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It is minus-7 degrees on a typical late-January day in Edina, Minn., and Hilary Lunke is on her couch poring through notes. Diligently preparing to perform in front of a large audience isn’t anything new for Lunke.
But reading a right-to-left breaking 12-foot putt to win the U.S. Women’s Open is a far cry from analyzing scripture from the Book of Isaiah.
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Twenty years ago at Pumpkin Ridge G.C. in suburban Portland, Ore., Lunke, now 44, shocked the golf world by edging Curtis Cup teammate Angela Stanford and Kelly Robbins in an 18-hole playoff to claim the U.S. Women’s Open, becoming the first qualifier to hoist the Harton S. Semple Trophy. She birdied the final hole to edge Stanford by a stroke for what turned out to be her only win in a seven-year professional career.
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Motherhood – Lunke has three daughters: Greta, 15, Marin, 13, and Linnea, 10 – and a desired lifestyle change drove Lunke from the LPGA Tour. Along the way, she became a devout Christian.
Five years ago – one day after her youngest started kindergarten – Lunke entered what she called the “next season” by volunteering to teach at Bible Study Fellowship, an inter-denominational church.
Each week, Lunke stands before 500 women and delivers 30- to 40-minute sermons. The preparation, she says, is as strenuous as any major. Without her golf background, Lunke insists she wouldn’t have lasted a week.
“As different as the two sound, they are somewhat similar,” said Lunke of golf versus Bible study teaching. “The perseverance and discipline … you keep going even if you don’t know if you are going to see the fruit of it.”
Few if any women in the group know Lunke’s backstory. Even her home bears few reminders of that magical week in Oregon. No replica trophy. The gold medal is stored away. A framed photo of husband/caddie Tylar celebrating on the 18th green serves as the only reminder.
Everything went right that week and Lunke, a short hitter known for an impeccable short game, needed only 24 putts in the final round to get into the playoff, where she completed the fairy tale. After giving birth to Greta in 2007, and with a second daughter on the way, however, Lunke knew the time was right to retire.
“It’s hard to fathom your life without golf,” said Lunke. “But I knew in the back of my mind that I was going to step away.”
Lunke does occasionally wipe the dust from her clubs and tee it up. As part of the Reunion of Champions at Pebble Beach in July, she’ll play Cypress Point. Such get-togethers give Lunke a chance to reflect. Only a select few can call themselves a U.S. Women’s Open champion.
“You downplay it most of your everyday life,” said Lunke. “Being around the players and going to the champions’ dinner, you have that ‘aha’ moment. That was a big deal.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.