As others wilt, Ruoning Yin seizes KPMG Women’s PGA title with clutch final round
SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — For Ruoning Yin, the calculus on the 18th green of Baltusrol’s Lower course was simple: Make a 10-footer and you’re a major champ. Miss it? Get ready for a playoff. After 275 strokes, one putt was all that separated Yin from an ascent to stardom.
Golf is rarely so binary in its outcomes, but play well enough for the better part of four rounds and this sort of do-or-die pressure putt is your reward.
Yin , a 20-year-old from Shanghai, China, surveyed the line from every angle. She talked it over with her caddie. She waited for her playing partners to putt out. Then she stepped to the ball and made a stroke that would change her life.
“I just talked to my caddie, like, maybe left edge,” Yin said. “I just [hit] a very clutch putt.”
When her ball dropped, she let loose a ferocious fist pump. It wasn’t Yin’s first win, but it was the most consequential. With the title, Yin is now a two-time LPGA winner, just the second major champion from China and on the track to becoming the LPGA’s newest young star.
“It’s amazing,” Yin said. “It’s just unreal.”
Yin’s birdie at the par-5 last officially crowned golf’s newest major champion. But it also reinforced a lesson of the entire final round: To win golf’s the biggest, toughest events, you must execute under extreme pressure.
Just after 4 p.m. local time, the KPMG leaderboard was more crowded than a New York City subway at rush hour.
Eleven players were within two shots of the lead. Baltusrol, normally nasty, had been softened by a band of thunderstorms earlier in the afternoon and was ripe for scoring. Birdie roars echoed from all corners of the property. Volunteers manning the old-school manual scoreboards could hardly keep up. With back-to-back par-5s to finish, fans assumed more fireworks would be in store as the final few groups finished their rounds.
But what actually happened was quite the opposite. With a major title in the balance, the birdie well dried up.
Janet Lin, who was in complete control of her game all day, couldn’t take advantage of the par-5 17th and burnt the edge for birdie. On the next tee box, she snap-hooked her drive left, depositing her ball in the water and drowning her title hopes with it; she signed for a four-under 67 to finish two behind Yin, in a tie for third.
“Hitting into the water is not ideal, obviously, so it sucks,” Lin said.
Rookie phenom Rose Zhang’s first major bid as a pro suffered a similar fate. Despite a spirited final-round charge (she also shot 67, finishing three back, in a tie for eighth), her hopes at the title were dashed when she bogeyed the par-3 16th, then failed to birdie either 17 or 18, both par-5s, in part thanks to a water ball on 18.
Every contender in Sunday’s final round had, of course, felt pressure before. But the stakes of major championships only amplify the feeling. Winning on this stage ain’t easy — especially if you’ve never closed the deal before.
“It was definitely very tense,” said Zhang, who exhibited a rare burst of emotion — thumping her driver into the turf— after rinsing her tee shot at the last.
Following Yin’s 72nd-hole birdie, the only player who could catch her was Stephanie Meadow, who was playing in the final grouping. Meadow, a 31-year-old from Northern Ireland, needed eagle at the finisher to force a playoff, and after her drive split the fairway, a 3 was still in play. But in a battle between pressure and nerve, pressure won out.
Meadow hit a low worm-burner into the pond in front of her. The ball skipped all the way through the hazard and finished on terra firma, but she was unable to hole the ensuing approach.
“Obviously that was not my career best shot there,” Meadow said. “I think I tried to swing a little too hard.”
Pressure can do funny things to a swing — even for the best players in the world.
As her competitors caved, Ruoning Yin soared.
She played some of the best golf of the week on Saturday and Sunday, carding eight birdies and just two bogeys over those two days. On Sunday, she didn’t make a single bogey. And, perhaps most impressive, she hit 37(!) consecutive greens in regulation to close out the tournament.
“Her ball-striking, demeanor — everything is just so far ahead of everybody else,” said Yin’s caddie, Jon Lehman. “She’s pretty special. She’s wise beyond her years.”
That composure was evident in the final round. Despite hitting her first 12 greens, Yin could muster only one birdie for the first two-thirds of her round. When she entered the final six-hole stretch, she was stuck in neutral, two shots behind Lin’s lead. But Yin stayed patient and stuck to her game plan.
“I just kept telling her, ‘Stay patient. Stay patient,'” Lehman said. “I just tried to keep her positive. She’s been kind of struggling with her putting, so it was great to see that.”
On the 13th green, Yin finally pried the lid off the cup and poured in a putt for birdie. She matched the feat on the following hole to pull herself into a tie for the lead.
“I thought she was starting to feel it a little bit,” Lehman said.
Yin was steady over the next three holes, parring each as players ahead of her struggled to find the hole. When she arrived on the 18th green, Yin knew she needed birdie for a good chance at the outright win. All that stood her in way was the 10 feet between her ball and the hole.
“I actually kind of felt that I was going to make it,” Yin said. “It’s a very weird feeling.”
That sensation has a name. It’s called confidence.