One of the best things about the sensational finish to the ANA Inspiration is that there are still two more LPGA major championships this year – and seven in the next 11 months. Bring it on! This tournament was so good it took extra holes – a fitting finish in a year in which so much has been delayed.
The quality of play all week at Mission Hills – but especially on Sunday – sizzled like the desert sun, no one more brilliantly than Mirim Lee. She chipped in three times in the final round then birdied the first playoff hole to edge Brooke Henderson and Nelly Korda for her first major championship.
For much of the day, it appeared as if the outcome would be decided between Korda and Henderson, who began the day tied at 12 under par, two strokes ahead of Lee, Lexi Thompson and Katherine Kirk. But Lee came out of nowhere to steal the show.
A chip-in for eagle on the 72nd hole gave her a closing 67 and put Lee at 15-under-par 273. She then watched, chatting on her phone with friends at home in South Korea, as Henderson made a great up-and-down to birdie No. 18 and Korda missed her birdie try, sending the trio back to the 18th tee for the playoff.
The last time there was a three-way playoff in the ANA Inspiration, if took two days before Pernilla Lindberg outlasted first Jennifer Song and then Inbee Park in the eight-hole marathon in 2018. This didn’t take as long.
After Korda missed from 20 feet and Henderson from 10 feet, Lee rolled in a six-footer that made her a major champion, breaking down in tears as she tried to put her emotions into words.
“Honestly, I can't really believe it right now,” Lee said, probably expressing the emotions of many of those who watched.
“To be honest, I feel like I must be a little crazy for winning and for having won this, and I think I'll be able to feel it once I meet my family and reunite with them,” she said.
In this of all years, Lee provided a powerful reminder that, in the face of adversity, that only thing to do is keep on keeping on.
“Of the four rounds, today I struggled the most,” she said after securing the trophy. “But I think I had a bit of luck that helped me. To be honest, not a lot of my shots were the way that I wanted them.”
There is wisdom in those words. Even when things aren’t going your way, you have to figure out a way to get the best result possible.
Lee’s fourth LPGA win was the result of magic around the greens. Seemingly out of hunt, she chipped in for birdie from 90 feet on No. 16 and then, after a bogey on No. 17, holed a dangerous, downhill chip for eagle on the final hole. Earlier in the day, she had also holed out from off the green on No. 6.
“I think I've had two chip-ins before but not three,” she said.
“It was a bit disappointing having the bogey on 17, so my plan for 18 was just to have a birdie and do what I have to do to keep my head up,” Lee said. “When the shot went in, I think I was really surprised. It must have been a bit of luck that helped me.”
The 49th edition of this tournament had everything – except spectators. Pushed from the gentle days of spring to the triple-digit heart of summer by COVID-19, the final leaderboard of the ANA Inspiration left Golf Channel viewers yearning for the KPMG Women’s PGA in October and the U.S. Women’s Open in December.
At 13-under-par 275 -- two strokes out of the playoff – was Thompson, the 2014 ANA Inspiration winner, with Stacy Lewis, the 2011 champ, at 276 and Lydia Ko, who took the dip into Poppie’s Pond in 2016, at 278.
Even without galleries, the players were swept up in the intensity of the event.
“Mirim played great today and so did Nelly,” Henderson said. “It was fun. You're playing against the best in the world out there, and it's tough to lose that way. But Mirim and Nelly played great, and I really fought my way around, so I'm happy.”
Next year, the ANA Inspiration will be back at its spring date, kicking off the major season. Later in 2021, there will be the U.S. Women’s Open, KPMG Women’s PGA, Evian Championship and AIG Women’s Open.
Like Mirim Lee at Mission Hills, the LPGA just keeps on keeping on. In this year of perseverance, the ANA produced a truly inspiring winner.