It took one extra hole, but as competitive golf comes back after its worldwide hiatus, no one seemed to mind a little overtime action.
This one took place at the Sky Hill Jeju resort on Jeju Island in the Republic of Korea, where three-time LPGA Tour winner and major champion Hyo Joo Kim won the LOTTE Contata Ladies Open with a birdie on the first playoff hole to beat 10-time LPGA Tour winner Sei Young Kim.
Both players started the final round two shots behind Ji Hyun Oh, a six-time winner on the KLPGA and the 2018 Korean Women’s Open champion. But the two LPGA Tour stars jumped ahead with blistering front nines on Sunday. Sei Young posted three early birdies to reach -15 at the turn, giving her a one-shot edge over Hyo Joo.
The 24-year-old Hyo Joo Kim, winner of the 2014 Evian Championship and a 10-time winner on the KLPGA Tour, came back with birdies at 11, 13 and 14 to go with a lone bogey at the par-4 12th.
Sei Young birdied 13 and 15 but also had a bogey on the back nine at the par-3 14th. That left Kim, Kim and Oh all tied at -17.
It all came down to the final hole, a reachable par-5 with water in play along the right side. Both LPGA Tour players hit precision, percentage second shots near the green, leading to two birdies. Both shot 5-under 67s and both finished 72 holes of regulation at -18.
Oh, who is coming back from an ankle injury that hobbled her 2019 season, made par on the final hole to finish alone in third at -17.
It was back to the par-5 18th for the playoff where Sei Young, the longer hitter of the two, seemed to have an advantage, especially after blistering a drive and hitting her second shot to the front fringe, some 45 feet from the hole. But Hyo Joo played the hole brilliantly, finding the center of the fairway and hitting a fairway wood to within 20 yards of the hole.
As happens so often in golf, the putter was the difference. Hyo Joo chipped to 9 feet, while Sei Young rolled her first putt to 4 feet. But Hyo Joo was able to convert the birdie while Sei Young missed the short one and settled for a par.
“It's been a long time since my last win,” Hyo Joo said. “Last night my father told me that if I shot 5 under par (on Sunday), I'd go to the playoffs and if I hit 6 under par I would win. And it became true. It made me shudder throughout the playoff but I'm very happy to win.”
Hyo Joo believes this victory could be the start of something special, in part because her ball-striking has improved but also because she has gotten stronger and longer during the extended offseason.
“I’ve gotten 10 to 15 meters longer,” Hyo Joo said after the win. “It makes the game a lot easier. I worked out a lot during the winter and ate more, which is why the distance seems to have increased. At the training camp this past winter, a trainer who cared about diet joined and I increased my weight by about 10 pounds. It made a huge difference.”
Jeongeun Lee6, the LPGA Tour’s 2019 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year, played in the event on the week that she would have defended her U.S. Women’s Open title had the pandemic not pushed that event back to December. Lee6 shot -13 at Sky Hill Jeju and finished tied for eighth.