The U.S. Women’s Open might not have the century-plus history as the men’s version, but it’s no less rich in tradition. In fact, it’s still the marquee event in women’s golf. Here’s a look at 25 of the most notable moments in the history of the U.S. Women’s Open.
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Berg wins inaugural national championship (1946)
The first U.S. Women’s Open was played at Spokane Country Club in Spokane, Wash., in 1946. It’s the only tournament in the history of the event to feature a match play format. The semifinals and final rounds were 36 holes. Patty Berg and Betty Jameson competed in the finals and were all square after the first 18. Berg, however, dominated the rest of the way, beating Jameson 5 & 4 to earn $5,600 in war bonds.
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USGA takes control (1953)
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While the United States Golf Association — for better or worse — has been in charge of America’s national championships on the various levels of the game for decades, it did not oversee the national Women’s Open until 1953. It was played under the blanket of the Women’s Professional Golfers Association for the first three years, then the LPGA, following its formation, for another four years before the USGA took the reigns.
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Rawls needs overtime for second title (1953)
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Also in 1953 at the Country Club of Rochester, Betsy Rawls won her second U.S. Women’s Open. Not necessarily major news, but Rawls became the first to win the event in a playoff. However, that 18-hole playoff between Rawls and Jackie Pung was rather anticlimactic. Rawls won it handily, by 6 strokes to claim the third of what would total eight major championships on her brilliant career.
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Babe’s triumphant return (1954)
Babe Zaharias is arguably the most versatile athlete of all time, considering she won 10 major golf championships and two Olympic track and field gold medals. Her first U.S. Open came title in 1948 and she won another in 1950. Zaharias sat out the 1953 tournament following surgery for colon cancer but returned to the links in 1954, where beat runner-up Betty Hicks by a record 12 strokes. That performance proved, not only how resilient Zaharias was, but that her dominance had not waned. Sadly, back surgery kept her out of the 1955 Open, and her cancer had returned. She died on Sept. 27, 1956, at age 45.
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Uruguay’s Crocker makes U.S. Open history (1955)
The 10th installment of the U.S. Women’s Open was worth celebrating for many reasons. Most notably, perhaps, that this particular tournament was the first won by a golfer from outside the United States. Uruguay’s Fay Crocker led from wire to wire, finishing 4 strokes ahead of the pack to become the first international winner of the event. It would be another 12 years before another non-American won the Open.
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Pung’s big error (1957)
In one of the most bizarre and heartbreaking moments in U.S. Women’s Open history, the aforementioned Jackie Pung appeared to have won her first title of the kind. However, it was determined that Pung signed an incorrect scoreboard, as playing partner Betty Jameson marked her for a 5 on the fourth hole when Pung made a bogey 6. Pung actually did the same on Jameson’s scorecard. Both were disqualified and runner-up Betsy Rawls, a stroke back of Jung, was awarded the title. As reported in Golf Digest, Pung said at the presentation ceremony: “Winning the Open is the greatest thing in golf. I have come close before. This time I thought I’d won. But I didn’t. Golf is played by rules, and I broke a rule. I’ve learned a lesson. And I have two broad shoulders …”
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Wright’s sweet repeat (1959)
There have been seven women in the history of U.S. Open competition to repeat as champion. The first was Mickey Wright, who accomplished the feat in 1959, at Pittsburgh’s Churchill Valley Country Club. In fact, Wright won three of four U.S. Women’s Open championships from 1958-’61. She actually led the 1960 tournament before faltering over the weekend. In ’59, Wright edged two-time Women’s Open winner Louise Suggs, the 36-hole leader, by 2 strokes.
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Rawls wins No. 4 (1960)
Betsy Rawls is women’s golf royalty (eight major championships, 55 LPGA Tour victories), there’s no doubt. Half of her eight major victories came at the U.S. Open. The last of which was in 1960 at Worcester Country Club. At the time, Rawls owned the record for most U.S. Women’s Open titles, but she would not hold that solo distinction for long. This leads us to the 1964 tournament …
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Wright’s special homecoming (1964)
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… when the previously mentioned Mickey Wright, a San Diego native, won the event at San Diego Country Club in nearby Chula Vista, Calif. Wright needed to win an 18-hole playoff over San Diego-area resident Ruth Jessen to claim her fourth and final U.S. Open championship. Wright’s triumph tied her with Betsy Rawls for the most wins in the history of the tournament. To this day, no other golfer has won more U.S. Women’s Open championships than this Hall-of-Fame pair.
