What a major championship season for the LPGA. An eight-hole playoff at the ANA Inspiration; four bonus holes at the U.S. Women’s Open and two extra holes at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Sunday’s finale of the Ricoh Women’s British Open certainly lived up to that thrilling standard as Georgia Hall won a dramatic duel with Pornanong Phatlum to become the first Englishwoman in 14 years to win the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
Hall, 22, had the home crowd on her side at Royal Lytham & St Annes on the northwest coast of England. As she approached the 18th green with a three-stroke lead, love and pride poured out of the packed grandstands in front of the iconic clubhouse. No English player had won this championship since Karen Stupples started the final round of the 2004 event at Sunningdale, eagle, albatross.
Hall, who first got the attention of fans at last year’s Solheim Cup in Des Moines when she won two points, picked up her first LPGA win as she closed with a 67 to finish at 17-under par 271, two strokes ahead of Phatlum and two strokes shy of the tournament scoring record set by Stupples in 2004. So Yeon Ryu was third at 275 with Sei Young Kim, Ariya Jutanugarn and Mamiko Higa at 279.
The day started with Phatlum at 13-under par and Hall one back, but everyone had their eyes on the penultimate group of Ryu and Sung Hyun Park, who were at 11-under and 10-under respectively. Both are double major winners, but both played their way out of it early, Ryu with a triple bogey on No. 3 and Park by playing Nos. 4 through 7 six-over par, and it became clear that the championship was going to be decided in the final twosome.
“I always joked that a major would be my first win,” Hall said. “I can’t believe it really happened. I played well today; I putted great,” she said in what was a major understatement. She averaged 28 putts per round and was seven-for-seven in sand saves on the devilishly bunkered Lytham course.
After sizzling starts by both players in which Phatlum extended her lead to two strokes with four birdies in the first six holes while Hall made three, the two-woman match settled into a grinding war of wills. When Phatlum drove into the thick rough and could only pitch out sideways on No. 8 she made only her second bogey of the week and they went to the ninth hole with Hall again just one stroke behind.
The lead stayed at one when Hall made a gutsy up-and-down from a bunker on No. 9 to save par with yet another crucial putt. At the turn, no one other than Hall was closer than six strokes to Phatlum. Both players went out in 32.
Lytham is a classic links course that goes out and back, the first nine usually playing downwind with the closing nine into the wind or crosswind. The scoring holes are the first seven, and that’s exactly where Phatlum and Hall made their early hay.
After Hall and Phatlum halved the first three holes of the back nine, the key stretch came when Hall made three birdies in four holes beginning on No. 13 and took a one-stroke lead when she rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 16.
Phatlum, who missed only 11 fairways all week, sealed her fate when she drove into a bunker on the difficult 17th hole and made a double bogey, giving Hall a three-stroke advantage going to the closing hole.
Still, Thailand has sent a strong message that it will be a force at the UL International Crown in Korea this October. Jutanugarn has won three LPGA events this year, including the U.S. Women’s Open, her sister Moriya picked up her first LPGA win earlier this year and now Phatlum is on everyone’s radar screen.
But, with her victory, Hall hinted at a revival of English women’s golf, which has been in a bit of a rut. Hall will join Charley Hull, Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Bronte Law on England’s team for the International Crown and the youthful exuberance and talent displayed by Europe in its losing effort at Des Moines speaks well for an intense Solheim Cup in Scotland next year.
But for now, this is Georgia Hall’s day. Playing with the hopes of a nation squarely on her shoulders and facing a foe, who for 70 holes was brilliant, the young Englishwoman was more than a measure of the task. It was a Hall of an effort and one well in the keeping with the brilliance of this LPGA major championship season.