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LPGA heading for South Korea this week
October 17-18

After a 13-year career, eight LPGA victories and having a hand in pioneering women's golf in Korea, Mi Hyun Kim will make her final appearance as a professional this week in Incheon. Kim will be playing in her first event this season on a sponsor's exemption and hopes to go out on a high note.

"I played in the US since 1999," said Kim. "For all my Koran fans, I thought it would be good if I close my career in Korea. To be honestly, I didn't qualify for this tournament because I didn't play enough to qualify post-season. But LPGA KEB·HanaBank Championship gave me an opportunity to finish my career. I'm very appreciative for that."

Kim, who joined the Tour in 1999 and one year after Se Ri Pak joined, recorded two wins in her first season en route to Rookie of the Year honors. Pak claimed the top rookie nod a year earlier and a movement in Korean women's golf began.

Pak, Kim and Grace Park have been deemed the ground breakers for Koreans on the LPGA Tour. Park currently lives in nearby Seoul and has been at the Sky 72 Golf Club to take in the event as a spectator for the first time since retiring this year at the Wegmans LPGA Championship in June.

"I'm very proud of it," Park said on being called a pioneer. "I'm sure they are too. It's the highest compliment to say because of us, Korean golf has gotten so good. It's nice to see so many young golfers following in our footsteps and coming up to us and saying you were my idol. I know how hard it's been for Kimmy fighting through injuries and I wish her the best in retirement."

Kim stated injuries to her knee and ankle as the top reason for retiring and said her competitive nature as since dwindled from her playing career. Her last win came in May 2007 at SEMGroup Championship Presented by John Q. Hammons. She notably donated $100,000 of her $210,000 winnings to a small town in Kansas that had just been devastated by a tornado. Asked what would happen if she were to win this week, Kim said she will but will be giving back if she's lucky enough.

"I don't think it's going to happen but if I win, I'll donate all of my prize," said Kim. "And that's all. I don't have a plan to come back."

Referred to as "Kimmy" in the Tour circles, Kim made 19 starts last year, making 15 cuts. Her best finish came at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G when she tied for 10th. She said she looks forward to hanging up the clubs and starting the new phase in her life, devoting more time to her family and starting a golf academy.

As the doors close on Mi Hyun Kim's career this week, they will open for one of the top Korean amateurs, Hyo Joo Kim. The seventeen-year old South Korean will make her debut as a professional this week at LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship. Kim has already played in two LPGA events this season, finishing both in the top-15. She had a T12 at the LPGA LOTTE Championship Presented by J Golf and was one stroke off the lead heading into Sunday's final round at the Evian Masters Presented by Societe Generale. Kim finished tied for fourth in the event that will become a major championship next year.

She's also seen success on other tours as an amateur. She won the Korean LPGA's Lotte Mart Championship in February and became the youngest winner of a Japan LPGA event, claiming the Suntori Ladies Open in May.

Kim said she has no true goal in winning this week, but says that she hopes to make her professional debut a learning experience.

"For this tournament, I just want to learn something," said Kim. "As you know it's my first tournament as a pro. I don't really think about winning."

Although she still needs to get the first win in her career under her belt, members of the Korean media asked about setting the goal of making her career Hall of Fame worthy.

"I'm not thinking about my first win yet," said Kim. "And to be honest, I didn't know how to get inducted to the Hall of Fame just a few weeks back. Few weeks before I searched the internet and now know how to be an inductee. It's really hard to be member of the Hall of Fame. Anyway I'll just keep trying to work hard for it."

It would be no surprise to anyone to see Kim's name at the top of the leaderboard this week, as she's already proven she can play with the world's best. Fourteen-time LPGA Tour winner Cristie Kerr spoke earlier this week about the talented teenagers who continue to steal headlines on Tour.

"It's getting younger and younger on Tour every year, and there are so many great players, especially from Asia, and Korea is no exception," said Kerr. "It seems like a Korean is contending for a win every week now, and it's just pretty amazing how good they are, and it's becoming harder and harder to win. We have to step up our game and just keep working hard."

The Ocean Course at Sky 72 Golf Club will provide a nice test of golf for the field of 69 this week in Incheon. Two-time winner Na Yeon Choi said the final stretch of holes should produce some exciting competition down the stretch

"All 18 holes on this Ocean Course are all difficult, but last year we got the great weather, so that's why we could lower the score," said Choi. "That's why we had a good score."

Choi pointed out a shortened par 4 No. 15 last year that was the deciding hole in her battle with Rolex Rankings No. 1 Yani Tseng a year ago.

"And as for the last day in this last event, especially on hole No. 15, we got 260 yards to go to the front, so that was totally unexpected," said Choi. "Actually hole 15 is a par‑4 hole, but it got shorter, so that's why Yani made hers on, and I did a bunker shot, so that's why I lost, because we are just one‑shot gap.

