Minjee Lee made her 22nd birthday one to remember, giving herself a one-stroke victory in the LPGA Volvik Championship on Sunday with a birdie on the final hole. On the 15th anniversary of Annika Sorenstam’s effort against the men in the Colonial Invitational on the PGA Tour, Minjee laid a little Annika on the field, playing nearly mistake-free on a glorious Memorial Day weekend at Travis Pointe Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Lee turned in 33 to maintain the two-stroke lead she had when the final round started and closed with a 68 that left her at 16-under-par 272, one stroke better than In-Kyung Kim and two better than Moriya Jutanugarn. Lindy Duncan and Su Oh, who like Lee is a product of the Australian junior program, were at 275 with Megan Khang at 276.
Minjee, who won the 2012 U.S. Girls Championship and the 2013 Australian Women’s Amateur, had three LPGA wins at the age of 20 but had gone 0-for-her-last-38 LPGA starts since winning the 2016 Blue Bay Championship. She lost a playoff to Lydia Ko in this year’s Mediheal Championship on what was Ko’s 21st birthday week.
But there was no letting this trophy slip from her grasp and Lee’s fourth LPGA win was a signature effort, featuring long, straight tee shots, precision iron play and rock-solid putting. She made only three bogeys over 72 holes and none after No. 14 of the second round until she three-putted from 60 feet on No. 17 on Sunday, a day when she sent a message to the field that they would have to beat her, she would not beat herself.
“I’ve been playing pretty solid golf the whole year,” Lee said. “Next week is going to be a totally different week,” she said about the upcoming U.S. Women’s Open, then ominously added: “I know I’m striking it well and putting it well.”
What for most of the day was a comfortable walk in the park for Lee became a little more serious when Kim closed with a tap-in birdie on No. 18 and Lee, moments later, missed a 7-foot par putt on No. 17 to leave them tied at 15 under par.
But the long-hitting Lee left herself only 191 yards in on the 470-yard par-5 closing hole, and bent a 5-iron around the trees to just short and slightly right of the green. The exclamation point came with a pitch shot to 2 feet and another solid putt for a closing birdie and the one-stroke victory.
Jutanugarn, who started Sunday five strokes behind Lee and playing seven holes in front of her, made a run with six birdies on the first 14 holes but squandered an opportunity to amp up the pressure by missing a short birdie try on No. 16 that would have pulled her within a single stroke. Jutanugarn birdied No. 18 to close out a bogey-free 65.
Kim, playing a hole ahead of Lee, had the best opportunity to beat her. She had an eagle putt on No. 14 to take the lead but settled for a two-putt par to pull even at 15 under par. After a three-putt bogey on No. 7, Kim had made birdies on five of the next seven holes to catch Lee, who was not giving away any strokes.
Lee regained the lead with a two-putt birdie of her own on No. 14 to get to 16 under par and Kim extended Lee’s margin to two strokes when she missed a 4-foot par putt on No. 15 to fall to 14 under.
Stacy Lewis, whose due date for her first child is in November and plans to play through the Marathon Classic July 12-15, started the day two strokes behind Lee but had a hiccup with bogeys on Nos. 7 and 8. She hung in gamely to finish T-7 at 11-under-par 277 along with Ariya Jutanugarn and Danielle Kang.
Now the tour heads for the second major of the year, the U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek Country Club near Birmingham, Ala., where Tropical Storm Alberto threatens the practice rounds and could make the long, tree-lined course play even longer.
But a bunch of players are on their game heading to Dixie, with Lee the 13th different winner in 13 events this year including major champions Brittany Lincicome, Inbee Park, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, Lydia Ko, Ariya Jutanugarn and defending U.S. Open champion Sung Hyun Park.
Looking for a dark-horse pick? How about Emma Talley, who finished T-21 at the Volvik? Shoal Creek is her home course. Or maybe just check to see who has a birthday this coming week.