Korean Australian Minjee Lee wins LPGA tournament in S. Korea in playoff

October 23, 2023

Australian star Minjee Lee captured her 10th career LPGA title in South Korea on Sunday, winning in the land of her parents’ birth for the first time.

Lee, born in Perth to Korean parents, defeated Korean American Alison Lee in a playoff to claim the BMW Ladies Championship in Paju, northwest of Seoul.

Minjee led Alison by two shots with two holes to play, but the latter pulled even with birdies at the 17th and 18th. Minjee only managed pars on those final two holes to drop into the playoff at 16-under 272 at the par-72, 6,369-yard course Seowon Hills at Seowon Valley Country Club.

Back at the 18th for the first playoff hole, Minjee sank her birdie putt after Alison missed her attempt from about eight feet away.

“Going into the back nine, the first probably five holes, I wasn’t quite as nervous. I was probably a bit more excited than nervous to be fair,” Lee said. “Those last few holes I was quite excited to play and we always want to be putting ourselves in that position, in the contending position week in week out. And I was lucky enough to do it this week. And it’s just really fun to play in those kind of conditions and those situations. So I think I really had fun out there this week.”

This was Lee’s second win of this season, making her the fifth player in 2023 to grab multiple titles after Celine Boutier of France, Lilia Vu of the United States, Ko Jin-young of South Korea and Yin Ruoning of China.

Lee took home US$330,000.

The BMW Championship, which began in 2019, also needed a playoff to determine the champions in 2019 and 2021.

As for winning on Korean soil, Lee said it was “extra special” to come through before her extended family and friends.

“Out of all the places, Korea was always at the top of my list because my parents are Korean and I have a really deep heritage to Korea,” the 27-year-old said. “This one is extra special and especially having all of my family and friends all come out and cheer for me today … it was really cool to see them on the sidelines. So it’s just really great that I was able to win today.”

Minjee Lee shared the 54-hole lead with Ashleigh Buhai of South Africa at 12-under, with Alison Lee one of two golfers sitting one stroke back heading into the final round. Minjee, Buhai and Lydia Ko played in the final group, with Alison playing one group ahead.

When the final group made the turn, Alison Lee was alone at the top at 14-under, with three players sitting one shot back and six players, including Ko, within two shots of the lead.

Minjee joined Alison at the top with a birdie at the 10th, and the two rivals from junior days went back and forth down the stretch.

They were tied at 15-under before Minjee seized a two-shot lead in a quick turn of events.

Alison Lee pushed her tee shot to the right rough on the par-three 16th, and missed her par putt to fall to 14-under after a poor chip that sent the ball well past the cup.

Moments later, Minjee Lee made birdie on the par-five 15th to go up by two.

But their fates turned over the final two holes in regulation.

At the short par-four 17th, playing at 249 yards, Alison drove the green and had her eagle putt lip out. She made the short birdie putt to move back to 15-under.

Minjee also reached the green off the tee, but after her eagle putt grazed the cup, she missed the birdie putt coming back up the hill. The three-putt par kept her at 16-under and gave Alison a slight opening.

And Alison seized that opportunity, hitting a superb second shot to the 18th green for the closing birdie to finish her regulation at 16-under.

Minjee missed the green short at the 18th and needed a great chip to set up a tap-in par that sent the tournament to the sudden-death playoff.

The two went back to the 18th hole, and Minjee got the better of her opponent this time on the 353-yard hole.

Alison, hitting her second shot from 146 yards out, set up an eight-foot birdie chance. But in a “whatever you can do, I can do better” moment, Minjee hit her approach from 95 yards out to about a foot from the cup.

After Alison missed her birdie putt, Minjee stepped up to drain hers and secure her title.

Sunday’s duel was a rematch of the final at the 2012 United States Girls’ Junior Championship. Minjee defeated Alison 1-up at the time.

“Obviously, I’ve known Alison quite a while. I played her in the final at the U.S. Girls’ Junior, which I thought back to when I was on the tee,” Minjee said. “It felt familiar, and it’s nice to be able to play against somebody that you know. It’s always fun to go head-to-head with the best.”