BATTLE CREEK, Michigan, July 30, 2017 - Erynne Lee (Silverdale, Washington) has done it again. She carded a 5-under, 67 on Sunday at the FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship to win her second tournament in a three-week stretch. Lee finished with a three-day total of 12-under, 204 to win by two shots over Benyapa Niphatsophon (Bangkok, Thailand), who held a two-stroke lead into the final-round. Mia Piccio (Bacolod City, Philippines) finished third at 7-under, 209.
Lee, 24, pockets the $15,000 first-place payout and moves from fourth to third on the Volvik Race for the Card money list with $70,998 earned in 15 starts. While Lee has not guaranteed a spot in the final top 10, she has put herself in fantastic position with seven events remaining in the season. For perspective, tenth on the money list in 2016 earned $67,577.
“This is a really great cushion (to earn my LPGA card), but I’m obviously not going to let my guard down,” said Lee. “We have seven events left and anything could happen. Anyone could have a good week and a good stretch so I just want to keep this momentum going.”
Lee started the day with a bogey and then began to find the range with the flatstick. She hit a 20-foot birdie on two, a 17-foot birdie on four and closed the front nine with birdies on six, seven and nine. Her birdie on the par-5 ninth came from the fringe.
“I didn’t really feel a lot of pressure going into today,” said Lee. “It was really neck-and-neck with Benyapa the entire day. She got on fire on the back nine when I had the three-stroke cushion.”
Niphatsophon found her game on the back. It started with a birdie on the par-5 tenth to trim the deficit to two shots. After a bogey on 12, the Lee lead grew back to three shots with six to play. Niphatsophon made birdies on 13 and 14 to trim the gap to one. Lee watched her drive on 15 hit a tree limb and she settled for a bogey and the score was level with three to play.
On hole 16, Lee hit her tee shot to the middle of the green on the par-3. She drilled a 27-foot birdie putt to regain a one-stroke lead.
“It is never easy coming off a three-putt on a par-5, but I regrouped on the tee and hit a good shot,” said Lee. “I wanted to make sure I got the putt to the hole and it kind of snuck in on the side and I was really pumped about it.”
Lee then stuck her approach on 17 to a foot. Niphatsophon made a 10-footer on 17 for birdie and then Lee tapped in to hold the one-shot lead to 18.
“I just had a three-quarter wedge shot on 17 and it was a tight pin and fortunately it just stuck right next to the pin,” explained Lee. “It was a really exciting shot for me and all the spectators watching.”
Lee made a 5-foot par putt on 18 to seal the win. Niphatsophon made bogey so the outcome wasn’t in question.
Over the first seven events of the season, Lee had zero top 10 finishes and ranked 78th on the Volvik Race for the Card money list with just $2,940 earned. In her last eight starts, she has five top 10 finishes, seven top 20 results and has earned $68,058.
“My performance has been at an all-time high the last eight weeks,” said Lee. “The consistency at which I’m playing right now is really, really exciting and that is what is keeping me going.”
Lee now has three career wins on the Symetra Tour in just a year and a half on Tour. She won the IOA Championship in her debut last year and won the Donald Ross Centennial Classic in French Lick, Indiana two weeks ago.
Lee will play next at the PHC Classic in Milwaukee. A third win would give her a “Battlefield Promotion” to the LPGA through category 13. A win or a second place finish next week also would get her a spot in the 2017 Evian Championship, the final major on the LPGA schedule.
THANAPOLBOONYARAS CARDS A 65 ON FINAL DAY: Pannarat Thanapolboonyaras (Rio-Et, Thailand) started her round exactly three hours before the leaders even tee’d off. She made some noise early in the day with a 7-under, 65 and moved all the way up to a tie for fourth.
“My wedge shots were working really good today,” said Thanapolboonyaras. “I had about 90-100 yards a lot and I hit a lot of close shots for birdie.”
The highlight of her round was a near hole-in-one on the fourth.
“I had about 170 yards and I hit a 5-iron,” explained Thanapolboonyaras. “It landed about five feet below the pin and then rolled right next to it.”
Thanapolboonyaras, 19, has made 12 starts on the LPGA Tour this year and plays mostly on the big tour. She played the FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship because she didn’t get into the two events on the LPGA in Scotland. Last week on the LPGA, she finished T27 at the Marathon Classic. Her best finish on the LPGA is a T18 at the Kingsmill Championship.
Thanapolboonyaras will play on the Symetra Tour again next week at the PHC Classic with a chance to qualify for The Evian Championship.
“It would be nice because I really want to play in a major,” said Thanapolboonyaras. “Last year, I tried but didn’t qualify so hopefully I can next week.”
LEE EARNS 500 POTAWATOMI CUP POINTS TO HAVE CHANCE TO WIN CUP: Erynne Lee earned 500 Potawatomi Cup points for her victory at the FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship. The PHC Classic next week is the fourth and final event that is part of the Potawatomi Cup, a series created by the four events sponsored by Potawatomi nation tribes.
Lee now has 643.5 points, which is second in the Potawatomi Cup standings. Niphatsophon earned 300 points for her second place finish and has 667.5 points to lead the standings. The player with the most points at the end of the PHC Classic will earn a $6,000 bonus, which doesn’t count towards the money list.
The Potawatomi Cup has given players a $40,000 pool to compete for over the course of the four tournaments. There is $8,500 available at each tournament.