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Ready for prime time (1965)
Future Hall of Famer Carol Mann hit the jackpot when she won the 1965 U.S Women’s Open at Atlantic City Country Club. Not just for the prestige and honor of winning your country’s professional national championship, but because there were plenty of eyes watching that weren’t in Northfield, N.J., for the event. The final round of the ’65 event was televised for the first time. That opened the door for women’s golf to become a staple amid the growing interest of sports on television — over various fronts.
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Lacoste tops the pros (1967)
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To this day, Catherine Lacoste’s 2-shot victory in 1967 at The Homestead in Virginia is still the only time an amateur has won the U.S. Women’s Open. France’s Lacoste, the daughter of famed tennis star Rene Lacoste, was just 22 years old when she won the event despite shooting a final-round 79. Two years later, Lacoste won the British Ladies Amateur and the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Interestingly enough, Lacoste never turned pro.
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Bradley grand slam bid ends (1986)
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Let’s fast forward to the mid-1980s. Pat Bradley was one of the best in-game and won the first two majors of the 1986 slate– famed Nabisco Dinah Shore (now known as the ANA Inspiration) and LPGA Championship. When the U.S. Women’s Open, held at NCR Country Club in suburban Dayton, Ohio, rolled around, Bradley was competitive. Though, not enough to claim a third straight major title. She finished tied for fifth, ending her hope of achieving a Grand Slam season. Jane Geddes edged Sally Little for the ’86 championship in an 18-hole playoff.
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Davies accomplishes an English first (1987)
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There have been only two English golfers to win the U.S. Women’s Open. The first was the great Laura Davies, whose initial major title of any kind came at New Jersey’s Plainfield Country Club in 1987, after outlasting both Ayako Okamoto and Joanne Carner in an 18-hole playoff. It also happened to be the first victory for the Hall of Famer in the United States, where, mostly, Davies would go on to win 20 titles on the LPGA Tour.
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So close, again (1997)
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It’s still hard to believe that Nancy Lopez, the golf legend who won 48 LPGA Tour events and three majors, never earned the moniker of U.S. Women’s Open champion. That’s not to say she didn’t come close. Four times, Lopez either tied for or finished second outright at the tournament. Her final, serious opportunity to win in 1997 at Pumpkin Ridge. The 40-year-old Lopez was alone in second heading into the final round, but bogeyed two of her final four holes and missed a 15-foot putt for birdie that would have forced a playoff.
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Pak outlasts upstart amateur Chuasiriporn (1998)
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As far as entertainment purposes go, the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open at Wisconsin’s wonderful Blackwolf Run is some of the best golf ever displayed — men or women. Se Ri Pak and amateur Duke standout Jenny Chuasiriporn, both 20-years old, battled it out in a Monday playoff that lasted 20 holes. Pak’s 18-foot foot birdie on the 92nd hole was the difference. While the victory itself was memorable for the spirit of competition and the drama, it’s notable for being the start to of the success South Korean golfers would have on the LPGA Tour, and this event in particular. Starting with Pak’s victory here, South Korean golfers have won 11 U.S. Women’s Open titles — second-most of any country (U.S. leads with 52).
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Webb last to repeat (2001)
As mentioned prior, there have been seven golfers to win back-to-back U.S. Women’s Open titles. What might be surprising is that it hasn’t happened for quite some time. Australian star Karrie Webb was the last to accomplish the feat, in 2000 and ’01, when she shot a combined 13 under at Pine Needles and the Merit Club, outside Chicago, respectively. Since 2001, South Korea’s Inbee Park is the only golfer to win the Women’s Open more than once during that span.
