Big-Money Shot?

With hailstorm leading to cancellation of Colorado Women’s Open final round, 70-yard hole-out for eagle on day 2 proved critical in win for Juliana Hung; it’s the second victory in 5 weeks for 22-year-old from Taiwan

By Gary Baines – 5/31/2024

DENVER — Some things take on considerably more importance in retrospect.

Juliana Hung from Taiwan can certainly identify with that thought in the wake of Friday’s hailstorm-caused cancellation of the final round of the Inspirato Colorado Women’s Open, resulting in the championship becoming a 36-hole affair for the first time since 2001.

The 22-year-old perhaps may not have won the CWO — and the whopping $100,000 prize that goes with the victory — had her final-hole birdie from 4 feet on Thursday not lipped in. Or, as she herself contemplated, had she not holed out for eagle from 70 yards on her 13th hole (No. 4 at Green Valley Ranch Golf Club) on Thursday.

Had either of those things not happened, it’s possible that Dana (Finkelstein) Fall of Mesa, Ariz. — and not Hung — might have been accepting the trophy and the big check on Friday morning.

As it was, damage caused at GVR by golf-ball-size hail late Thursday night led tournament organizers to cancel Friday’s final round, giving Hung the victory — and the $100,000 — because she held a one-stroke lead following Thursday’s second round after playing her final six holes in 4 under par.

“I was just thinking back on my eagle yesterday — my 70-yard shot that went in,” Hung said on Friday. “I just don’t know how that happened. Obviously, I played good golf, but I think there was still a bit of luck in there.”

Fall, a veteran of more than 100 LPGA Tour events, matched Hung’s second-round 65. And though she had separate runs of four- and three-straight birdies on Thursday, she parred her last three holes, including the relatively easy par-5 ninth (her 18th).

“It was a little bit of a bummer to wake up this morning and not be able to compete in the final round,” Fall said Friday after earning $23,000 for second place. “That storm woke us up last night — we were staying on hole 5. I kind of had a bad feeling last night that we weren’t going to play golf today.”

The hailstones that came down at Green Valley Ranch Golf Club Thursday night were formidable. (Photo courtesy of GVR)

Indeed, GVR’s weather monitor warned tournament organizers that the course was going to be hit by a major rain and hailstorm at about 10 p.m. on Thursday. As it turned out, hailstones at least as big as golf balls did a number on the golf course — most notably leaving considerable pockmarks on the greens, but also doing damage elsewhere.

“We knew it was bad, but at 4 a.m. when our grounds crew started taking pictures of the greens, we really knew these greens are unfixable” for Friday play, said Kevin Laura, CEO of the Colorado Open Golf Foundation. “And that’s before we really realized the hail itself did damage to other parts of the course besides the greens. Once the sun came out, we assessed it and thought it would be a miracle to get open by the end of the weekend, so we just decided to cancel (round 3) and take round 2 as the final results.”

Potentially postponing the final round a day “was not an option” as there’s a full tee sheet of public play set for Saturday at GVR. “We would have had to buy out the golf course for another day (and) we’d have to cancel 300 players tomorrow,” Laura noted. “We’ve always had that arrangement with the golf shop. We’ve got (control of the course) all the way to Friday night, but they want the course back for Saturday.”

(As it turns out, GVR is expected to open for public play on Saturday.)

An example of damage done to greens at GVR by the hail.

Hung was obviously very happy to come out on top at the CWO, but indicated she would have preferred to have done it after winning a head-to-head matchup with Fall on Friday.

“It feels a lot different, to be honest,” said Hung, who slept through Thursday night’s hailstorm. “I did not expect it because it was really sunny yesterday. I didn’t see it coming. 

“I was expecting a really tough battle today with Dana. I know she’s a great player. I was mentally preparing for a head-to-head battle today. For it to end like this is a bit unfortunate for both of us, I would think. Great players love those kind of moments. It would have felt a lot different if I had won after a really tough 18 holes.”

Whatever the case, Hung has now put together quite a record over the last five weeks. In late April she not only won an Epson Tour event for the first time (at the IOA Championship) but she set the Epson’s all-time scoring record — by two strokes — with a 21-under-par total for three rounds.

Then on Friday Hung earned her biggest tournament payday ever; in fact, her CSO check was $70,000 larger than the next-largest she’s received since turning pro as a 17-year-old.

“It’s just an ease of mind,” Hung said of the importance of a six-figure payday. “Obviously we’re not making a lot out here on Epson. Making the cut is pretty tough. I’ve missed (three) cuts this year, so I’m not making money that week, and I’m paying my caddie and paying for everything. So this kind of eases my mind a bit.”

Hung made two eagles and 12 birdies over her two rounds of the CWO.

Likewise very important for Hung was coming out on top in a prestigious tournament with a very strong field.

