Jeongeun Lee6 leads by one after first round of the CME Group Tour Championship with $1.5 million on the line

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Mina Harigae was playing on the Arizona-based Cactus Tour, trying to earn enough money to pay the bills during a global pandemic. Fast forward 18 months and she’s in contention to win $1.5 million at the CME Group Tour Championship.

“I would buy a house for sure,” she said, “and a bunch of Jordan shoes.”

A sparkling, bogey-free 65 at Tiburon Golf Club, highlighted by a chip-in for eagle at the par-5 17th, put Harigae one shot back of 2019 U.S. Women’s Open winner Jeongeun Lee6. Round 1 of the CME was set up for scoring in response to a wet forecast. Players lit up the board on a calm day with preferred lies.

While Harigae enjoyed a legendary junior career in the state of California and beyond, she mostly toiled in the shadows as a professional, that is until she shared the lead going into the weekend at the AIG Women’s British Open at Carnoustie last August and was selected by Pat Hurst as a captain’s pick for Team USA in the 2021 Solheim Cup that same weekend. The 32-year-old Solheim rookie called the week at Inverness the best experience of her life.

“Being able to pull off the shots that I did during my matches and making some clutch putts, I think that gave me a ton of confidence,” said Harigae.

“Almost as if I can do that there in that kind of atmosphere, I can really do it anywhere on any course in any tournament.”

As for the Jordans, Harigae said she personally only has six pairs but her fiancé and caddie, Travis Kreiter, owns 30. Their collection is stored in the couple’s upstairs loft along with their golf equipment.

“When I see a really good pair, it’s hard for me to pull the trigger sometimes,” she said, “but when I can’t stop thinking about a pair, that’s when I’ll definitely get one.

Harigae reports that she has only spent a maximum of $250 on a single pair so far, but that she might splurge more if the rest of the week goes as planned.

Last Sunday, Jennifer Kupcho struggled to a 7-over 77 alongside fellow American Solheim Cup teammates Nelly Korda and Lexi Thompson in the final group at the Pelican Women’s Championship, but she too has strong rookie Solheim vibes to draw from.

Jennifer Kupcho prepares to putt during the first round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on November 18, 2021, in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

“It probably was my best ball-striking week I’ve ever had in my life,” said Kupcho, who went 2-1-1 at Inverness. “So that definitely gave me confidence.”

2021 Solheim Cup participants are peppering the board early in Naples, with Frenchwoman Celine Boutier joining Kupcho and Harigae at 7 under, and Leona Maguire, Georgia Hall, and Megan Khang at 5 under.

Boutier, who rolled out of Europe’s victorious Solheim moment and into a victory on home soil at the Lacoste Ladies Open, followed by her second LPGA title at the ShopRite in October. The biennial event, she said, gives her an added boost of confidence that she can handle pressure situations.

“I just feel like my personality, in general, is not super confident,” she said, “so I feel like I always have some doubt in my mind that I have to prove myself again and again.”

Hall’s round received a jolt when she drained a 50-foot eagle putt on the sixth hole after reaching the par 5 in two with a 3-wood.

“The greens are probably (some) of the best that I’ve played in the last four or five years,” she said.

While Kupcho played her way out of the mix on Sunday at the Pelican, her playing partners, Korda and Thompson, met in a sudden-death playoff alongside Lydia Ko and Sei Young Kim. Korda eventually won the title, and all four carried that strong form into Round 1 of the CME.

Kim joined the foursome at 7 under while World No. 1 Korda shot 66. Thompson responded from a heart-breaking string of short misses down the stretch at Pelican with a 67 at CME. Ko, who is on the verge of clinching the Vare Trophy for the tour’s low-scoring average, posted a 69.