Manulife Financial LPGA Classic recap: A grand cru
By Vince Robitaille
GolfWRX Staff Writer
It seems like it should have happened many years ago – to be quite honest, even yesterday, it felt like it should have happened about an hour or so earlier – but Brittany Lang’s conquest of the inaugural Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in Waterloo seemed, somehow, aged to perfection.
The initial notes had been, while perhaps not the bluntest of effluves, lingering around the noses of many keen enthusiasts, since the end of March; her play discreetly picking up in aroma as events rolled by. To most, our expectations for the once-supreme amateur had faded, much like a 1961 Chateau Latour that had been left uncorked and unattended on one severely estranged individual’s table, due to an unwarranted aeration period.
This weekend, nevertheless, the six-time runner-up on the LPGA Tour displayed, for our grand enjoyment, the full array of her proverbial robe and granted us with a finish tout en finesse. From the slight astringency of her missed opportunity on the Championship’s 72nd hole, to the flower notes of her tenacious playoff performance, Lang reminded us all that she is a grand cru.
Sunday’s action begun with our eventual prizewinner in a tie for second at 12-under with the Kraft Nabisco Championship-heartbroken Hee Kyung Seo, two strokes behind third round leader and 2008 US Women’s Open champion, Inbee Park. As our featured group made their way around the turn, however, Park’s lead had vanished. Lang, on her part, fell to third place as her birdies on second and fifth holes simply couldn’t keep up with the pace established by new co-leader, Seo; the latter shaving off three strokes on a stretch of four holes, starting on fifth. Synchronously, waiting on the 12th tee and sitting on 13-under, were fourth-place shareholders Chella Choi and So Yeon Ryu; both off to astounding starts having started the day four shots behind their compatriot, Hee Kyung Seo.
The first of our belligerents to attempt an escape from the pack was Hee Kyung Seo; an aggressive second shot – the said aggressiveness stemming from the tightly placed ping – from a 105 yards out enabling the 2011 Rolex Rookie of the Year to trim her tally even further on the par-4 10th. Both South Korean members of our triumvirate continued their ascent towards the trophy on 11th, steadily taking advantage of Lang’s inability to convert her opportunities – the latter would later go on the record as to say that, despite her flat stick inefficiencies, frustration didn’t settle in at any point during Sunday’s round.
The crucial moment – in regulation – came at the par-3 12th. Seo, sitting alone atop the leaderboard on 17-under, couldn’t find anything but the rough, effectively short-siding herself. Surprisingly, the real blunder would come shortly afterwards. Following a masterful wedge that left her with a mere 3-footer, the runner-up at the last editions of both the Kraft Nabisco Champions and U.S. Women’s Open, clipped the hole’s left edge and had to settle for a bogey. To add to her misfortune, both of her adversaries recorded birdies, thus shifting the tables; Inbee Park grasping the lead at 17-under. The latter’s tenure at the tournament’s summit would, however, prove rather short-lived as she surrendered the ever-important stroke – said surrendered stroke ultimately paving the way for the four-player playoff that would ensue – on the very next hole.
Lang’s first coup d’éclat of the day – and bid at a share of the lead – came on the 378-yards-long par-4 15th. After pulling her drive significantly left of the fairway – thus, not only finding herself in an awkward sidehill lie with her ball resting upon the hard pan rough of the Grey Silo Golf Club, but placing the large bunkers protecting the pin located on the front-left portion of the green – the former Duke Blue Devil powered her way through the grass and sent her ball flying 30 feet right of the hole. The blisteringly rapid right-to-left sliding that would be drained an instant later would eventually become her ticket to the tournament’s extra hole.
As for the last of the playoff’s invitees, Chella Choi’s round was nothing short of spectacular. From the immaculate card to the eight birdies she tallied – three of which coming in the last 4 holes – the 63 that qualified her for extra holes, was worthy of a trophy on its own. Unfortunately, in the end, a somewhat prolonged break and a par on the first playoff hole would have reason of her.
By all accounts, the table was set on the 72nd hole for Brittany Lang: not an inch over 6 feet separating her from her very first triumph on the LPGA Tour – after 7 seasons – as her opponents’ unsuccessful birdie attempts. The pressure could be read, not only over her face, but throughout her complete pre-shot ritual as she set up for what should have been her professional career’s greatest moment. The putt never stood a chance; left through and through. Thankfully for the Blue Devil, the malediction would end three holes later: one of her opponents being eliminated at every stop by virtue of a par.
Amongst other notables this week, both So Yeon Ryu and Stacy Lewis shot final rounds of 64 that netted them aggregate scores of 15-under and a share of 5th place. With the former Razorback heading into next week’s Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in zenithal shape – having recorded 11 top-25′s, 8 top-5′s and 2 victories in 12 events this year – and enjoying home field advantage – memories of patrons chanting at her every move – look for Lewis to climb her way up the Rolex Women’s World Rankings even further with a victory on the 7100-yard-long, par-71, Pinnacle Country Club.
Lastly, on an ambiguously sweet and sour note, a story that should supersede the weekend’s thrilling action in Waterloo, unraveled in Prague. In her return to competition after her parents’ dreadful automobile accident while on their way to watch her compete in the German Open that cost her mother her life, England’s Melissa Reid came out victorious at the Raiffeisenbank Prague Golf Masters. Her teary 6-footer on the 72nd hole netted her a trophy and thought every onlooker that motivation might come in various sometimes tragic – forms and determination – in itself and neverminding results – is a worthy homage. Of course, some just pay greater homages.