Jennifer Johnson shot a final-round 7-under 65 to become a Rolex First-Time Winner at the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic. The Carlsbad, Calif. native carded rounds of 67-70-65-65 to break the tournament record with a 21-under par 267 total and finished one stroke ahead of Pornanong Phatlum and Jessica Korda. A group of five players finished in a tie for fourth at 19-under par including Karrie Webb, Jiyai Shin, Ariya Juatnugarn, Chella Choi and Anna Nordqvist.
Johnson started the day three strokes off the lead heading into the final round and knew another solid day would be needed to even stay in contention. She carded four of her eight birdies on the front nine along with her lone bogey of the round on the par 4 5th hole. She made the turn at 17-under and one stroke behind Jessica Korda who played in the group following her. But it wasn’t until the final nine holes that Johnson really set her eye on the prize.
“I'm a little shocked, I didn't even realize I shot 65,” said Johnson. “The whole back nine was kind of like a ‑‑ I don't know, I don't know what was happening. And yeah, the birdie putt on 17, that's when I started to think a little bit more about winning the tournament, on 17. A little bit on the front nine, but you can't afford to think about that.”
Four groups ahead of Johnson, Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum pushed herself up with leaderboard with five birdies on the back nine including three-consecutive to close out the round as the clubhouse leader at 20-under. Johnson tried to keep track of the close race around her and as she went to finish on No. 17 at 20-under par, she knew it would come down to the last two holes.
“Oh, yeah, I was definitely aware,” said Johnson. “Before I hit my birdie putt on 17, I saw that Pornanong was tied with me at 20 and I didn't want a playoff so I was like, I'm going to make this thing.”
She sank the 15-foot birdie putt for the lead at 21-under and said her flatstick has been the part of her game holding her out of the winner’s circle. She switched to a new putter and changed her stroke during the off week following a missed cut at the Kingsmill Championship
“Yeah, the putter has kind of been the missing link all the tournaments because I'm hitting the ball so well and when they go in, it really helps score,” said Johnson. “Before this week I had experimented with more of a forward press and it just doesn't fit my style of putting. So I worked with my coach on making it kind of more like a pendulum and this new putter that I put in play really emphasizes that, and so I can like stroke it easier and I don't have to work as hard to get it like rolling on line.”
Johnson had to wait out the final two groups to see if she would earn her first-career win. She looked to be lucky due to an untimely bogey by Jessica Korda on the 17th to drop her to 19-under and failure to convert on the final two holes by Karrie Webb, Chella Choi and Anna Nordqvist. Once Choi and Nordqvist failed to eagle the final hole, Johnson knew the title was hers. The first-time winner, who is known for a strict work ethic, said she will try to enjoy the victory but was already talking about her second win.
“Yeah, I'll try to, but I'm always like looking ahead,” said Johnson. “I've got to try and relax more. Oh, it means a lot. Since I played my first tournament, I was 9, and when I was about 12 or 13 I wanted to play on the LPGA. So like nine years, this is kind of what I've worked for.”