BY DOUG FERGUSON
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Allisen Corpuz found herself on the biggest and most beautiful stage in women’s golf and made it look like a stroll on the beach.
Never mind that she had never won on the LPGA Tour or that she had heard all week about the historic occasion of the U.S. Women’s Open held at Pebble Beach for the first time. Nothing could make her crack.
“Every few holes I kind of looked out and said: ‘I’m here at Pebble Beach. There’s not many places that are better than this,’” Corpuz said.
There weren’t many better performances, either. Corpuz turned a tight duel with Nasa Hataoka into a runaway, closing with a 3-under 69 on Sunday for a three-shot victory to become the first American in 20 years to make the U.S. Women’s Open her first LPGA title.
At Pebble Beach, no less.
The 25-year-old from Hawaii, who was born to a Filipino father and a Korean mother, was calm and cool, no matter the shot or the circumstances, until reality set in as she took a three-shot lead down the 18th fairway. It’s a path taken over the years by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods, all of them U.S. Open champions at Pebble Beach.
“Just knowing the history … Tiger just absolutely annihilated this place. Yeah, it’s really special,” Corpuz said. “Twenty, 30 years from now, I think just the fact that it’s a U.S. Open means a lot to me. But knowing that it’s at Pebble makes it even sweeter.”
She won by three shots over Charley Hull (66) and Jiyai Shin (68) and claimed the $2 million prize, the richest ever for an LPGA major champion.
Corpuz couldn’t contain a wide smile when she tapped in for par, only to cover it with her hand as the tears began to flow. She wiped them with her Aloha-print towel.
Former President Barack Obama was among the first to congratulate her on Twitter. Both went to Punahou School in Honolulu.
“Unreal,” Corpuz said. “This week has felt like a dream come true.”
Hilary Lunke in 2003 at Pumpkin Ridge was the last American to get her first win at the U.S. Women’s Open, that one in a three-way Monday playoff.
Corpuz, who finished at 9-under 279, was the only player to break par all four days.
Corpuz never gave anyone much of a chance. Hataoka lost her one-shot lead on the opening hole when Corpuz hit her approach to 5 feet for birdie, and the 24-year-old from Japan dropped too many shots down the home stretch.
They were tied at the turn until Corpuz hit her approach to just inside 10 feet for birdie on the 10th. The key moment was at the par-3 12th, when Corpuz came up short in the bunker and had 15 feet for par. Hataoka rolled her birdie putt from the fringe 5 feet by the hole. Corpuz made her par, Hataoka missed her putt and the lead was at two.
It only got larger, Corpuz stretching it to four shots with superb wedges to 8 feet on the par-5 14th and 4 feet on the 15th, both birdies that made the final act a battle for second place.
Hull, who started the final round seven shots behind, closed to within two shots early on the back nine and stayed in the game with a 30-foot birdie putt on the 16th. Only later did she realize Corpuz was pulling away. Hull kept firing, hitting 3-wood from under the cypress tree in the middle of the 18th fairway and nearly pulling it off.
“Shy kids don’t get sweets,” she told herself on the 18th before lashing away and dropping to a knee to watch its flight.
Shin made a birdie on the 18th to join Hull as a runner-up. The two-time major champion from South Korea never had a serious chance to win, but she celebrated a big moment for Corpuz and for women’s golf.
“I’m only watching the TV to Pebble Beach and then finally we are here to play,” Shin said. “This course has a great history, and then finally the women’s history is in.”
That history belonged to Corpuz. She joined Michelle Wie West as the only major champions from Hawaii—Wie West won the Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2014 and played her final major this week at Pebble Beach.
They are linked by the Aloha State, their high school (Punahou) and their emphasis on education—Wie West graduated from Stanford, Corpuz got a business degree and an MBA from USC—and their early start in USGA events. Corpuz broke Wie West’s record as the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links as a 10-year-old.
“I never really thought I’d get this far. Just watching Michelle, she’s been such a huge role model to me, and it was really awesome to break her record for the Public Links,” Corpuz said. “But I’ve never really compared myself to her. I’ve always wanted to make my own name. She’s just served as a really big inspiration.”