Hilary Lunke's improbable win inspires

When Hilary Lunke's 5-year-old daughter, Greta, saw some video of her mother holding a shiny silver trophy on a golf course, she was utterly perplexed.

"She said, 'Why are you on TV?' " Lunke said, chuckling. "I play so little golf these days, it was confusing for her. We tried to explain it to her, but she just laughed."

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Hilary Lunke's husband, Tylar, was her caddie that week, a memory they can cherish for a lifetime.

Someday, though, Greta and her two younger sisters, Marin and Linnea, will realize their mom really did once win the biggest prize in women's golf -- and that their dad was with her every step of the way.

Tylar Lunke was his wife's caddie for the 2003 U.S. Women's Open at Pumpkin Ridge outside Portland, Ore. It's been a decade, and in retrospect, Lunke is perhaps an even more unlikely champion than she seemed at the time.

And she was a plenty-big surprise back then, too. Annika Sorenstam was atop the women's golf world in 2003, the year she played in the PGA Tour's Colonial event and won six LPGA Tour events.

But a terrible approach on the 72nd hole cost Sorenstam, who ended up finishing fourth. Meanwhile, it was the relative unknown, Lunke, who closed out 90 holes on top, beating fellow Americans Kelly Robbins and Angela Stanford in an 18-hole Monday playoff.

For American players now who are looking for inspiration that with the right, magical week you really can win the big one, Lunke is a great example.

"Sometimes I still pinch myself," Lunke said. "How can my name be on that trophy, but someone like Nancy Lopez isn't? It's a strange game. I feel like I kind of rode the wave that week and just let it happen."

Lunke had to go through local and sectional qualifying just to make the field. A short hitter who carried an 11-wood -- Tylar referred to that club as Hilary's "garden shovel" -- Lunke had never won an LPGA event.

And she never won another afterward. Now retired, she's busy back in her home state of Minnesota raising three little girls with Tylar, their youngest born last October.

"We'd love it if they played, but we aren't going to push them into it," Hilary said. "My parents really just let me become interested in the game by exposing me to it. My 5-year-old started with some group lessons this summer. We tried to take her out on the range, but she doesn't think we know what we're talking about. She'll be more apt to listen to somebody else.

"I'm hopeful they will enjoy it, and we can play as a family. If they do get a little involved in golf, maybe that will be the time to pull out the video and say, 'We have a little story to tell you.' "

Lunke had always told her father that if she was ever to win an LPGA title, it might be at the Women's Open because of the difficult course setups. She was a steady, consistent player who typically didn't get rattled.

In the 2003 playoff, Lunke went to the 18th extra hole with a one-shot lead. Stanford birdied, so Lunke needed a 15-foot birdie for the win.

She'd actually had similar putts all four previous days, leaving each short, including an 18-footer that would have won the tournament in regulation Sunday. Lunke said she was so afraid of three-putting that one that she "babied" it too much.

The Monday putt was the trickiest of the five she had faced on No. 18, but she was determined not to come up short.

"It sounds funny to say this, but I was tired," Lunke said, laughing. "We'd played 90 holes, and I wanted it to be over. I thought, 'Knock this in; I want to get out of here.' "

She sank it and hugged Tylar, overcome with emotion.

"That year, I wasn't completely satisfied with that win alone," Lunke said. "I wanted to do other things, like make the Solheim Cup team, and put a lot of pressure on myself. But now looking back on it, I'm very happy. I always knew I wasn't going to be a career player, and winning that title really exceeded my greatest expectations.

"I'm proud of it in the sense that I stood over that putt and knew it was to win the U.S. Open -- and I rolled it in. And my husband and I were able to share that whole experience together. I cherish that memory."

Who knows? Maybe one day, even Greta will be sufficiently impressed.

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