Hannah Green holds her nerve and becomes major champion
Hannah Green never felt more nervous than standing over a 5-foot par putt Sunday at Hazeltine National with a chance to win her first major at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship.
Neither did Karrie Webb, who won seven majors in her Hall of Fame career.
Webb watched from outside the ropes, her heart racing. It was 11 years ago in Minnesota that Webb started a scholarship program to bring young Australian amateurs to majors to spend a week with her and experience golf's biggest events. Four years ago, Green was one of those scholarship winners.
And now she's a major champion.
Green held her nerve to the end, hitting 8-iron to 15 feet for a pivotal birdie on the 16th hole, and getting up-and-down from a bunker ono the 18th hole for an even-par 72 and a one-shot victory over defending champion Sung Hyun Park.
"I can't believe I'm in this position right now," said Green, a 22-year-old Australian in her second year on the LPGA Tour. "I've always wanted to win an event, and to win a major championship as my first is crazy."
She became the first wire-to-wire winner of this major since Yani Tseng in 2011, and even more amazing is who she held off to claim the silver trophy. She started the final round with a one-shot lead over Ariya Jutanugarn, the most powerful player on tour and a two-time major champion. Jutanugarn didn't make a birdie in her round of 77.
Then it was Park, another former No. 1 and two-time major winner, making an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 68 that left Green no margin for error.
Watching it all unfold was Webb, as clutch as there was in her prime, the only woman to capture the "Super Slam" of five different LPGA majors. She stayed with Green in a house all week, along with the two most recent scholarship winners — Becky Kay and Grace Kim — who were draped in Australian flags at Hazeltine.
"I feel like I won a golf tournament today I'm so excited for her," Webb said. "You didn't do it yourself, but you supported someone who realized that dream."
They all charged the 18th green to celebrate with Green, spraying her with cans of beer in true Aussie fashion. It's become a tradition on the LPGA Tour for friends to spray winners with water bottles, and Webb would not allow that to happen.
"It was Budweiser," she said.
Green, who won three times on the Symetra Tour in 2017 to earn an LPGA Tour card, became the first Australian to win an LPGA Tour major since Webb won her last one in 2006 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
"I'm speechless," Green said as she fought to get the words out through such strong emotions. "I was really nervous playing the last five holes."
She finished at 9-under 279 and won $577,500.
It was hard work, even though Green never surrendered the lead on a cloudy day at Hazeltine with some light drops of rain at the end.
Green rolled in a 5-foot birdie putt on the par-5 seventh for a three-shot lead. With the group ahead still waiting to tee off, a 7-year-old girl handed her a blue sheet of paper. It was a poem she wrote to Green, along with the words, "You can win this." Green, who had given Lily Kostner a golf ball at the ANA Inspiration this year, read the poem and hugged the girl, and then drilled another tee shot to birdie range.
"I had it in the back of my yardage book because I didn't want it to get rained on," Green said. "A couple times on the back nine when I was feeling nervous and had some time, I actually read it to myself."
The nerves didn't really leave, especially after making three bogeys in a four-hole stretch that dropped her to 8 under, a four-shot lead suddenly down to one.
Mel Reid closed with a 66 and posted at 6-under 282.
Nelly Korda was one behind until a soft bogey on the par-5 15th. Park birdied that hole to get to 7 under, and Green couldn't afford any mistakes. It looked as if she had it wrapped up when she made a 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th, the signature hole at Hazeltine, followed by a par on the 17th.
Park wasn't finished, however, and she hit her tee shot so hard on the 18th that it went through the corner of the rough into the fairway, setting up a tidy approach to the back pin position and one last birdie.
Green answered her final challenge with the bunker save, and the celebration was on with Webb and the two scholarship winners, Stacy Peters from Golf Australia and Jarryd Fenton, her boyfriend who plays on the PGA Tour of Australasia.
"I always wanted to win in front of an Aussie crowd," Green said. "That's what it was like today. I'm over the moon."
Korda (71) and Reid tied for third, while Lizette Salas (72) and Danielle Kang (70) were four shots behind. The surprise was Jutanugarn, who started the final round one shot behind on a course that measured nearly 6,800 yards, perfect for her power. She tied for 10th.
Green becomes the 10th player to win the last 10 majors on the LPGA Tour, a sign of growing parity. She also is the third winner in the last five LPGA majors who had never won on the LPGA Tour.