BETHLEHEM, PA. — Mickey Mouse was listening to Eminem on her iPod as she warmed up on the practice putting green Sunday morning. Candie Kung walked by and made note of the familiar scene.
"Did you sleep here last night?" Kung asked.
Eun Hee Ji (a.k.a. Mickey Mouse) said, no, she didn't spend that much time on the green, but seemed always to run into Kung for some reason. Kung was at the practice green again later, waiting as Ji made the definitive putt of the women's golf season.
Ji sank a 15-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to win the U.S. Women's Open by one shot over Kung at Saucon Valley Country Club. The 23-year-old South Korean finished the championship at even par and avoided a playoff with Kung, who led the championship until making bogey at the 17th. Ji's putt also punctuated a back nine in which three players led at one point, and four were tied for the lead at another.
From that pack emerged Ji, who seemed to play herself out of the championship with a double-bogey six at the 10th hole. But she birdied three of her last six holes, making an unlikely 45-footer at the 14th, for her second win in the United States. The $585,000 winner's check more than doubled her earnings ($247,911) for the 2009 LPGA Tour season.
"I didn't even dream about winning this tournament, but I did it, and I think this is going to be one of the most memorable moments in life," she said through an interpreter.
Ji played in the final group with third-round leader Cristie Kerr, who extended her two-shot lead to three early on the front nine Sunday. But Kerr's game went astray with consecutive bogeys at holes five and six, then unraveled with a bogey at No. 16, her first three-putt of the week. As she was making par at the last hole, knowing she wouldn't be in a possible playoff, Kerr watched as Ji lined up her putt.
"That's as good as it gets, rolling in that putt," Kerr said.
It touched off a greenside celebration Ji's father might have felt back in Gapyeong.
Ji, nicknamed Mickey Mouse by other Korean players, began playing golf 10 years ago at age 13, giving up a promising water-skiing career in the process. Ji's dad, Young Ki Ji, used to coach the Korean national water-skiing team. Ji grew up water skiing at her father's school but gave it up to play golf. Since taking up the game, she has gone water skiing only once.
"I didn't think there was a future as an athlete for water skiing, so my father and I, we picked golf and stuck with that," Ji said.
Ji won the Korean Women's Amateur in 2003, then turned professional a year later. She qualified for the LPGA Tour in 2007 and won her first event, the Wegmans LPGA, last year.
Ji's father is her primary traveling companion on the LPGA Tour, except for this week. He was back in Korea tending to his travel-agency business, so Ji's mother, Kwang Il Pyun, accompanied her and cooked meals for her.
"Food much better with mom," Ji said.