Thousands flock to Las Vegas hoping to get lucky. Eun Hee Ji knows what a stroke of luck can do. With one swing in the final round of the JTBC Classic in 2019, Ji made a hole-in-one to take home not one, but two cars, as the ace also lifted her to the top of the leaderboard for her fourth career win.
Sunday, Lady Luck was once again on Ji’s side as she finished atop the field at the Bank of Hope Match Play presented by MGM Rewards after playing 111 holes over five days. The icing on top of that win? She earned the final spot in the field in the U.S. Women’s Open.
“I really didn’t think I’d be able to make it (to the U.S. Women’s Open). I don’t know. It’s still surreal and hasn’t sunk in. I think it’ll hit me once I go there next week,” Ji said about getting into the field. “Hopefully I can continue this week’s momentum into next week.”
Ji is the first player since 2017 to win the week prior to the U.S. Women’s Open to play her way into the field at the major championship.
Ji knew she’d have to win in Las Vegas if she wanted to get into the field at the season’s second major championship. Ji, whose last victory came in 2019 at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, had struggled since the COVID break. She had just two top-10s since the Tour’s return and found herself ineligible for the U.S. Women’s Open for the first time since 2008. As the winner of the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open, Ji didn’t want to miss returning to an event that meant so much to her and her career.
“I really wanted to make it this year,” Ji said about returning to the major championship. “My rankings dropped, and I was a bit sad I couldn’t go to more tournaments earlier in the season because of COVID. But I won this this week and secured the ticket to next week. I feel good.”
Sunday, what could have been a costly mistake at the par-5 9th hole became the turning point in her match with rookie Ayaka Furue.
At No. 9, Ji turned to her caddie to get the yardage for her second shot. But the yardage she received was incorrect. When her caddie measured again, using a rangefinder, which has been permitted in competition since 2021, they determined Ji was 92 yards from the hole. Ji switched clubs and hit a 52-degree wedge which she holed for eagle. Ji won the hole and never relinquished her lead for the remainder of the afternoon. And, with that little bit of luck, Ji defeated Furuke 3&2 to punch her ticket to Pine Needles.
“That's why I changed my club, and I just hit it what's the number and then just goes in,” Ji said about holing out. “I'm like, so exciting.”
Ji will test her luck along with the best female golfers in the world as the U.S. Women’s Open returns to Pine Needles for a record fourth time. Yuka Saso, who will defend her title, knows a little about good fortune, too. It was with her win at The Olympic Club that the non-member at the time, earned membership onto the LPGA Tour.
The week at Pine Needles will also be one of hellos and goodbyes as the world No.2 Nelly Korda makes her return to competition for the first time since February after undergoing surgery to have a blood clot removed in her arm. And it will be a time to say farewell as Michelle Wie West, winner of the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at nearby Pinehurst Resort, steps away from competitive golf after 14 years on the LPGA Tour.
Sometimes an intangible, like destiny, becomes the difference maker, in determining the outcome of a championship. The luck of the draw, playing early or late depending on the weather conditions, or correcting what could have been a disastrous incorrect yardage down the final stretch on a Sunday, can play a factor in identifying a champion. The best female golfers in the world have heaps of talent, but even they sometimes have to simply leave things up to fate.