Brittany Lang: Winner…and Duke too

If you didn’t catch the finish of the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic at the Gray Silo Golf Course in Waterloo, Canada, you missed a good one. There was a four-way playoff with: Brittany Lang, Hee Kyung Seo, Inbee Park and Chella Choi.

After playing the 18th hole four times, once in regulation and three times for the playoff, Brittany Lang finally nailed down her first tournament win. What was as interesting was that she also was the first Duke graduate to win on the LPGA Tour. For as significant as that program is, it was a little surprising that a lady Dukie had never won.

They all shot 16-under par for the four days, but they also had great company right behind them. Stacy Lewis and So Yeon Ryu were at 15-under, Shanshan Feng and Anna Nordqvist were one stroke back of them. High quality players — three majors among them — packed just right there added nicely to the suspense of whether a playoff would be necessary and then who was going to get in.

It came down to the last putt in regulation with Lang having about a five or six footer to win outright. The ball never even hit the hole:

I was so nervous on that first putt in regulation, I couldn’t really see what I wanted and I just kind of putted it up there.

What she meant by that was that the din in her head, the kaleidoscope of possibilities flashing through her mind, were so overwhelming that she couldn’t even see, let alone think straight. By “see” I mean seeing with clarity: the dimples on the ball, all the nuance of the line of the putt, the grain of the green, where the white paint on the inside of the cup had been flaked away. All that is a blur when you get in your head.

It all seems so easy as you watch it on television, but it feels otherworldly as you’re going through it. You feel like you’re in some other detached reality because you are so far away from what feels normal to you…particularly on a putt to win your first LPGA tournament ever after seven years of trying.

But on the other hand, it helped her make the final putt on the third playoff hole; good players use adversity to make themselves stronger:

Yeah, you know, I got better with each putt because I had to make two other putts to stay in the playoff…But those two birdie putts I made to stay in the playoff, I was getting better at being nervous and knowing that just because I was nervous didn’t mean I was going to miss it…I mean in the last putt to win, I felt way better than I did in regulation, so it was good practice.

The other good thing about this tournament was that the tension from the end of regulation didn’t abate once the playoff began. It couldn’t have drawn itself out any better than it did.

In the first playoff hole, Chella Choi made par while the other three made birdies.

On the second playoff hole, Inbee Park, the 2008 U.S. Open champion, made par while the other two made birdies.

And on the third playoff hole, Hee Kyung Seo, the “Supermodel of the Fairways,” made par to Lang’s “okay to be nervous” birdie putt.

The other nice piece of the day involved the weather. Despite a forecast for a 60% chance of thunderstorms, they never materialize. What did happen was that there was a shower that made the caddies scurry to the bags for the umbrella and for Lang to put on her rain top. It was an attention-getting little burst. “Here it is,” they must have been thinking.

But it was over in a matter of minutes. The effect of this was that the forecast rain did materialize affirming what all the players had anticipated. But then when it stopped and all the rain gear was stowed, it left the players grateful and thinking maybe it was a sign that it was going to be their day.

Also, as a postscript to yesterday’s post, Nicole Hage finished T23 and earned $11,715. She was 2-over for the day and finished at 7-under for the tournament. But she will be very pleased with herself as she looks back. She fought back from a double bogey on 7 to get it to 1-under by 11. And she was cruising along making par after par until she made a triple bogey on the short, par-3 17th.

There’s no record of how she did it — she didn’t get any air time — but it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that her cruising was not getting her lower than 1-under while the top of leaderboard kept going lower. So knowing that she had an easy birdie chance on 17 and a possible eagle chance on the 18th, she tried to press.

Since the triple bogey was a one-hole catastrophe, her round today should only bolster her confidence. Back out the double and triple for pars and she was playing good enough for the T10 she would have finished. It was another building block, this time a positive one. The players who eventually succeed think that way.

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