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Dripping wet Sunday evening, Wei-Ling Hsu quick-stepped through a gantlet of congratulatory fist bumps from fans, followed by high-fives and hugs from her fellow competitors under the scorer’s tent.
At the end of an emotional breakthrough week, social distancing flew right out the window.
Hsu shot a final-round 68 and held off a mix of rising stars and unknowns for a two-shot victory at the LPGA Pure Silk Championship at Kingsmill Resort.
Hsu (pronounced “She”), a 26-year-old native of Taiwan with 10 career top-10 finishes in seven years on Tour, took advantage of a dramatic four-stroke swing at the par-4 15th and held on for her first career victory.
Moriya Jutanugarn, who held a two-stroke lead with four holes to play, finished second at 11 under par.
With Hsu and Jutanugarn playing in a group with third-place finisher Jessica Korda, Hsu made a 10-foot eagle putt on the 15th to move to 12 under for the tournament. Jutanugarn, who hit her tee shot into a fairway bunker and took two strokes to get out, missed a 4-footer for bogey to drop to minus-10.
Hsu all but iced it with a 4-footer for birdie on the par-4 16th to build a three-shot cushion with two holes to play.
Hsu, who said after Friday’s round that she was playing to bring a bit of good news to her COVID-riddled home country, said the win started to seem like a reality after the 15th.
“I thought about myself, that I’ve been waiting for this for seven years,” she said. “I don’t want to wait anymore. So, sorry. It’s very emotional right now.”
The hot, intermittently breezy afternoon was thick with both humidity and suspense. Jutanugarn made a birdie putt on 13 to reach 11 under just moments before Hsu missed a short par putt to drop to minus-10.
As the leaders reached the middle of the back nine, the six players within three strokes of the lead had eight career victories between them. Six of those belonged to Korda.
Lizette Salas, whose lone Tour victory came at Kingsmill in 2014, started the day two strokes off the lead but finished with an even-par 71 to tie for fifth.
Fourteen-year Tour veteran Sarah Kemp, who doesn’t have a career victory, was two strokes back entering the round but shot 70.
Hsu, who stands just 5-foot-2, made four birdies, three bogeys and the most important eagle of her life at the best possible time.
“It’s amazing,” Korda said. “Obviously, all the hard work is paying off, and Wei-Ling played great today. That eagle she made, I told her she needs to ask for a membership. You know, when it’s your day, it’s your day.”
The three former University of Virginia golfers in the field finished in the money. Elizabeth Szokol tied for seventh, former Hickory High star Lauren Coughlin finished tied for 53rd and Brittany Altomare finished tied for 74th.
Jutanugarn, whose sister Ariya won at Kingsmill in 2016 and 2018, was in search of her second career victory. After one disastrous hole, she had to settle for second.
“I mean, it’s still a good week,” Moriya Jutanugarn said. “You know, to play in the last group on Sunday is always a good week. Of course, it’s not the finish I wanted, but, you know, I’m still going to take a lot of good things from here.”
All week, golfers noted that the bone-dry River Course, which has been at a rain deficit recently, played hard and fast. One compared it to Augusta National. Others compared it to a British Open venue.
No matter how it played, Hsu, the 108th-ranked player in the world, tamed it. And she earned $195,000 for the effort, more than doubling her earnings this season.
Short on sleep after flying from a tournament in Thailand to Phoenix for U.S. Open qualifying last week, Hsu held the outright lead after an opening-round 66. She rebounded from Friday’s 72 with a 65 Saturday and closed more strongly than she ever had.
When Hsu tapped in a 2-footer for par on 18, her mother, Wei-Chia Lu, pumped her fist behind the ropes and screamed, “Yay!” Other golfers rushed to the green and doused Hsu with water, as is customary on Tour.
Later, when asked what the victory meant, Hsu choked back tears as she thought of her friends back home.
“I don’t know what this win means for them, but I really hope that I can give them some positive thoughts and good energy to believe something,” she said. “You know, you can always believe something and it will actually happen.”
David Hall, firstname.lastname@example.org