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Lunke’s improbable win (2003)
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Hilary Lunke won only one professional golf tournament during her brief career. It just happened to be the U.S. Women’s Open. In 2003 at Pumpkin Ridge, Lunke outlasted Angela Stanford and Kelly Robbins in an 18-hole Monday playoff. Perhaps most impressive about Lunke’s achievement was that she became the first golfer to win the event that had to go through local and sectional qualifying to make the Women’s Open field. Lunke, however, made the cut in just four more majors before retiring after the 2008 season.
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Birdie holes out for birdie (2005)
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South Korea’s Birdie Kim and 17-year-old American Morgan Pressel were battling down the stretch at the 2005 event at Denver’s Cherry Hills Country Club. Pressel had won the hearts of golf fans who watched her try to become the second amateur to win the U.S. Women’s Open. But it was Kim, who came through in the end. With the pair tied on the 72nd hole, Kim holed out from a greenside bunker for birdie and her first and only Women’s Open title.
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Sorenstam returns to greatness (2006)
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The great Annika Sorenstam needed to survive an 18-hole playoff against Pat Hurst for her third U.S. Women’s Open triumph. But first, since she repeated as champion in 1996. It was not only Sorenstam’s last Women’s Open championship but her 10th and final major victory of any kind. With three U.S. Women’s Open titles, Sorenstam is tied for second all-time with Babe Zaharias, Susie Berning, and Hollis Stacy.
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International appeal (2007)
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For the 2007 tournament at Pine Needles in the North Carolina, the starting field featured more international golfers than those hailing from the United States. It was the first time that ever happened at the event. Still, American Christie Kerr won the ’07 event. Yet, that would be the only Women’s Open victory from an American golfer over a five-year stretch from 2005-’09. As we are about to see, it’s one specific Asian nation that will dominate the women’s golf landscape, particularly the U.S. Women’s Open, around this time.
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South Korean dominance (2008-’13)
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Se Ri Pak’s 1998 victory marked the first time a South Korean won the U.S. Women’s Open, but the nation truly flexed its golf muscle on the LPGA Tour starting in 2008. Over a six-year stretch from 2008 to 2013, South Korean golfers won five of the six Women’s Opens, with Inbee Park (at 19 in 2008 is the youngest winner in the history of the event) bookending her titles during that span. Going a stop further, since 2008, only four times the Women’s Open champ did not come from South Korea.
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Pink panther prevails (2010)
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Speaking of that South Korean run of dominance from 2008-’13, the only time that nation didn’t produce an Open champion during that span came in 2010. That’s when LPGA favorite and pink-loving star Paula Creamer finally won her first major championship. Creamer had already won eight times on Tour, but was nursing a sore hand during Open play at Oakmont. Still, the “Pink Panther” persevered to win her first and only major to date by 4 strokes.
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Wie’s a winner (2014)
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Because of her talent, Michelle Wie was saddled with plenty of hype and pressure. The media wanted her to be the female Tiger Woods, while the LPGA looked at Wie as the Pied Piper of the women’s game. Wie turned pro in 2005, just after her 16th birthday. Yet, she didn’t win her first — and to date — only major title until 2014. Her 2-shot victory over Stacy Lewis at the Pinehurst-held Women’s Open got the major monkey off her make and proved Wie was capable of winning when the heat was on.
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Lang holds U.S. torch (2016)
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One must go back to 2016 for the last time an American golfer won the U.S. Women’s Open. That was courtesy of Brittany Lang, who won in a three-hole aggregate playoff over Anna Nordqvist at CordeValle in Northern California. Though Lang obviously played well enough to be in that position, she benefited from Nordqvist inadvertently grounding her club in a fairway bunker prior to her shot — which was caught on TV. She was hit with a 2-stroke penalty and Lang won by 3.
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December fun (2020)
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Amid a global pandemic in 2020, the U.S. Women’s Open was not immune from change. The event was initially postponed, then held in mid-December at Champions Golf Club in Houston. Kim A-lim birdied the final three holes to win the tournament and become the 11th South Korean golfer to claim the U.S. Women’s Open Championship — and ninth in the last 13 years.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.