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How one hole shaped the Island Resort Championship final

(Mitch Vosburg/Daily Press photo) The front bank of hole No. 15 of Sweetgrass Golf Club at Island Resort and Casino in Harris.

HARRIS — The final day of any golf tournament brings a sense of excitement, unpredictability and adrenaline rushes for a sport that requires focus, concentration, and the lack of noise from spectators, participants, volunteers and even the overweight squirrel living its best life in a nearby tree.

Sunday’s final day of the 2024 Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass Golf Club was going to be no exception. Especially after what Anne Chen, a native of Sugar Land, Texas and a recent graduate of Duke University, did on day one.

Chen had a historic first round with a -9 (63) which tied the course record previously set by Morgane Metraux’s second round in 2021. Metraux went on to win the tournament in 2021. All eyes were on Chen to see if she could also win like Metraux.

Chen had a lone blemish of a bogey on the par 3 No. 7 hole on the front nine to finish with a +1 (73). With nine holes to go she had a cumulative score of -8.

But seven golfers sat behind her at -7. And of those seven, two were actively playing. Soo Bin Joo, a 20-year old from Seoul, South Korea in her second year of Epson Tour play, and Min Lee, a 10-year tour veteran from Taoyuan City, Chinese Taipei, had the opportunity to chase down Chen and force a playoff for the win.

All three golfers had one similar task to complete. One that became a make-or-break scenario for the entire field over the weekend.

Survive hole No. 15.

The hole

While a 165-yard par 3 seems simple on the surface, this hole has more bells and whistles than a vehicle in a Dr. Seuss book and more danger than a Stephen King horror novel.The obvious issue is the water. The green is on an island surrounded by a pond that competitors fished in the day before the tournament. The only way onto the green is by walking across a bridge, which on this day was filled with spectators watching to see who survives this treacherous hole.

And with the pin set in the front left portion of the green, pinpoint accuracy is needed. We’re talking threading the needle while making a quilt in your comfortable living room rocking chair, but the winds of an EF-5 tornado are ripping through the neighborhood and through the windows kind of pinpoint accuracy.

If your tee shot misses short and left you’ll be introduced to an unforgiving group of rocks ready to spit every shot deep into the water, scaring the fish that survived Thursday’s event. There’s a chance you could get a lucky bounce back on to the green, but the odds of that happening are similar to those of having a perfect NCAA basketball bracket.

While landing on the back of the green is a safe play on Championship Sunday, the green itself is big. And sloped. Everything long sets up a bending, downhill putt. Two putts on this day are virtually a guarantee if you land long.

Plus there’s a breeze off the water which smacks right into the competitor’s faces. On this particular day it’s not a defining trait, but more like needing to plan a few bathroom breaks while on a family road trip with kids. Must be considered for a happy day.

Survive No. 15

Joo is the first of three contestants to make their way down to the tee box and play Sunday’s edition of “Survive No. 15.”

She brings a friend with her. In this case, it’s a 5 iron grasped in her hands.

She safely clears the water and finds herself in the back and middle portion of the green. A long, winding downhill putt moving right-to-left from easily 45 feet out was needed for a birdie and to tie Chen at -8.

Like trying to hit a bullseye while in the front car of a roller coaster, Joo didn’t sink her putt. But she did end up five feet from the cup, giving herself an easy look for par and to stay at -7.

Her putt rolls up to the hole and catches grasp of the right edge. At this point her putt looks like it’s ready to go into its home, but like Tony Hawk grinding on a rail in a skatepark, her ball rode the edge of the cup. In fact, it came in contact with at least half the hole before being spit out on the green left of the hole like a toddler refusing to eat broccoli.

She tapped in for a bogey. Her score dropped to -6, two strokes back of Chen at that moment with three holes to go.

“I doubled (the hole) in the first round. That made me more nervous, actually,” Joo said. “I’m glad that I made a bogey today.”

Lee was the next contestant on “Survive No. 15.” Her tee shot rode the front left portion of the green. If an A+ shot was a hole-in-one, Lee’s shot is easily an A-. All that stood in her way of a birdie was a 13-foot downhill, left-to-right putt.

Her speed on the putt was what it should have been. But she missed the cup six inches to the right. She tapped in for par to stay at -7 with three holes to go.

The final contestant on “Survive No. 15” was Chen. She was +1 through 14 holes, but her crowd continued to follow her to see if she could win. With her lead down to one stroke as she walked to the tee box, Chen needed to have a safe tee shot to stay ahead and fend off the surging Joo, who at this point birdied No. 16 and 17 to tie Chen at -8. With a mighty thwack and the heads of those in attendance simultaneously pointing their faces to the sky, Chen’s shot soared through the sky. Her shot was sailing slightly right, but had enough juice to avoid splashing in the water. Her shot landed on the grass between the green and the pond.

But her shot didn’t stop there. The spin from the ball forced it to go south faster than a thermometer in a January blizzard.

One bounce. Two bounce. Three bounce. Splash.

Chen was forced to re-tee from the drop zone on the far right of the tee box, easily shaving off at least 30 yards. Her shot lands 10 feet above and to the left of the cup. The back spin, along with the slope of the green, brings the ball down for a manageable bogey putt, albeit a left-to-right putt within six feet.

But similar to Joo’s putt moments earlier, Chen’s putt suffered a similar fate. Chen’s putt approached the right lip of the cup, rode the lip around the hole before being spit out of the cup and left of the hole. It was a small trip around the hole, and the final destination was utter heartache.

Chen settled for double bogey. Her score dropped to -6 and settled for three-straight pars to finish in an 11-way tie for seventh.

“Our whole grouped doubled (No. 15),” Chen said. “It’s pretty tough when the wind gets blowing. You don’t want to go over, but you don’t want to be short. That green gets a lot smaller, too.”

The difference

While Chen and Joo suffered similar fates on putts, Joo had a voice of calmness and positivity in her corner. This came in the form of a man named Hyeongdo Joo. To those in attendance he’s Soo Bin Joo’s caddy, but Soo Bin Joo calls him dad.

“He was so calm the whole day,” Soo Bin Joo said of Hyeongdo Joo. “He helped me a lot.

That calmness helped keep Soo Bin Joo level-headed. What could have easily turned into a massive collapse instead turned into back-to-back birdies on the next two holes to improve to -8. After a par on No. 18 and at least an hour of patiently waiting, Soo Jin Boo was crowned winner of the 2024 Island Resort Championship.

All because she survived hole No. 15 and never looked back.

“(My dad told me) ‘take it easy,'” Soo Bin Joo said of the conversation between hole No. 15 and 16. “‘If you win, you win. If you don’t, you don’t.’ I kind of let go of everything and stayed in process of what I needed to do. That worked.”

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