Mirim Lee Hits Wall Shot, Wins ANA with Short Game Magic
Yes, the culmination of Mirim Lee’s victory at the ANA was strange, without fans to cheer, extreme heat, and some of the weirdest short game shots one person can put into a final round. That included an intentional wall shot. It is unusual for a golfer of any level to employ a man-made prop to further his or her chances, but Lee didn’t put it there, the tournament hosts did.
Even the sinking of the final birdie putt didn’t ring through the countryside like it should have. Few even made a sound until Nellie Korda offered her congratulations. That, however, wasn’t the really strange part of the ANA. It was in how everyone got to where they got. This wasn’t supposed to be a day for Mirim Lee at all. It was about Korda and Brooke Henderson, both playing the lights out. We were all busy making our bets on which one would pull it off. The ANA would have been Korda’s first win, and I would have loved to see it. She has talent to burn, and everyone sees it coming, sometime. On the other hand, being a fierce fan of Brooke Henderson, I would also have enjoyed her 10th victory and another major. As they both know, but were reminded, nothing’s over until the last putt dropped.
Korda held a two-stroke lead with four to play, but ran into some rough in the late holes. Henderson double bogey’d the 13th. Otherwise, the story might have been different. As for Mirim Lee, she started putting as if she had a magnet in the hole, and chipped in three times from various distances off the green. Then came that wall at the 18th, a big blue edifice made of some artificial something-or-other to replace what had once been a ‘hospitality chalet.’ Without the wall, the 18th green was an island, but Mirim Lee must have had a pool cue in her bag.
She needed to do something at 18 to get into the leaders’ action, so she used a carom shot she had actually practiced. Her second shot went screaming over the green, but instead of water, found “the wall” which neatly deposited her on the grass a few feet back toward the green. She could chip on and putt for birdie, hoping that everyone else got derailed, but there wasn’t much chance of that – so she chipped in for eagle, and earned herself a spot in a three-way playoff. She had done the same thing on #6 and #16.
Sometimes, we get a feeling about playoffs. Someone always seems like the player least likely to win one, expendable like the extra on an action movie. Many brains undoubtedly thought, “Ah, she’ll be gone by the first hole, and we can get back to our Korda, Henderson duel.” Not so fast – Lee put a 5 wood close to the green, and chipped on five feet from the pin. Sink it, and the win was hers. And, of course, she did.
The wall created much commentary. Why it was there was anyone’s guess. It would have been particularly wicked to have three leaders hit second shots to an island green. The unnecessary ‘chalet’ was gone. Why replace it with a useless piece of “whatever” to form a backstop against the water. Judy Rankin said what everybody was thinking, and she was correct. The wall was “too artificial” and “affected play way too much.” We play against nature’s obstacles and our own foibles, not movable objects placed there by humans.
However, Lee is not to be blamed. She played the same course everyone played, taking advantage of what was legal. Getting into that playoff was a clinic in wedge and putter play. And, she didn’t need a big blue wall in the playoff, taking care of business right away. I guess that sometimes hitting the wall isn’t always such a bad thing.