"No. 15 was such a determining hole for us," said Choi. "This event has been on for like four years so far, but the 16 yards getting shorter was the first time, so that's why we didn't prepare for that and we didn't know what to do. But as for this year, all the holes will be determining holes, and we need to concentrate more and more. I believe holes 15, 16, 17 and 18 will be the most difficult ones which can determine the winner."

Tseng agreed and said she hopes the set up will again provide a layout that will test the golfers. She thinks it will attract a large South Korean fan contingent.

"And 15, last year they did move the tee to the front so you can drive on the green, so hopefully they do the same thing again this year," said Tseng. "I know last year it was a big crowd and I was with Na Yeon and I had lots of fun. So we're looking for a big crowd again this year."

Pro-am contestants, LPGA players and Tour & event staff were in for a night of festivities on Wednesday at the Incheon Hyatt for the LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship Gala Dinner. R&B artist Kim Jo Han opened the show with a three-song performance and was followed by pro-am awards. The staff at Sky 72 Golf Club put together a full-length music video to the recent music sensation Gangnam Style, welcoming the Tour back to Korea.

A charity auction was held as Na Yeon Choi, Se Ri Pak and Cristie Kerr all donated items for bidding. Kerr's 2008 Curvature Cabernet sold for 7,500 US dollars.

Tour players Hee Young Park, Na Yeon Choi, Michelle Wie and Sandra Gal took part in the evening's fashion show and joined local models in displaying a collection of pieces from design students at Inha Technical Institute in Incheon. Korean-American singer Lena Park closed out the night with four songs for the crowd.

Stacy Lewis, Sandra Gal and Vicky Hurst all took part in the LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship Junior Mentoring Program for the second year in a row. The three LPGA pros took part in the program's first year in 2011 and were asked host a group of about 25 junior players ranging from ages eight to teenagers. Three stations were set up: Lewis at putting, Gal at driving and Hurst at the sandtrap; three groups of junior players rotated around to gain instruction and tips from the pros.

"It's great to be back again this year," said Gal. "They all have a lot of talent and could really have bright futures."

Lewis said she enjoys getting to work with young players all around the world and that it's a great opportunity to give back to the sport that has given her so much.

"I love doing as many junior clinics as I can," said Lewis. "It's great to have a hand in developing the next generation of golfers and to leave the sport better than when I started."

This week, the LPGA Tour travels to Incheon, South Korea for the second event of the Asian swing, the LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship. The Ocean Course at the Sky 72 Golf Club welcomes 69 players who will contend for a $1.8 million purse and a $270,000 first place prize.

Yani Tseng, the 2011 champion, returns with hopes to defend her second title of the season. She captured her sixth LPGA victory of the 2011 season in Korea posting a three-day total 14-under-par 202, to give her a one-stroke victory over two-time defending champ Na Yeon Choi. Tseng continued the momentum from her impressive 2011 LPGA campaign by starting 2012 off on a hot-streak with eight consecutive top-10 finishes including three victories. But the No. 1 player in the Rolex Rankings has been in a slump since she tied for 59th at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. The Taiwan native still holds the top spot in the Rolex Women's Golf World Rankings but top-American Stacy Lewis is slowly closing the gap to steal Tseng's spot.

Defending a title is no foreign feeling for Yani Tseng, but it has usually come with more success surrounding her return. Tseng edged out Na Yeon Choi at last year's LPGA HanaBank Championship and recorded her sixth victory of the season. Tseng finished the year with seven victories and put herself in the difficult situation of giving anyone hope of her repeating or surpassing her record-breaking year.

She made it look possible at the beginning of the 2012 season with a dominating start, winning three of the first five events on the schedule. But Tseng hasn't broke into the winner's circle since March at the Kia Classic and hasn't recorded a top-10 in 11 starts. She admits her results aren't the same but is also quick to point out that with her recent struggles, she's learning more than ever before. A process that she believes will make her a stronger player and happier person.

"Last three months I have been learning a lot from everything, so I mean, it's kind of very tough because when you play best and you kind of struggle for three, four months, it's very difficult," said Tseng. "But now I kind of feel like I just want to enjoy my life and enjoy every part of my golf because this is a game I love since when I was young."

Without the headlining success she's used to, Tseng says she's the happiest she's been in her career and has learned that with a bad result, life goes on.

"This couple months I've been feeling so much better on the golf course," said Tseng. "I feel I'm happier and enjoy life more instead of trying to worry about world No. 1 or winning the tournament. I mean, I just want to go out there and have fun with everybody else and try to make birdie every hole, and if not, go to the next tournament and try to play well, and we still have more tournaments and next year to come.

"I think this is just part of real life when you go out and you have to go down and maybe you go up again," said Tseng. "I can always be stronger and tougher when I'm coming back."

Tseng finished T49 last week in Malaysia and while her rounds of 78-72-68-71 did not push her toward the top of the leaderboard, she felt things were coming into place. A last minute decision by her coach, Gary Gilchrist, to come to the event made her feel even more at ease. They haven't been concerned with technicalities but more of her mental approach.

