second,'” he says.
The stronger the heart, the better in an overtime tournament that decides the winner in a single match rather than a 72-hole playoff. Lee has a reputation on the Korean Ladies Professional Golf Association (KLPGA) Tour as a player who thrives on big events. Three of her seven career wins have come in majors.
On Thursday, the Korean Ladies Professional Golf Association (KLPGA) Tour’s Hana Financial Group Championship (1.5 billion won in prize money) at BearsBest Cheongna Golf Club (Par 72) in Incheon, South Korea, Lee’s strength shone through again.
Her four-round total of 8-under-par 280 earned her a spot in a playoff with Australian compatriot Lee Min-ji and Thailand’s Patti Thawatanakit.
Lee and Tawatanakit, who Lee will face in the playoff, are both objectively superior players.
Lee is the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 7. She has nine career wins on the LPGA Tour and won the Kroger Queen City Championship two weeks ago.
Tawatanakit is ranked 78th in the world, six spots below Lee, but she is the winner of the 2021 LPGA Tour major, the Chevron Championship.
She faced a tough opponent in the final round, but Lee was outclassed by her need to win, her big game and determination to capitalize on opportunities.
In the first overtime on the 18th hole (par-4), Thawatanakit bogeyed and was eliminated.
In the second, Lee was in trouble when her ball rolled from behind the green and went well past the hole, leaving her with a par putt of more than three meters. Lee’s birdie putt left the hole, but stopped at 80 centimeters for an easy par.
Lee concentrated and made a par putt, but it was also out of bounds. The color of defeat was deep. However, Lee Min-ji, who thought she would make the par putt, made a crucial mistake. The missed par putt gave Lee another golden opportunity.
After the match, Lee reflected on the moment, saying, “When she missed (the par putt), I was preparing myself to say, ‘I can finish second again,’ and when she missed the par putt, I was also very surprised.”
Lee seized the opportunity presented by the world number seven’s mistake. On the third extension, her second shot stopped about seven meters behind the hole. There was also a slope, so the chances of a birdie didn’t look great. Lee chipped to 3 meters to put pressure on Lee.
Lee made birdie first. Lee missed her birdie putt from close range. After a long battle that lasted until the 75th hole, Lee won her eighth career title.
Lee reflected on the moment of the third overtime birdie putt.
“I didn’t predict the outcome, but I was just thinking about what I had to do and what I had to believe,” she said. “Lee Min-ji was closer, and I hit it with the idea of hitting it surely rather than steadily, and it turned out to be a birdie.” The goal and belief that she had to do it, and the determination that she put into action, was the difference between the winner and the loser.
Lee was in tears after winning her first title in about five months, following the KLPGA Championship in April. It brought back painful memories of the tournament four years ago, when she led through three rounds before falling short on the final day. That loss left her desperate to win this tournament.
“In 2019, I came from three shots down to lose,” she said. After that, I really wanted to win this tournament once, and when I won in such a dramatic way in an extended match, my emotions were maximized and I was in tears.” “Many people say that I am strong in big matches, which gives me a lot of strength and confidence. I think my playing style is well suited to the course settings of majors and big tournaments.”
For Lee, this was the first time she had ever played an overtime match. Playing in an extra round against an LPGA Tour powerhouse might have added to the pressure, but she battled through it.
“When I started the overtime, I thought, ‘Even if I don’t win, I’m still second,’ and I thought, ‘Even if I don’t win, I’m still second, so I’ll just do what I have to do and be confident,'” Lee said. “I think it will be a good memory to win the first overtime like this. In the future, if we play another overtime, we may win or we may finish second, but I think this overtime will be a good experience.”레고토토
With the $270 million first-place prize, Lee increased her season earnings to $685.08 million and moved into third place on the money list. Her two wins this year have earned her 504 million won.
Lee ended her season early last year after tearing ligaments in her left elbow and wrist. She took a long time off to recover, but this year she bounced back perfectly.
Lee was not satisfied, saying, “There are still tournaments left. There is still one major tournament left, so I want to prepare well for the Hite Jinro Championship and show a good performance. Of course, as a player, I also want to win the individual title. It’s easier said than done, but if I continue to challenge myself, I think I will have a chance one day.” He looks forward to the rest of the season.