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Open Question, Closed Book: Lang, Nordqvist won't linger on pivotal penalty

by Steve Eubanks - July 10, 2017

SHE HAD TO GO HALFWAY around the world for it finally to hit home. The cheers, the chants, many broken and obviously memorized as English words like “Brittany Lang” and “U.S. Open” are far more difficult for most Koreans than they should be for, say, the USGA president who was understandably mortified after botching Lang’s name at the awards ceremony last year. But, still, it took almost a full season and a 6,800-mile trip for the magnitude of what Lang had done last year in the hills outside San Jose, Calif., to finally hit home.

“It’s the coolest part,” Lang said of her trip in June to play in the Korea Women’s Open, the biggest event in a country where women’s golf is like college football in the American South.

Lang finished tied for eighth in that open, which was won by Ji-Hyun Kim. But the biggest surprise for the player who will defend her U.S. Women’s Open title this week in New Jersey wasn’t how she played or where she finished – “My game really comes around in the summer,” she told The Post – it was how her every step was cheered so far from home.

“The number of people who recognize who you are and who go out of their way to shout and cheer for you, not just at the golf course but everywhere, it’s really flattering,” Lang said. “I was super excited to have all the people say, ‘Hey Brittany,’ or ‘There’s Brittany Lang,’ or ‘U.S. Open winner.’ That’s when it really hit me what a huge accomplishment it is. Here are people on the other side of the world, many of them don’t speak English, and they know and recognize me. That struck home. That’s really cool.”

Despite great strides made by the Ricoh Women’s British Open and the meteoric rise of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the U.S. Women’s Open is still in a league of its own when it comes to women’s majors. If you want to identify the most important event in women’s golf, look at two things: The purse for the Women’s PGA Championship was $3.5 million, which is hefty, but the purse for the Women’s Open is $5 million. The Women’s Open is also the only women’s major without a pro-am. That sums it up as well as anything.

It took a solid six months for Lang to accept that she was, indeed, the winner of the most prestigious title in women’s golf. “You keep playing and the trophy is in your house, but it takes a good amount of time for it to sink in,” she said. “My friends come over and stare at (the trophy) all the time. They never let you forget it. They say, ‘Your name is right there. Look at all the names on this and you’re right there.’ Then you hear your name announced as the U.S. Open champion but, you know, you’re getting ready to play your round so you can’t really think about it. So, yeah, it takes some time to really get it and enjoy it.”

How she won isn’t discussed as much now, especially after the subsequent controversy surrounding Lexi Thompson’s penalty in the first women’s major of 2017, the ANA Inspiration. Time and perspective tend to soften certain unpleasantries. Lang defeated Anna Nordqvist in a three-hole aggregate playoff after Nordqvist was assessed a two-shot penalty for dislodging two grains of sand during her backswing in a fairway bunker on the second playoff hole (No. 17). (The ruling eventually led to an expedited change in the Rules of Golf to give the player the benefit of the doubt when making such tiny mistakes that could not possibly have been seen or felt in real time.)

Neither Lang nor Nordqvist have any interest in talking about the ruling. Nordqvist won’t even acknowledge questions on the subject. She’s moved on and wants to focus on this week at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. “I’ve been playing well and working on stuff lately so I’m pleased with the way things are coming together,” she told The Post, spinning the story ahead to this Open and forgetting about the past. “I haven’t been playing as much this year just to be more rested and ready for the rest of the year, including the majors.”

Nothing says Lang wouldn’t have won the playoff anyway. Unlike the ANA Inspiration, where Thompson was assessed a four-shot penalty late in the final round for an infraction that occurred the day before – a penalty that wiped away a healthy lead – Lang and Nordqvist were tied before Nordqvist received her penalty on the 18th fairway at CordeValle. So, how Lang won has taken a backseat to what she accomplished. And what she accomplished will be with her for the rest of her life.

“There have been some cool things like dropping the puck at the Dallas Stars game or going to the (New York) Mets game with the trophy,” Lang said. “Those things are great. But the best thing for me is having more people recognize me. That means a lot. Hopefully it’ll stay that way for a while.”


Reproduced with kind permission of Global Golf Post - Subscribe now for free


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