CHASKA, Minn. — No one would have picked Hannah Green to win the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship — not even herself. She admitted in the media center after her victory on Sunday, the trophy shining next to her, that she knew it sounded bad, but at the beginning of the week the 114th-ranked player in the world really didn’t expect to win.
The 22-year-old from Australia had never won on the LPGA Tour, but went wire to wire at Hazeltine National Golf Club to win the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. This outcome seemed likely, no disrespect to Green intended, especially with two-time major winner Ariya Jutanugarn one shot behind, and three more major champons within six shots of the lead with one round to play.
One thing Green had going for her was that she was staying with Karrie Webb, seven-time major winner from Australia. Green had been the recipient of Webb’s scholarship, where Webb brings the top two female amateur players in Australia to the U.S. to watch a major and stay with Webb, to experience what the tour is like. Green was staying with Webb and the current scholarship winners in a house, and said the setup helped keep her calm throughout the week.
“As soon as I got home [after the round Saturday] everyone was there and making the food so it was really nice to just have all the Australians there, and there really wasn’t much golf talk at all,” said Green. “That was perfect. That’s what I wanted.”
As nice as her housing setup was, Green still had to go out and finish off the major. She did not make it easy on herself.
Though starting with two birdies in the first seven holes, she made three bogeys in holes from nine through 12. Until that point of the tournament, she’d made three bogeys the entire round. Nerves had to surface at some point, one would expect. Yet remarkably she made no more bogeys, given how many fairways she missed. She was playing out of the rough nearly as often as she was the fairway, hitting just 57 percent of fairways on the week, ranking her T-70 in driving accuracy. Where she made up for it, though, was with greens hit in regulation. Despite playing out of the thick, wet rough, Green hit 71 percent of them. When her driver let her down, her iron game bailed her out. And she had the speed of the greens dialed in all week, allowing her to two-putt from anywhere.
In moments when Green was at her most vulnerable, there were several players who could have mounted an attack. Sung Hyun Park and Nelly Korda got dangerously close, but Korda made bogey at 15 and Green made birdie at 16, maintaining separation from them. Jutanugarn had already made too many bogeys to make any sort of charge.
Green had a two-shot lead as she stood waiting on the 18th tee. That lead was quickly cut to one as Sung Hyun Park, the defending champion playing in the group ahead of Green, made an 18-footer for birdie on 18.
Green yanked her approach out of the fairway into the bunker on the left side of the green, short-siding herself. She handled her nerves, however, and hit her bunker shot to five feet of the hole. Then she calmed holed the five-footer for the win.
With a win like this, wholly improbable, there has to be some sort of lesson to be learned. It could be about playing your own game, which Green did throughout. She never let the gravity of the moment force her into hitting shots outside of her comfort zone. She calmly kept her poise throughout all four rounds, which is no small feat. Playing in the final group at a major can cause regrettable shots from anyone. It’s a battle, attempting to do something you’ve never done before.
Maybe the most important lesson is that before Green got here, she had already learned how to win. In the development of young players, it is a critical, sometimes overlooked, step. Having won three times on the Symetra Tour prepared her for this week, and helped her from letting it slip away.
It is an idea we’ve heard from Brooks Koepka, who played mini tours and experienced winning around the world before he even got to the PGA Tour. It helped prepare him to win on the PGA Tour. Being able to hit great shots is one thing, but actually converting them into victories is an entirely different skill set, one that needs to be experienced so that when you are in a major with the lead on Sunday you’re not lost.
“Winning her first Symetra, that was just as important to her at that time in her life as it was winning today,” said Webb. “She’s had those feelings of leading, trying to win a golf tournament and even though it’s on a different stage it’s still the same thing, you still have to do the same thing to get the ball in the hole at the end of the day.”