Kung Not Quite Par For the Course
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Women’s Open runner-up comes up shot shy of title, goal

By Stuart Hall

Bethlehem, Pa. — Even par.

From the outset of the 64th U.S. Women’s Open, Candie Kung set that as her goal and at no time was she about to deviate. 

“I was thinking even par would win the tournament,” she said. “Even par toward the end of the week is going to win.”

Kung was right, though it was Eun-Hee Ji, a 23-year-old Korean who finished exactly on level-par 284 to win at Saucon Valley Country Club’s Old Course. Kung played the final two rounds at five under par, and for her efforts, finished second at one over.

“There's nothing I can do,” said Kung. “It's over. I had a lot of very good breaks out there today, made some very good putts coming in. Nothing I can do.”

Kung, playing in the second to last pairing on Sunday, posted her number first and held the clubhouse lead. She promptly went to the putting green to practice and wait. The outcome, as much as she could hope, was no longer under her control.

Cristie Kerr, the American who held a two-stroke 54-hole lead, bogeyed the 16th to fall back to two over and needed a birdie on either of the final two holes, which ranked as the third and sixth easiest, respectively, in the final round. Kerr made two pars.

Only Ji stood between Kung, the 2001 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion, and the title. On the 18th, Ji was tied with Kung and appeared headed for a three-hole playoff when her approach came to rest 20 feet left of the hole.

The 27-year-old from Chinese Taipei could see the leaderboard off the green on No. 18. Sound trumped sight as Kung finally heard the gallery erupt as Ji’s birdie putt fell into the hole.

“I kept saying to Jane [Crafter], the TV announcer, that was very costly on 17 with a wedge hitting into a bunker and making a bogey out of there,” said Kung, who had made par-saving putts at 15 and 16. “That's pretty much the only thing that I was thinking about, that 17. It was costly.”

Kung was referencing her 71st hole, the 126-yard, par-3. Her intent was to hit wedge toward the center of the green, let the wind blow it slightly left and then have it release to a hole location in the small back left bowl.

“That wind just took it, ended up in the [left] bunker,” she said. “It was a good lie in the bunker. I've been pretty sharp out of the bunker, but there's nothing I can do with that bunker shot. It was straight down toward the hole.”

Unable to see it, Kung’s recovery attempt rolled just over the left edge of the hole to the back apron, some 12 feet away.

“I made some left‑to‑righters [on Saturday], so I was pretty confident with that putt, and it almost went in, too,” said Kung, who played at the University of Southern California and now resides in Allen, Texas.

The bogey pushed Kung off her coveted par goal.

That Kung was even a factor so late into the championship was no small feat.

She made 22 straight pars to open the championship, but by nightfall on Friday she sat at 6-over 148, nine strokes back of 36-hole leader Kerr.

“I was birdie-less the first two rounds, and I kept telling myself to stay positive,” she said. “They're going to go in on the last two days, which they did on some of the holes. That's all I could do, stay positive.”

Not until the 512-yard, par-5 sixth hole in Saturday’s third round did Kung record her first birdie, and it unleashed a torrent of similar red numbers over the next day and a half. When Kung rolled in a 3-foot birdie on the par-5 12th hole, she was finally level again.

Kung did not allow herself to glance at the leaderboards over the final holes. She had no idea whether she was trailing by three strokes or leading by two. Quite frankly, she didn’t want to know. Even par was her only compass.

“I set a goal for myself, and whatever happens happens,” said Kung. “You know, Eun-Hee went out there and made that last putt. She finished at even.”

Just like Kung thought the winner would.

Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose stories have previously appeared on uswomensopen.com.



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