U.S. Women’s Open: Minjee Lee cruises to second major title, earns $1.8 million prize

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SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. — After three days of some of the lowest scoring in U.S. Women’s Open history, a fight broke out at Pine Needles.

Challenging hole locations, an uptick in wind and the biggest purse in women’s golf history finally brought things to a boil.

Only the battle wasn’t at the top, as no one could mount a charge to challenge the elegant and unflappable Minjee Lee, who entered the final round with a three-stroke lead and finished at 13 under, four ahead of American Mina Harigae to claim her second major title. The 26-year-old Lee became the first Australian to win the U.S. Women’s Open since Karrie Webb triumphed at Pine Needles 21 years ago.

When the Women’s Open was held here in 2001, World Golf Hall of Famer Peggy Kirk Bell, who won an LPGA major as an amateur and, along with her husband Warren “Bullet” Bell, built Pine Needles into what’s become a cathedral for women’s golf, invited Patty Berg, Louise Suggs and Kathy Whitworth to give a clinic.

The entire purse that week was $1.2 million, and Webb earned $212,500 for her efforts. Whitworth wrote in her memoir – The Gift of Golf – that it was money the legendary foursome couldn’t comprehend.

“We were amazed at the lifestyle these girls have on tour today,” Bell wrote. “They have babysitters, free meals and courtesy cars!”

What would Mrs. Bell have said then, of Lee’s $1.8 million payday, the largest in women’s golf history to date? (The winner of CME Group Tour Championship in November will earn $2 million.) Coming into this week, no one on the LPGA had crossed the $1 million mark so far this season.

The only real drama of the day centered on second place, as this marked the first time in women’s golf history that two women would earn seven-figure checks. As the back nine unfolded Sunday over the revamped Donald Ross design, three players—Lydia Ko, Hyejin Choi and Harigae—battled over a $1,080,000 paycheck.

Harigae, who only two years ago felt the walls closing in as she fought to keep her tour card and pay the bills, finished solo second. Her previous biggest payday on tour was $268,657.

Consider that while the LPGA took a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, Harigae won $2,300 for winning a mini-tour event on the Cactus Tour by 16 shots with a closing 61.

Choi was solo third at 7 under. World No. 1 Jin Young Ko shot a 71 on Sunday to claim solo fourth. Lydia Ko bogeyed her last two holes to shoot 72 and finish solo fifth. World No. 2 Nelly Korda, competing in her first event since early February after being sidelined with a blood clod that required surgery, finished with a 73 to tie for eighth.

Born in Perth, Australia, Lee was introduced to the game by her parents. Her mother, Clara, was a teaching professional near their home and her father was a fine player in his own right. Her younger brother Min Woo, 23, will compete in his first U.S. Open later this month at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. A two-time winner on the DP World Tour, Min Woo tied for 14th in his Masters debut in April, where Minjee caddied for him in the Par 3 Contest.

Minjee and Min Woo are the only brother-sister pair to win USGA titles, with Minjee winning the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior and Min Woo claiming the 2016 U.S. Junior Amateur.

Lee now has eight LPGA titles worldwide, including the 2021 Amundi Evian Championship, where she came from an LPGA record-tying seven strokes back to win in a playoff.