The Volunteers of America Texas Classic at the Old American Golf Club unfolded in an old American golf sort of way, harking back to bygone days when groups were not re-paired and leaders often didn’t play together in the final round. Reduced to 36 holes because of weather, nature created a unique situation in which Aditi Ashok, a 20-year-old rising star from India, was in the clubhouse at 7 under par hours before Jenny Shin and Sung Hyun Park, both at 6 under, teed of for their final round.
Park, the 2017 Rookie of the Year and co-Player of the Year, knew what she had to do but stumbled right out of the box, making a bogey on No. 1 to fall two back. Then it was lights out as she eagled No. 4 and made birdies on Nos. 6, 8 and 9 to turn at 10 under par. The 24-year-old South Korean closed with a 66 to finish 36 holes at 11-under-par 131 for her third LPGA win, one stroke better than Lindy Duncan. Yu Liu of China was third at 133.
It was a crazy finish with the winner ending her round on No. 18 and the runner-up on No. 9. And Park put an emphatic exclamation mark on her round. Nursing a two-stroke lead when she teed off on her final hole with several of her challengers having enough holes left to catch her, Park put the tournament away when she hit a sweet bump-and-run chip from behind the 18th green that found the cup for a closing birdie. At that point, no one of the course had a realistic chance of closing the gap.
“I knew it was a pretty important shot,” said Park, who has struggled with her short game this year. “It was a difficult shot and I’m glad I made it. I know my stats are a little bit off in my short game, but I’ve been working hard an it paid off today.”
Park started slowly last year just as she has in 2018, not winning until her 14th event, which was the U.S. Women’s Open. She followed that three weeks later with another victory at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open. If she’s getting ready to kick it into high gear again this is a good time to do it with the U.S. Women’s Open three weeks away and the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship three weeks after that. This was the 11th event of the season and Park was the 11th different winner.
A couple of major champions, Ariya Jutanugarn and Sei Young Kim, tied for fourth at 134. Shin closed with a 70 and was at 135 along with Ashok. Lydia Ko, Jackie Stoelting, Jin Young Ko and Mi Hyang Lee were at 136.
Duncan made a great run on Sunday. Her 64 was the lowest score in the final round. The 27-year-old fifth-year player who competed at Duke got to 7 under par with a birdie on No. 2, her 11th hole of the final round, to catch Ashok and moved into second place alone at 8 under par with a birdie on the next hole. Her chances ended on No. 6 when a 2-foot par putt horseshoed out of the hole for a bogey. But she fought back to close with three consecutive birdies.
“I missed a short one [on No. 6] and I said to my caddie, Kyle, ‘What do we need to do,’ and he said, ‘Let’s go birdie, birdie, birdie,’” Duncan said. “It was a crazy week but is was a good tournament. I think I’m trending in the right direction.” If that triple-birdie finish after a missed 2-foot putt is any indication, she’s right.
Ashok, meanwhile, is establishing herself as a force to be reckoned with. The 20-year-old from Bangalore, India, was an Olympian in 2016 and also the first player from India to earn a Ladies European Tour card. She won the 2016 Hero Women’s Indian Open and two weeks later took the Qatar Ladies Open. She was second on the LET Order of Merit and Rookie of the Year. Ashok earned a card for the 2017 LPGA season at Q school and kept it by finishing No. 84 on the money list. Her best LPGA finish was the previous week when she was T-7 at the Mediheal Championship near San Francisco.
“Everything's sort of a rush to finish the round, get home, dinner, and then get to sleep,” Ashok said after completing a 5-under-par 66 Sunday morning about her the hectic Saturday. “So I think in a way it was good, I didn't have much time to think about it. I just came in the morning and played it as my 15th hole of the day and I think that worked well for me.” It certainly did as she played those darkness-delayed final four holes one under par.
While the tournament was truncated to 36 holes, it was still a long week for the players who had early wake-up calls and lots of waiting around as severe weather battered the area. But in the end, the wait was worth it as the tournament produced a champion who looks like she’s going to be a star for a long time and, in Duncan and Ashok, a couple of contenders looking to take their games to the next level.