Sunday, April 20, 2014

KKT Cup Vantelin Ladies Sunday: 15-Year-Old Minami Katsu Outlasts Bo-Mee Lee to Become Youngest Winner in JLPGA History

As more experienced golfers around her plunged down the leaderboard during the final round of the KKT Cup Vantelin Ladies, 15-year-old Minami Katsu calmly went out and birdied 5 of her 1st 13 holes to move to -12 and take a 3-shot lead on former KLPGA star Bo-Mee Lee.  Even though she bogeyed the 385-yard par-4 14th, Katsu held on with pars the rest of the way, which was just enough to finish ahead of Lee, who birdied her 2 final holes but ran out of room to chase down the NZ Women's Stroke Play Championship winner.  With her victory, Katsu became the youngest winner in JLPGA history, eclipsing the mark set by then-16-year-old Hyo Joo Kim in 2012.

What an impressive win for the high school student!  She had the low round of the day and only 4 other players managed to break 70.  You'd have expected her to play more like her fellow Japan National Team member Haruka Morita, who ballooned to a 77 and finished T23, particularly on a day when some of the best players on tour also blew up:  Miki Saiki (78, T50), Yumiko Yoshida (75, T45), Mamiko Higa (76, T37), Rikako Morita (74, T28), Chie Arimura (76, T23), Shiho Oyama (75, T18), Onnarin Sattayabanphot (78, T15)....  Ji-Hee Lee leapfrogged lots of players with a 69 that lifted her into solo 3rd, as Teresa Lu and Erina Hara held steady with 72s, 21-year-olds Mami Fukuda (75) and Misuzu Narita (74) fell back to T6, and Kaori Nakamura (72), Mi-Jeong Jeon (71), and Ritsuko Ryu (71) failed to make moves.  So a lot of factors came together for Katsu to win, but that's true every week for every winner.  What matters is she got up-and-down from the sand, canning an 8-footer on the final hole and forcing Lee to eagle to tie her!

Because Katsu is an amateur, the winner's share of the pot went to Lee, who jumped from #8 to #1 on the 2014 JLPGA money list:

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥33.09M
2. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥31.60M
3. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥25.90M
4. Erina Hara ¥24.85M
5. Ayaka Watanabe ¥24.68M
6. Rikako Morita ¥23.96M
7. Esther Lee ¥19.59M
8. Yuki Ichinose ¥16.56M
9. Ritsuko Ryu ¥15.57M
10. Miki Sakai ¥14.47M
11. Mami Fukuda ¥14.31M
12. Ji-Hee Lee ¥14.03M
13. Saiki Fujita ¥12.53M
14. Asako Fujimoto ¥10.98M
15. Yumiko Yoshida ¥10.87M
16. Yukari Baba ¥10.08M
17. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥9.77M
18. Teresa Lu ¥9.68M
19. Ji-Yai Shin ¥9.44M
20. Mayu Hattori ¥7.61M

Next up on tour is the Fujisankei Ladies Classic, which is defending champion Miki Saiki's best chance to start turning 2014 around.  The field list doesn't look complete just yet, but amateur Hibiki Kitamura, who turns 19 on the same day imoto turns 8, will be trying to follow up on Katsu's victory, as will 17-year-old Megumi Takahashi.

[Update 1 (10:32 am):  Check out this youtube clip of the home stretch:

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