Christchurch, New Zealand – Sunday, February 2, 2014: South Korean professional Mi Hyang Lee shot the round of her life today to upset Lydia Ko and claim her first professional win at the ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open hosted by Christchurch.
The 20-year-old LPGA Tour player, who began the final round eight shots back from the lead, carded a course record nine-under par 63 at Clearwater to hold off World No.4 and defending champion Ko by one stroke.
The final group Ko (70) and Americans Beth Allen (70) and Anya Alvarez (73) all had the chance to force a playoff on the 54th hole but Allen and Alvarez missed the green and Ko missed her birdie chance from 25 feet.
Meanwhile Lee was on the practice putting green, preparing for sudden death, and was informed by her Dad that she was the New Zealand Open Champion.
“I came around to the clubhouse and my Dad said ‘You won’ because Lydia missed a birdie putt and I cannot believe,” said Lee.
She was surrounded by her old Korean amateur team-mates who poured water over her head and then moments later Ko gave her a hug to congratulate her on her come-from-behind win that earned her 30,000 Euros (NZD$50,000).
The bubbly professional said she never believed that she had a chance to win when she began the final round. Her 63 – which included seven birdies and an eagle – broke the course record of compatriot Seon Woo Bae who shot 64 in the second round of the championship last year.
“It’s my best score in my life and I made the course record too so I am so happy now,” said the World No. 256.
“Everything is better. Last two days my shot is not bad but my putt is so bad. I can’t concentrate because I have the sick. But I had more putting practice and it feels better. Putting is so much better. I had 26 putts today.
“I hope more tournaments I can have more good scores like 61 and 62. I got more confident and I got more good feeling in my golf.”
Ko, who wasn’t feeling too good for much of the championship, paid respect to the performance of the winner.
“I think I played pretty good for my health and obviously Mi Hyang played great as well, 63 is a pretty amazing score,” said the 16-year-old.
“Luckily the winds weren't up that much the last couple of days. So that gave use more opportunities to go lower but in saying that just because it’s calm doesn't mean everyone can shoot 63.”
Ko, who will have a rest this week ahead of the Australian Open next week, was proud of her effort in her title defence.
“I’m feeling much better but at the halfway point I got some really bad stomach aches so that didn’t go too well. But our family’s either got the flu bug or stomach bug so it's not really good right now.
“I was coming like fourth or fifth until the 16th hole and then I kind of came second just by myself. So it also says you're a little short of coming first but it also means that you're close and you can do it next time.”
Lee was also struggling with a stomach bug for most of the weekend as she struggled with the change in time zones after a 20 hour flight from the Bahamas.
“I have a stomach ache the last two days and I ate Korean food and it feels better and now it is better. I am not sick.”
She got off to a perfect start when she made an eagle from around 20 feet on the second hole and with every birdie she began to believe it was possible.
“It was a good start, but I had to be more confident about my game. Maybe No.14 I saw the scoreboard and I hope I won but the leader is so good player and I think she can win this tournament.
“Trust me. Trust everything and trust your God but most of all trust me. I played really good and I trusted me today. I won.”
With her biggest payday of her career Lee planned to buy a new backpack.
“My Dad bought me a car last Christmas so I just need a new backpack.”
She deserves more than a backpack after a coming of age performance.
The leading amateur, Jing Yan of China, was also smiling after she shot rounds of 73, 69 and 71 to win the Bessie Fullerton Trophy by one shot from Australian Shelley Shin.
But the 2014 New Zealand Women’s Open will be remembered for the time a young Korean made a name for herself and recorded her first win as a professional.