IT is a tag that has only been bestowed upon a handful of golfers throughout the history of our game – “the best golfer to have never won a major championship”.
It is one that both Lee Westwood and Colin Montgomerie have learned to live with and one Phil Mickelson, thankfully, shed in 2004 after 13 years on tour.
It has been carried by Japanese stars Ayako Okamoto and Ai Miyazato, American Solheim Cup stalwart Rosie Jones and recently, perhaps somewhat unfairly, by Aussie star Minjee Lee – in some ways the casualty of her precocious talent and early successes on the LPGA Tour.
It is a tough tag to wear and is certainly one that is media-driven rather than one that is spoken of amongst players.
In years gone by you could choose not to read the sports pages of the newspapers or tune out when the sports bulletin came on the TV, but now with digital media such a huge part of our daily lives it is nigh on impossible for today’s sporting stars to not be aware of what is written or spoken about them.
Prior to Evian this year, Minjee had gone close a couple of times in majors.
She finished in a tie for third at the ANA Inspiration in 2017, missing a playoff by a single shot, while in 2020 she finished in a tie for third at the AIG Women’s British Open without ever really contending for the title.
Heading into the Evian Championship this year, Minjee would have been the first to admit her form over the past 18-months has not met her own lofty standards.
Ranked as high as two in the Rolex Rankings in April 2019, she had now slipped to 15th.
Evian 2021 marked Minjee’s 36th start in a major championship and in the lead-up there had been no mention of her as a potential contender.
For the first time in her career, she was not one of the tournament favourites, which, in a strange way may have contributed to her victory.
This year there were no media conferences for Minjee; so no questions as to when she would break her major hoodoo.
In reality though, Evian 2021 would be Minjee’s best chance yet.
With five of the leading 20 players in the Rolex rankings missing as they prepared for the Tokyo Olympics, she and the other 125 players competing would never have a better opportunity.
Out of the spotlight for once, she would be able to sneak under the radar without carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders.
The tournament was by no means plain sailing for Minjee.
While her opening round of 68 saw her just three shots off the pace, a disastrous start to the second round by Minjee saw her slump to +1 for the tournament.
With the halfway cut looking likely to fall around that mark, those who had invested their hard-earned cash on the West Australian at the odds of 40/1 were not liking their chances.
However, the tide turned very quickly for Minjee as she fought back brilliantly playing the remaining 13 holes of her second round in 6-under-par and at the halfway mark she was sitting nicely in 15th place.
On moving day, Minjee finished her third round with four straight birdies to give herself an outside chance of a victory.
The 25-year-old started the final round seven strokes behind overnight leader Jeongeun Lee6, the 2019 US Women’s Open champion, who had posted an incredible 10-under-par round of 61 in the second round.
Most thought the seven-shot deficit would be a bridge too far against a quality opponent such as Lee6, however, as the Korean faltered early in her round Minjee kept grinding before finishing with four birdies in her final five holes to set the clubhouse lead at 18-under-par.
After struggling for most of her final round, Lee6 showed her class by closing out with three consecutive birdies to force a playoff with Minjee.
On the par-five 18th both players found the fairway from the tee, before Minjee stood up and hit the shot of her life – a superb 6-iron from 175 metres to within two metres of the hole.
After Lee6 found the water with her second shot the rest was merely a formality with Minjee two-putting for birdie and raising her arms aloft in relief.
Finally, she was a major champion.
With the win Minjee became only the fourth Australian woman to win a major championship. She joins Jan Stephenson, Karrie Webb and West Australian compatriot Hannah Green as a major winner.
Lee told the media that her long-time mentor Webb had messaged her straight after the win.
Some credit must go to Karrie for inspiring and mentoring Australia’s two most recent major champions – Minjee and Hannah.
The friendship, support and advice they have received from Australia’s greatest ever player, stretching all the way back to their amateur days, has been priceless.
I would also like to give a big shout-out to Sarah Kemp who finished in a tie for 19th place – the best major championship finish of her career to date.