CHIANG RAI – Thailand’s Prima Thammaraks and Chinese Taipei’s Babe Liu secured their places in the field for this month’s US Women’s Open when they were the top-two finishers in a one day, 36-hole sectional qualifier held for greater China on Sunday.
With only two spots on offer to the year’s second major, teeing off May 30 in Charleston, South Carolina, Thammaraks (68-71) and Liu (70-69) each finished on five-under 139 playing on the Hong Kong Golf Club Old Course.
With wet and windy conditions adding to the challenge on the grueling day for the 44-player field, Liu and Thammaraks managed to escape a playoff for second place when China’s Zhang Weiwei (68-72）spectacularly imploded on her final hole.
The Hubei native was tied for the lead with Thammaraks at four-under following the morning round and was leading at six-under going into her final hole (the ninth hole at Fanling) of the second round. It was there that Zhang closed with a double-bogey seven at the 513-yard hole. She tied for third with Chinese Taipei’s Peng Chieh (72-68) at one stroke back.
“I was getting ready to go to the playoff. It’s been a long day. But when someone said maybe no playoff I was really happy,” said Bangkok native Thammaraks who won the 2017 Xiamen Orient Masters on the China LPGA Tour. The Iowa State graduate finished with nine birdies and four bogeys over the day.
“Obviously, everybody’s trying to play the US Open. It’s one of the biggest majors for ladies golf. I’ve been trying to qualify every year since I went to college, so eight years already. I’ve been going almost every year and I finally got through. This is a really big deal.”
Liu, who will be making her second US Women’s Open appearance after playing in the 2015 edition when she finished in the top three on the CLPGA Tour money list, carded three birdies over her final five holes to qualify.
“I don’t want to hide my good feelings. Definitely I am super happy with this. Last time I didn’t play well [at the US Women’s Open where she missed the cut]. My minimal goal is making the cut this time,” said the 26-year-old Taoyuan native, a three-time winner on the CLPGA Tour. “I made a lot of good putts today. Heading into the final round my aim was five- or six-under. I did a great job.”
Despite missing the chance to play in the US Women’s Open for a second time after qualifying in 2017, Zhang was positive about her experience. On her final hole, she said her second shot went to the left with a three-wood. The ball then hit a cart path and was lost.
“I don’t think that I hit a wrong club. The wind blew the ball to the left. You cannot do anything for it. You should see the positive side. These two rounds show the way I played was good.”
Tommy Tangtiphaiboontana, USGA director, international competitions, said this was the most spots the body had offered for a qualifier in the greater China area and the quality of the field warranted the two places.
As the last few qualifiers had been held in Shanghai in recent years, he said choosing the famed Fanling venue during the week of the EFG Hong Kong Ladies Open that starts Friday made sense. The scheduling cuts down on travel time for the players, many of them who have a familiarity with the course.
“This is a very solid golf course and has a lot of history,” said Tangtiphaboontanan. “From discussions from last year with the CLPGA, the Hong Kong Golf Association and the CGA [China Golf Association] this is something we wanted to do to try to tie in the qualifier with the week of the CLPGA event.”
Hou Yu-chiang was the top amateur as the Chinese Taipei teenager posted rounds of 72-73 to finish eighth at six shots off the pace.
The Hong Kong Golf Club Old Course is a par-72, 6,072 yard layout.
By Al Campbell