CHARLESTON, S.C. — For one contender after another at Country Club of Charleston on Sunday afternoon, the script was the same: The approach shots were not pretty, and putts were not dropping.
Only one player in the last five pairings was able to break par. Her name is Jeongeun Lee6, a 23-year-old rookie from South Korea, and that’s why she is the U.S. Women’s Open champion.
To claim her first LPGA Tour victory, Lee6 made her big move with birdies at No. 11, a challenging par-3, and No. 12, and she got another one at No. 15. For the day, despite bogeys at Nos. 16 and 18, she fired a 1-under-par 70 to finish, appropriately enough, at 6-under 278, winning by two strokes over Lexi Thompson, Angel Yin and So Yeon Ryu. Celine Boutier and Yu Liu, the co-leaders entering Sunday, wound up in a group of five players three shots behind.
Boutier had her chances, but she missed a short birdie putt at No. 16 and was unable to birdie No. 18 to force a two-hole playoff, instead ending with a double bogey.
“As a rookie player, I didn’t expect to win the tournament this fast,” Lee6 said through an interpreter. “I think this is very lucky.”
So what’s with the 6 at the end of her name?
On the LPGA of Korea Tour, where she used to play, there had been five previous players with the same name. Being the youngest, she was given the No. 6, and she decided to keep it once she joined the LPGA Tour. It’s safe to say that she has embraced the change: She writes a large No. 6 on her golf balls, wears golf clothes with the No. 6 and has a fan club in South Korea called “Lucky 6.”
Those fans have had a lot to cheer about this year. Before this tournament, Lee6 had finished in the top 10 three times in eight starts. Maybe even more impressive is that she has yet to end up worse than tied for 26th. In early April, in the first major of the season — the Inspiration in California — she tied for sixth. With Sunday’s win, she’s projected to move up to No. 5 in the world rankings.
Taking nothing away from Lee6’s performance, it was a bit surprising to see none of the other contenders put any pressure on her. Only her late bogeys added any drama to the finish.
Thompson and her playing partner, Jaye Marie Green, were both one shot out of the lead going into the final round. Thompson, who bogeyed three of the first four holes, fired a 73. Green shot a 74 to tie for fifth. The two combined for only one birdie (by Thompson, on No. 18) on the all-important back nine.
“My putter was ice cold today,” Green said. “I felt like I was going to make putts, and every time I looked up, they just weren’t going in. So there’s not much I could do.”
Green, a 25-year-old who has yet to win on the LPGA Tour, took it hard.
“At the moment, I feel like I just went through a breakup or something,” she said. “You feel like it’s going to go in your favor, but that’s golf. If you give me like 30 minutes, I’ll be able to look back and be like, ‘Hey, you know, [fifth] place is a great finish in a U.S. Open.’ ”
It was also a long afternoon for Thompson, at No. 8 the top-ranked American in the world.
“With the hole locations and the wind gusting and moving all different types of directions, I felt like I took forever on some shots,” she said.
The victory is worth $1 million, the most ever for a U.S. Women’s Open champion, but that’s far from all — at least for Lee6.
“My goal was, if I win the tournament, I can eat ramen,” she said. “If I finish in the top five, I can buy shoes. But I can buy shoes and eat ramen. So it’s a double.”