Luke DeCock

Lang’s Open title caps big year for Duke women’s golf

Brittany Lang hits a tee shot on the first playoff hole against Anna Nordqvist of Sweden during the final round of the U.S. Women's Open at the CordeValle Golf Club on Sunday in San Martin, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Brittany Lang hits a tee shot on the first playoff hole against Anna Nordqvist of Sweden during the final round of the U.S. Women's Open at the CordeValle Golf Club on Sunday in San Martin, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images) Getty Images

Brittany Lang had her chance to win in dramatic fashion with a birdie putt to capture the U.S. Women’s Open on the 18th green.

She ended up winning in a substantially less dramatic way when her playoff opponent, Anna Nordqvist, was called for a retroactive two-stroke penalty after video evidence showed Nordqvist had earlier grounded her club in a bunker.

When you’ve been waiting as long for this as Lang, the 2004 and 2005 ACC champion at Duke, you’ll take it however it comes, even if the climactic moment is a conversation with a rules official while standing in the fairway of the third and final playoff hole. Even if the USGA president embarrasses herself by trying – three times! – to present the trophy to “Bethany” Lang.

“You never want to win with a penalty or something like that,” Lang said afterward. “Especially to Anna, who is a friend of mine and a great player and a classy girl. But it’s unfortunate. It’s a part of the game and it happened that way. I still had to play pretty damn good golf to get up there, so I’m really proud of myself.”

It was a great day for Lang and another dark one for the USGA, which once again struggled to implement a penalty spotted on video. After letting Dustin Johnson and the rest of the men’s field go through most of the final round of the U.S. Open in June unaware of a (very debatable) retroactive penalty on Johnson, at least this time there was no doubt Nordqvist touched the sand with her club.

But the USGA told Nordqvist after she played her third shot with the two tied on the final playoff hole, then told Lang before her third – an exponential advantage for Lang, who after absorbing the momentous news selected a longer club from her bag, a safer shot over the water protecting the green.

Brittany Lang’s win Sunday in the U.S. Women’s Open was followed Monday by the qualification of Duke golfers in Laetitia Beck and Leona Maguire for the Olympics, capping off a good year for Duke women’s golf, which also produced the individual NCAA champion in Virginia Elena Carta. Beck, a 2014 graduate, will compete for Israel. Maguire, a rising junior, will compete for Ireland.

It was all academic after that. Which isn’t to say Lang, 30, didn’t earn the title; she came from two strokes back entering Sunday to have a chance to win outright on the 18th green with a long birdie putt. If she’d made that, it would have been a storybook finish for Lang and, as it turned out, a much better ending for the USGA as well.

Lang’s win Sunday, her first major and second win on the LPGA Tour, was followed Monday by the qualification of Duke golfers Laetitia Beck and Leona Maguire for the Olympics, capping off a good year for Duke women’s golf, which also produced the individual NCAA champion in Virginia Elena Carta. Beck, a 2014 graduate, will compete for Israel. Maguire, a rising junior, will compete for Ireland.

“That’s pretty good,” Duke coach Dan Brooks said Monday. “I like team stuff, though. We didn’t get the team win. I can tell you, if we had won the NCAA championship as a team, that would probably be a little bit more meaningful for me.”

Brooks, who was in California on Tuesday to watch Maguire and Lang play nine holes together in a practice round, said Beck and Maguire will be prepared for the unique challenge of the Olympics. Both have been carrying the weight of their countries wherever they go for a long time. His advice? “Bug spray.”

“When you go off and play in the United States, you’re sort of representing your country anyway,” Brooks said. “They’ll handle it and play some great golf down there, that’s my guess.”

Lang’s win Sunday moved her into the first alternate position for the United States, should Lexi Thompson, Stacey Lewis or Gerina Piller drop out. That wasn’t really on her mind Sunday, not after finally breaking through with a win at the U.S. Open in her 12th try.

“I just feel like I have extremely underachieved as a golfer,” Lang said. “I feel like I’m capable of doing so much more than I’ve done. This is just a little start to boost me.”

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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