Needing a par at the last, Ha Na Jang hit her third shot into the par-5, 18th to five feet and drained the birdie putt to break through for her first LPGA victory at the Coates Golf Championship Presented by R&L Carriers. Jang celebrated in the rain by turning her putter into a samurai sword, laughed and then immediately began to cry in the rain as her dad raced over to embrace her. It was the type of celebration that only Jang, one of the largest personalities on the LPGA Tour, could have produced and the subsequent joyful tears the result of the freedom of breaking free of the frustration of four runner-ups a year prior, including one right here in Ocala.
“I can’t describe it. I’m so happy. I cannot put it in my words. My dad, every week, everyday, and together for me, it’s really thank you every week (tearing up),” Jang said as her voice cracked. “Thank you for my mom, too, who has helped, but sometimes my dad gave, like a little fight, too, say always you can do this, you’ve got it, you’re really good. So I say really thank you my dad.”
In addition to the frustration of close calls, she had to watch a year ago as her longtime friends and competitors – Hyo Joo Kim, Sei Young Kim, and In Gee Chun – posted wins on the LPGA Tour while all she felt like she had to show was four runner-ups.
“It’s been affecting me the way I play because they’re competitors and they’re good friends. I’ve been competing with them for a long time. So watching them winning and then finishing second four times, it’s been heartbreaking,” Jang said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself, but I worked very hard, so finally I got there and have the win. From now on, I’m going to be able to relax a little bit more, focus more on upcoming tournaments.”
Outside of Jang and her dad, no one was happier for her than the world’s No. 1 player, Lydia Ko, who held a share of the 54-hole lead with Jang on a day the final pairing had to play 30 holes. Ko hung with Jang for much of the front nine but found tree trouble at the seventh and ultimately played the next five holes in 5-over-par to play her way out of contention.
“It’s been a long day, especially with the weather the last few holes, but Ha Na finished so close in so many events, especially last year where we both came tied second, I think, so it was great to see her play well and finish classy with a nice birdie,” Ko said.
Brooke Henderson and Sei Young Kim were Jang’s biggest challengers on the back nine but faltered down the stretch with disappointing three-putts that left Jang in the driver seat. Henderson hit her approach 25 feet left of the pin at the 17th holding a share of the lead with Jang at 10-under-par but three-putted for bogey and then made par at the last to post the clubhouse lead at 9-under. Still, it was an impressive effort from Henderson who finished her final six holes of her third round this morning in 5-under-par and then posted an even-par 72 on Sunday in very difficult conditions.
“I was excited once I got off to that fast start this morning on the back nine. I think maybe the hardest part was knowing that I could have been better on the back nine of my final 18 and just let it slide a little bit,” Henderson said. “However, like I said before, it’s overall a great championship for me.”
Kim, playing in the group behind Henderson, had an opportunity to post 10-under-par at the 18th with a 10-foot birdie putt and put pressure on Jang, but she missed on the high side and it raced past three feet. That par putt horseshoed, leaving Kim at 8-under-par.
“First of all, I wasn’t thinking straight, and I decided -- first thing was straight in, but I decided I see a little more right side, and then that was a miss,” Kim said. “The last putt, I don’t know, I don’t look. I should have seen left side, but because it was wet so I see it straight.”
Henderson finished in solo second at 9-under-par with In Gee Chun, Sei Young Kim, and Lydia Ko rounding out the top five in a tie for third at 8-under-par