USGA struggles with penalty notification again

SAN MARTIN — Brittany Lang captured her first major championship on Sunday evening, beating Anna Nordqvist in an odd three-hole playoff at the U.S. Women’s Open.

While playing the 18th hole, which was the third hole of the playoff, Lang and Nordqvist were tied at even-par, or so they thought. It wasn’t until after Nordqvist hit her third shot onto the green of the par-five 18th that she was informed she had incurred a two-stroke penalty on the previous hole.

Following a lengthy video replay review by the USGA, it was determined that Nordqvist had grounded her club on her second shot out of a fairway bunker on the 17th. With that, Lang suddenly found herself with a two-shot lead.

Lang had yet to play her third shot on 18 when she was informed of the penalty. The realization of having a lead undoubtedly altered her approach on the impending shot.

“I thought I needed a birdie,” she said. “Then they told me [about the penalty] and I decided to just hit a little sand wedge off to the right and play it safe.”

Nordqvist ended up bogeying the 18th and Lang two-putted for par to seal the win. After hugs from her husband, mom and caddie/brother, Lang received a white wine shower from her friend and fellow competitor Angela Stanford.

This was the Duke product’s 12th U.S. Women’s Open. Her six-under score for the championship marks the first time she has shot under-par at an Open. She is also the first player 30 or over to win the U.S. Women’s Open since Annika Sorenstam in 2006.

In a press conference after the trophy ceremony, Lang described her career up to this point as not living up to her own expectations.

“I feel like I have extremely underachieved as a golfer,” she said. “I feel like I’ve always had all the talents physically, it was just the mental game that was missing.”

On a day when the winds were the strongest they had been all weekend and the fairways and greens were faster than previous days, staying mentally tough was the difference-maker for both Lang and Nordqvist.

Nordqvist shot the low round of the day, carding a bogey-free 5-under to make her way into the playoff. Her round included an eagle on the par-five 15th that, at the time, gave her a share of the lead with Lang and Sung Hyun Park.

Both Lang and Nordqvist acknowledged that while having the penalty play a role in such a big moment of a major tournament is not ideal, it’s part of the game.

“It’s just golf, it happens,” Nordqvist said. “I guess it just wasn’t meant to be for me this week.”

In an era of golf that has been dominated by young talent making big splashes early in their careers, Lang’s satisfaction with winning her first major title 12 years into her career was both obvious and endearing.

“I used to not really expect this, and I think that was the problem,” Lang said. “I think that this is an absolutely huge momentum-builder for my career.”

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