How about that?

Edina native defies odds, captures U.S. Women's Open

By Barry Witt

San Jose Mercury News

NORTH PLAINS, Ore. -- There are hundreds of good reasons why Hilary Lunke shouldn't have become the U.S. Women's Open champion on Monday. Start with the fact that 21 months ago, she wasn't even planning to become a golf pro. Or that she'd never finished better than 15th in a professional event. Or that she's one of the shortest hitters on the LPGA Tour and the Open was played at 6,550 yards, the longest layout in tournament history.

But there's one good reason why she is: the 24-year-old Stanford graduate played better than anybody else over the past five days.


Lunke, an Edina, Minn., native, won a three-way, 18-hole playoff at the Witch Hollow course at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club with a dramatic 15-foot birdie putt on the par-5 final hole, beating Angela Stanford, who had just made a birdie on the hole, by one shot. Lunke, who became the first winner in the event's history to earn a spot as a qualifier rather than through an exemption, shot a one-under par 70, while Stanford shot 71 and Kelly Robbins shot 73.

Moments after the final putt fell for the improbable champion -- unflappable throughout the 90 holes of the tournament -- she looked up at a pair of her former Stanford teammates in the front row of an ecstatic crowd and broke down in tears. She then fell into the arms of Tylar Lunke, her husband for the past eight months and her caddie for the past four weeks.

"I can't believe this. What did I do?" Lunke said as those friends, Lauren Robertson and Jenny Pippin, hugged her a few minutes later on the green.

What she did was never make a double-bogey over five rounds of golf on a demanding course that caused headaches for everybody else. She played her short, straight game, and almost never missed a putt of less than 10 feet on the slick, contoured greens. She sunk eight clutch putts Monday that ranged anywhere from 5 to 25 feet in a round that included three birdies and two bogeys.

For the second straight day, the 18th hole was the setting for the dramatics between the two old pals from amateur golf, who roomed together in England during the 2000 Curtis Cup.

As she had to earn a spot in the playoff on Sunday, Stanford drained the long birdie putt. But unlike on Sunday, when Lunke could have made her own birdie to put an end to the tournament in regulation, Lunke knocked hers in on top of Stanford's this time.

"I can barely even remember hitting the putt," Lunke said. "I was just trying to trust my stroke, trust the fact that I've holed putts like that all the time when I play golf."

Lunke, who had missed 7 of the first 13 cuts on the LPGA Tour this year and ranked 88th on the money list prior to the Open, said she kept her cool by trying to forget about where she was.


"I kept tricking my mind saying you're just playing golf, another day of golf, just like you always do it," she said. "When that putt started to go into 18, I think I finally acknowledged the gravity of the situation, and what I'd really done."

The win was worth $560,000, a five-year exemption on the LPGA Tour, a 10-year exemption into the Open, and revised financing plans on the home she and her husband just bought in Austin, Texas, where Tylar Lunke will start business school this fall. (Their current address is a storage locker in Austin.)

Despite her lack of distance -- Lunke ranks 135th in driving distance on the LPGA Tour at 238.7 yards -- and the long Open course, the reality was many big hitters couldn't use their drivers in the tournament out of fear of hitting into fairway bunkers or heavy rough.

So the short hitters were at less of a disadvantage, and chips and putts were what really mattered. Bill Homeyer, who got his daughter started in golf by paying her as a caddie at their club in Edina, said he told his daughter she would have her best chance at victory at a U.S. Women's Open because he remembered a quote from Orville Moody, whose only win was at the 1969 U.S. Open.

When asked about how tough the rough was, Moody had said "I couldn't tell you," because he was never in it.

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