Above: Passion for golf and confidence in her ability gave Hilary Lunke the winning edge in the 2003 U.S. Women’s Open Championship.

A slice of the good life for Edina's HILARY LUNKE - 2003 U.S.Women's Open Champion.

by Wally Langfellow
Aug/Sept 2003

YOU FIGURED that she would eventually break through and start challenging the Annika Sorenstam's of the world. Maybe pick up a top 10 finish in her second year on tour and who knows, maybe even a victory in an event that has a mouthful of sponsors' names in front of it.

But at the age of 24, Edina's Hilary Lunke has leapfrogged all of that. Just months after wondering if she was headed back to "Q-School" (a qualifying tournament where players vie to get on the LPGA Tour) or maybe out of golf altogether for the year, Lunke has accomplished something that most golfers can only dream of.

In winning the U.S. Women's Open championship this summer at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon, Lunke not only turned the heads of her contemporaries, but she made an immediate name for herself; she also earned a five-year exemption to play in any LPGA event (so much for "Q-School") along with picking up a winning paycheck of $560,000. Before the Open, Lunke had about $39,000 in total career earnings and no top 10 finishes. Things have definitely changed for Hilary Lunke.

Lunke was admittedly struggling through the first several months of the 2003 season. But the last few weeks leading up to the Open, she began to hit her stride.

"At the LPGA Championship I finished 35th and I had two 21sts in a row. I felt good about my game going into it. I really had my sights set on a top 20 finish." (A finish in the top 20 would qualify her for the British Open.)

The Open then came at just the right time. "My short game tends to be the best part of my game, so any time I'm playing a U.S. Open I feel like the course is well suited to my game," she said.

With her 18-hole playoff victory at the Open came a blitz of media attention that probably cost her dearly just a few days later at the Canadian Open where she failed to make the cut. But that seems to be just a blip on the screen for Lunke, who despite the rigors of being on tour seems to manage her time like a long-time pro. "My goal is to never play more than five weeks in a row." she said. "It (travel) can be a grind." Lunke also circumvents some of the travel by staying in private homes with host families as opposed to hotel hopping. "I think if I was just staying in a stale hotel room every week I would get a lot more tired." she said.

While it's paying the bills now, golf wasn't always the sport of choice for Lunke. As a freshman at Edina High School, Lunke was a swimmer. Quite a difference from the sport she loves so much now. But after 10 years of competitive swimming, Lunke was bored with Mark Spitz's sport and eventually decided to go with water hazards instead of water sports. "I had gotten to the point where every time you swim, the bottom of the pool is the same," Lunke said.

So after years of a sport that demanded continuous physical training, Lunke picked a sport where three weeks of rest can sometimes do you as much good as three weeks of practice. "Golf just doesn't make sense that way," she said.

What also is hard to figure is how somebody who didn't play her first full round of golf until the age of 13, just 11 years later is the defending champion of the most prestigious women's event on the planet. But a vision and plenty of confidence seems to have helped Lunke who says that when she was in high school she saw herself someday winning this event, just not so soon. "I think I saw myself doing this maybe five or 10 years into my career, not just in my second year on tour," Lunke said.

Pedigree probably also had something to do with Lunke's success.Her father, Bill Homeyer, is an avid golfer who Hilary watched play as she grew up. Then when it was time to pick a college, Lunke decided on a school that had just sent Tiger Woods on to bigger and better things.

Although she's never met Tiger,when that day comes she'll have more in common with him than just a Stanford education.