Golf: Perennial bridesmaid wins at last

An ecstatic Jang Ha Na after sinking a birdie putt to clinch her first LPGA Tour title. She had had four runner-up placings last year and found her inability to break through - while many of her Korean friends won on the tour - heartbreaking.
An ecstatic Jang Ha Na after sinking a birdie putt to clinch her first LPGA Tour title. She had had four runner-up placings last year and found her inability to break through - while many of her Korean friends won on the tour - heartbreaking.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MIAMI • Jang Ha Na overcame waterlogged conditions and a marathon final day to clinch her first LPGA Tour victory, a two-shot triumph at the Coates Golf Championship in Ocala, Florida, on Saturday.

The emotional South Korean burst into tears after rolling in a birdie at the par-five 18th at the Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club, to finally close the deal after four runner-up finishes last year.

She admitted that her inability to break through had been "heartbreaking", as she had watched so many of her Korean friends win LPGA Tour events.

"It's been affecting me the way I play because they're competitors and they're good friends," the 23-year-old said after hugging her Australian caddie Graham Courts and her father, among others, as tears streamed down her face.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself, but I worked very hard, so finally I got there and have the win. From now on, I'm going to be able to relax a little bit more, focus more on upcoming tournaments."

Jang did not make a birdie in the final round until the 16th, where her patience was rewarded when she rolled in a five-footer to move ahead.

She carded an even-par 72 to finish at 11-under 277, two better than Canadian teenager Brooke Henderson (72) and three in front of world No. 1 Lydia Ko (75), US Women's Open champion Chun In Gee (70) and South Korean Kim Sei Young (71).

Jang had to play 30 holes after resuming her third round at the crack of dawn, and conditions deteriorated in the afternoon as steady rain left parts of the course under water, prompting staff to use leaf blowers to clear puddles from the greens.

And Jang's hopes seemed to have submerged when she three-putted the 14th hole, missing a three-footer after getting too aggressive with her first putt, but that was her final mistake.

Henderson, meanwhile, three-putted the 17th and then gave herself little chance of a birdie at the last after flirting with a hazard with her second shot and leaving her third 90 feet from the hole.

But a par was enough to clinch second place for the 18-year-old, who last August became the third-youngest LPGA Tour winner when she won the Portland Classic by eight shots.

Ko, who will feature in the March 3-6 HSBC Women's Champions tournament in Singapore, started the day tied with Jang and they remained locked together after the third round, but the Kiwi dropped six shots in the first 13 holes of the final round before steadying what had been a sinking ship with three consecutive birdies from the 15th.

The Coates Championship was the second event of the season on the LPGA circuit, which now heads overseas for events in Australia, Thailand and Singapore.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 08, 2016, with the headline 'Perennial bridesmaid wins at last'. Print Edition | Subscribe