When the rain ended, the lightning began. First, Ariya Jutanugarn put Thailand into the finals of the UL International Crown with a dramatic eagle in sudden death and then the Republic of Korea thrilled the massive gallery at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon to deliver the Crown to this golf-passionate country for the first time in truly electric fashion.
After all of Saturday’s play was lost to Typhoon Kong-Rey, Sunday was exactly that – a sunny day as the third session was concluded and then the singles matches contested under beautiful, bright skies – and the wildly enthusiastic crowds returned to cheer on the home team. Korea now joins Spain in 2014 and the United States in 2016 as International Crown champions.
When all was said and done, Korea had 15 points, the United States and England 11, Thailand 10 and Sweden 9. Four very talented players who felt the weighty expectations of their nation on their shoulders stood shrouded in Korean flags and bathed in the cheers of its adoring fans.
“We never feel nervous going into a major, but we were nervous for a couple months before this,” So Yeon Ryu said, explaining the intensity of the expectations of the home fans. “There were so many fans out here,” I. K. Kim said about the raucous atmosphere. “I just had to tell myself to focus on every shot.”
And that’s exactly what the Korean team did, scoring 4 points in session 1; 2 points in Session 2 and 4 points in Session 3 before winning 5 of the 8 points available to it in singles play. The winning point was secured in the penultimate match when Kim halved the 17th hole with Bronte Law of England to guarantee at least a halve of that match.
The United States had been eliminated when In Gee Chun defeated Anna Nordqvist of Sweden 1-up in Match 7 of the 10 singles contests. “The fans got what they wanted today,” Cristie Kerr said after it became clear the United States would not successfully defend its International Crown title. “Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way.”
The drama of the singles contests was set up when Korea advanced out of Pool A with 10 points and England moved onto the finals with 7 points. The United States topped Pool B with 8 points while Sweden had 6.
In the battle for the fifth spot in the finals, Australia, which also had 7 points, lost a tiebreaker to England because England had a 3-1 head-to-head record against the Aussies. The sudden death showdown between Australia, Thailand and Japan went to the drivable par-4 14th hole and Jutanugarn drove to the fringe of the 236-yard hole with a 2-iron and then chipped in for an eagle that advanced Thailand to the finals with 5 points.
The singles finals followed three sessions of better-ball play and in the singles each of the four players from a country played a different country. For the United States, Michelle Wie lost to Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand 2 and 1; Jessica Korda handled Madelene Sagstrom of Sweden 4 and 2; Kerr dropped her match with Georgia Hall of England 2 and 1 and Lexi Thompson halved with So Yeon Ryu of Korea.
In the marquee matchup, Rolex Ranking No. 1 Sung Hyun Park of Korea lost to No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand 2 and 1. The other home-country match-ups had Chun defeating Nordqvist 1 up; Kim dispatched of Bronte Law of England 2 up and Ryu had that halve with Thompson.
The other matches had Caroline Hedwall of Sweden halving with Sherman Santiwiwatthanaphong of Thailand; Charley Hull of England took Pornanong Phatlum of Thailand 1 up and Jodi Ewart Shadoff of England fell to Pernilla Lindberg of Sweden 1 up.
As they swung into singles play, Korea had 10 points, the United States 8; England 7; Sweden 6 and Thailand 5. The lead for the home team, which came into the event as the No. 1 seed, was simply too much for anyone to overcome. For Korea, playing at home was a double-edged sword: The cheers were enormous but so were the expectations.
Chun said her teammates helped pull her through the tension of the week. “Without them, I couldn’t play very well this week,” she said. “I was so nervous.” And Park summed it when perfectly. “All of my teammates felt a lot of pressure,” she said. “I’m so proud we were victorious.” Indeed, an entire nation is proud that these four women rose to the occasion and reaffirmed Korea’s position atop the world of women’s golf.
Twenty years after Se Ri Pak got the ball rolling with her victories in the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open and KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the little girls she inspired are women now and they took home a title that might not even exist if not for the excellence inspired by Pak. Today, they are wearing the International Crown.