LAKELAND, Fla., March 16, 2008 – It took four years, then 19 hard-fought holes in the 2008 season opener, but Sunny Oh finally earned her first professional win. Oh rolled in a 20 footer on the first playoff hole to break the tie at 211 (-5) and win the $85,000 Bright House Networks Open.
Oh edged rookie Chella Choi (70) of Seoul, South Korea and Kim Welch (71) of Sacramento with a birdie on the last hole at Cleveland Heights Golf Course. In regulation, the former University of Nevada-Las Vegas star saved par from 10 feet on the 16th hole, rolled in a birdie putt from three feet on the 17th, and then chipped in from 20 yards on the 18th hole to grab the lead.
But she had company on the leaderboard. Choi also birdied the 18th with a 25-foot birdie, followed by second-round leader Welch, whose “thin miss” with a 56-degree wedge landed three feet from the hole to set up her birdie to join the three-way playoff.
When the three players returned to the 18th tee for an extra hole, Choi’s approach rolled through the green to the back rough. Her chip skidded six feet past the hole and she made par. Oh’s approach was short of the green and landed in the short front fringe. Just as she had done in regulation, the resident of Manhattan Beach, Calif., drained her birdie attempt to put the pressure on Welch, whose approach rested seven feet away from the hole. Welch’s birdie chance seemed destined to drop. Instead, it rolled past the hole to give Oh the victory.
“Everything finally came together,” said Oh, a native of Seoul, South Korea. “It has been hard for me and I’ve struggled a lot for four years, so this means so much.”
To trace her path, Oh, who turns 25 next week, was a rising star on the fast track at UNLV. She was the 2003 Mountain West Conference (MWC) Freshman of the Year, a two-time All-American, the 2003 NCAA West Regional Championship winner, the 2004 MWC Conference Player of the Year and a five-time collegiate winner, including the 2004 MWC Championship. After two seasons at UNLV, Oh turned pro and left college in 2004.
By all indications, she was a young woman with a bright future. That is, until a truck rear-ended her in Las Vegas that same year and left her with a lower-back injury and a right-ankle injury that required surgery. After that, Oh limped through her pro start and nursed an aching back that finally sent her home last May for the entire season. She made three cuts in seven events and packed it in.
“When I turned pro, everything was good, but after the accident, I was in pain and I didn’t have the distance,” she said. “It was like I quit golf.”
In four mostly partial seasons on the Duramed FUTURES Tour, Oh never posted a top-10 finish before today, recording a career-best tie for 13th in 2006. But after spending the second half of last year strengthening and resting her back, she returned to the Tour this year full of hope. She had finally spent the time she needed to heal. She married Clifton Lin six months ago and settled down in Southern California. She also gave herself a deadline to play better this year or figure out something new to do with her life.
“This is big because I have been waiting for so long and just trying to get stronger with my back,” said Oh.
While she says her back is still sore, Oh played like a woman on a mission this weekend. With two chip-ins from 20 yards on both the 11th and 18th holes in today’s final round, she needed only 26 putts. Oh held off both long-hitting Welch and Choi, a 17-year-old rising rookie star, with the same poise that she used to have as a fearless college player. Welch and Choi rallied in their own attempt to win a first professional title, but this time, Oh came out on top.
“I’m happy with my performance and I’m going to work really hard for my next chance to win,” said Choi, the former Korean National Team member who finished 14th last year in a Korean LPGA Tour event.
“I’m getting closer,” said Welch, whose tie for second with Choi is her career-best finish. “My goal this year is to be consistent and start the year out strong, so I feel great about this.”
For scores and more information, visit www.duramedfuturestour.com.
Weather: Mostly sunny with temperatures in the mid-80s with wind between 10-12 mph.
Contact: Lisa D. Mickey, Duramed FUTURES Tour at (386) 274-6216 and at [email protected]