Frank Sinatra lived about 15 minutes from Mission Hills – a low-slung ranch house in a walled compound that looks like a time capsule of the early 1960s. One of the main thoroughfares in Palm Springs is also named after Sinatra. But even the Chairman of the Board, who loved golf and crooned “Luck be a Lady Tonight” in every show, could never have envisioned the ending of this ANA Inspiration.
Mirim Lee claims now that chipping is the best part of her game. But, according to the newest ANA champion, who finished the week at 15-under par and then holed a 5-foot birdie putt in a playoff to beat Brooke Henderson and Nelly Korda, it only became the best part of her game on Sunday when she holed out chips on Nos. 6, 16 and 18, the first two for birdies and the third for an eagle, to vault her into a share of the lead for the first time all week.
“Honestly, I can't really believe it right now,” Lee said in her ANA winner’s bathrobe, holding the trophy. “To be honest, I feel like I must be a little crazy for having won this. I think I'll be able to feel it once I meet my family and reunite with them.
“To be honest, of the four rounds, today I struggled the most. Not a lot of my shots were the way that I wanted them. But I think I had a bit of luck that helped me.”
Luck might have played a role. But you have to be in position to let good fortune find you. And Lee was there at the right moments, especially on Sunday when all eyes were on the final group. For most of Sunday, it looked like a two-woman showdown between 22-year-old Korda, who led at the end of every round but the last one, and Henderson, who was tied for the lead going into Sunday and battled back and forth at the top of the leaderboard throughout the day. Throw in Lexi Thompson, who started the final round two shots back, Stacy Lewis, who remained in the mix until the final hole, and a wonderful performance by two of the best amateurs in the world, Rose Zhang and Gabriela Ruffels, both of whom finished in the top 15, and this one had historic markings.
It’s too soon to tell where the 2020 ANA Inspiration will fall on fans’ best-of scale. But the leaderboard and drama put it in the conversation.
Imagine the roars if there had been a gallery. Henderson and Korda alone would have attracted fans by the thousands, including flocks of Canadian snowbirds who nest in the California desert once the temperature up north dips below freezing (as it has already a few times). Then there was the finish, one that will rival Karrie Webb’s hole-out in 2006 and Brittany Lincicome’s hybrids in 2009 and 2015 among the most dramatic and unlikely in ANA Inspiration history.
To give a brief summary, Lee was plugging along, hitting it okay but not great. She didn’t make any bogeys, didn’t flare any tee shots right as she’d done in previous rounds, and her short game kept her in it even before the chip-ins. But at 16, after tugging an approach left of the green and 100 feet left of the hole, she hit the pitch of her life, a shot that flew 50 feet and rolled 50 more until it tapped the flagstick and fell in at perfect speed.
Thirty minutes later, after pulling a 5-wood approach at 18 long and left, she faced one of the most difficult chips on the course – downhill and fast with water not far behind. Once again, Lee hit a perfect shot.
“My plan for 18 was just to have a birdie and do what I had to do to keep my head up,” Lee said afterward. “When the shot went in, I was really surprised. It must have been a bit of luck that helped me.
“I think I've had two chip-ins before but not three (in a round).”
Again, imagine how that moment would have sounded.
Lucky or not, she showed a lot of fortitude to stick with her game. Lee hadn’t made a cut in 2020 prior to the ANA victory. Her last win came way back in 2017 and her best finish in a major was a tie for second at the 2016 AIG Women’s Open. That’s a long time to be out of the mix and away from the pressure. Going into the playoff with two of the hottest players in the world, Lee was the definite underdog. But she stuck to her game plan, hitting the fairway and another fairway wood to the back of the green. This time the chip didn’t go in, but it left her with a 5-foot birdie putt that she poured right into the middle for the victory.
Luck might be a lady but skill and fortitude forge champions. On Sunday in the desert, Mirim Lee had all three.