“I would say it’s a reassurance for me,” she said. “Before, I wasn’t very good at the bigger-purse tournaments. Those weeks I would fall back and not play so well. In my head when it was a bigger tournament, I would think too much about it — and think it was too important. But this week with so much money on the line, I just kept telling myself to play one shot at a time and do everything I can. And that’s what I did this week.”

While Hung didn’t get a chance to break Jennifer Kupcho’s CWO scoring record — 16 under par, set in 2020 — she did match Kupcho’s 36-hole scoring mark for the tournament. The Taiwanese golfer ended up at 12 under after rounds of 67-65. 

Fall, who has posted finishes of third and sixth place this month on the Epson Tour, finished at 11 under (68-65). After that, it was a big drop-off to third place as Kaitlin Milligan of Norman, Okla., checked in at 5 under par (74-65). Then the players who tied for fourth place were another two strokes back. 

So Hung and Fall were definitely in a league of their own this week.

Hung, competing in the Colorado Women’s Open for the first time, finished the tournament with two eagles, 12 birdies and four bogeys.

“I wasn’t playing really good at the start of the year, but to build my confidence back, I’m really happy,” she said. “It’s a good way to end the first half of the year.”

Hung becomes the fourth player from outside of the U.S. to win the Colorado Women’s Open, joining Walailak Satarak of Thailand (2007-08), Julie Tvelde of Denmark (2004) and Tamara Johns of Australia (2001).

Speaking of far-off lands, Hung’s mother, Cecilia Ting, was able to watch her daughter win in person this week after flying in from Taiwan on Sunday. 

CWO low-amateur Alenka Navarro just wrapped up her freshman season for the Kansas State women’s golf team.

Latecomer to Golf Takes Low-Am Honors: For a person who didn’t start playing golf seriously until just three years ago, Alenka Navarro certainly has made some major headway in the game.

The Mexico City resident, who competed last summer in the U.S. Girls’ Junior at the Air Force Academy, on Friday landed low-amateur honors in the Colorado Women’s Open, edging out a couple of University of Denver golfers as the final round was canceled following an overnight hailstorm. It was Navarro’s first CWO.

“It feels really nice,” the 19-year-old said regarding her low-am status. “It was the first time I played a pro tournament. It was such a good experience. It was so sad we couldn’t play today because I had a really good feeling we could go really low today because the golf course was in great condition (and) the players are really good. Being in that spot is really nice.”

Navarro, who just completed her freshman season on the Kansas State golf team, shot rounds of 75-70 at GVR to finish at 1 over par, good for 13th place overall. She made four birdies and two bogeys in Thursday’s second round.

“I started really late at golf,” said Navarro, who has aspirations to play professionally, like her countrywoman Lorena Ochoa, a World Golf Hall of Famer. “She was the No. 1 player in the world. That’s what inspires me every single time. I hope to be as good as Lorena. That would be nice.”

Noting that she also recently played in U.S. Women’s Open qualifying in Colorado, Navarro added, “My biggest thing is playing with the best players in the world and competing with them.”

Emma Bryant of Aurora, a former 5A state high school champion who plays out of GVR, rallied in a big way on Thursday to share second place among amateurs with her DU teammate and roommate Clara Gestsdottir of Iceland. Bryant backed up her first-round 77 with a bogey-free 3-under-par 69 to finish one back of Navarro. Gestsdottir closed with a 72 on Thursday.

Coloradan Lauren Lehigh (left) finished 18th in her pro debut after being paired with eventual champion Juliana Hung (right) and amateur Jay Small of Parker.

Notable: For the first time in the 30-year history of the Colorado Women’s Open, no player with strong Colorado ties posted a top-10 finish in the event this year. Kelli McKandless of Parker, a teacher at the First Tee GVR, was the top Colorado finisher, tying for 13th place at 1-over-par 145 (69-76). … In her pro debut, Loveland’s Lauren Lehigh played both rounds with the eventual champion, Juliana Hung. Lehigh, a quarterfinalist in the 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur and 2024 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball (the latter with sister Katelyn), placed 18th (76-70) and earned $2,050. Lehigh just wrapped up her college career at the University of New Mexico. … Dana Fall of Mesa, Ariz., may have had to settle for second place in the overall competition at the Colorado Women’s Open, but she did take home first place in the pro-am portion of the event. Her Oakwood Homes team, with amateur partner Jay Small of Parker) finished at 19 under par, good for a three-stroke victory. “It’s cool to get one trophy, I guess,” Fall said at the post-tournament get-together. First prize for the pro-am winners was $2,800. It was the third time Small has been part of the winning pro-am team at the CWO.

For all the scores from the Colorado Women’s Open, CLICK HERE.

About the Writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sports writer at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then the sports editor there, and has written regularly for since 2009. The University of Colorado Evans Scholar alum was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2022. He owns and operates