"We don't work much, just a couple drills and mostly on the mental part," said Tseng. "Two weeks ago when I was in Taiwan I just called to see if he can be in Malaysia for me, so he came and made me feel very happy and very comfortable that he's there supporting me and watching me, every part of my game. And so I think it helps a lot. I played much better last week, and especially the weekend. I wish it will continue this week."

Tseng has already defended a title successfully this season and won at the Honda LPGA Thailand 2012 back in February for the second year in a row. She's a player that likes to play off of positive vibes and hopes to do so this week surrounded by family and good memories.

"I am always very happy to be back here and have so many family here supporting, my mom and my sister are going to be here this week, too, so I feel like I'm ready for my game," said Tseng. "I was struggling a little last week, but I think I'm kind of back to how I played before. And I love this golf course, and I always play good here, so very looking forward to Friday."

Suzann Pettersen had spurts of brilliant play last week at the Tour's stop in Malaysia and set the tournament record with a 7-under 64 in the second round. But the Rolex Rankings No. 9 player hopes to make those rounds a more consistent trend.

"I actually felt pretty good," said Pettersen. "Last week was a good week in a lot of ways. I started to see some good low scores again. It's kind of been a while. And just got to kind and try and keep that consistency, stay really aggressive. That's of the time that's when I score my best. It's kind of a fine line, but I feel pretty good about my game."

Pettersen, who started the year at No. 2 in the Rolex Rankings, feels her strong play last week could jump start something to end the season on a strong note. The Norwegian is looking for her first win since August of last year at the Safeway Classic presented by Coca-Cola.

She's seen success in Korea before and won the HanaBank-KOLON Championship in 2007 when the event was played at the Mauna Ocean Golf and Resort in Kyeongbook. Out of the six times she's played in the event, she's posted a win and three additional top-10 finishes (T6 in 2003, T9 in 2006, T4 in 2010).

"I'm excited about these next events to come starting in Korea," said Pettersen. "I feel last week was a good warm‑up. I won here in the past, but it's been a while, so it would be nice to maybe try and be there on Sunday."

Na Yeon Choi returns home to South Korea this week in high spirits and ready to earn her third win in her home country. Choi is coming off a runner-up finish last week at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia where she posted three sub-70 rounds in the first three days of the event but was eventually edged out by Inbee Park on Sunday.

"I did pretty good the last two weeks, so my confidence has been really high," said Choi. "And so that's why I cannot wait play right now, I feel I did pretty well and good on the first day, second day and third day, but on the last day I didn't get nervous, but I didn't feel I played my game, so that's one of my missing points.

"Even though I lost, there will be a next event, another event coming up, and I will play against Inbee and the other players, so I need to work on my practice and skills," said Choi.

Choi won in Korea in 2009 and 2010 and is the only two- time winner of the event in its 10-year history. She has posted seven top-10's this year and moved up a spot in the Rolex Rankings to No. 3 after last week's performance. With a win this week, she would put herself in the hunt for the Rolex Player of the Year. Choi currently ranks 5th with 113 points and trails top-ranked Stacy Lewis who currently holds 184 points.

With eye-opening stats and high-finishing consistency, Rolex Rankings No. 5 Inbee Park should be turning heads every time she steps on the golf course. But the three-time LPGA winner and major champ seems to fly under the radar than most of the other top players on Tour.

Park's third-career win and second this year came last week in Malaysia. During the post-tournament press conference, a member of the media asked if he could nickname her the 'Silent Assassin.' In her usual, laid-back and calm demeanor, Park laughed and said 'sure.'

Her win last week took her consecutive top-10 finish total to 10 and counting and marked the second time the South Korean won after overcoming a two-shot deficit heading into Sunday's final round. Fellow Korean and close friend Na Yeon Choi has even pointed out how dangerous of a player she can be when playing her best.

"I had a few conversations with her recently, and I could feel that her confidence level was high," said Choi. "That's merely based on her improvement of her score and skills. She's got really great long distance, and her putting skill has been really great since she was young. Right now she greatly improved her shot skill, so that's why with such a combination she could lower her score as low as she can."

Park's stats this season can defend any argument that she's well worth paying attention to: Ranked No. 1 in putting average (28.25); No. 1 in putts per GIR (1. 73); No. 2 in rounds in the 60's (27); No. 3 in scoring average (70.4); No. 3 in rounds under par (43); No. 3 in birdies (266).

South Koreans have won the LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship seven times in its 10-year history, four past champions are in the field this week (Se Ri Pak- 2002, Suzann Pettersen- 2007, Na Yeon Choi- 2009 & 2010, Yani Tseng- 2011) the event was canceled in its first year in 2001 due to the tragic events of September 11th. the event has been played on three different courses (2002-2005 at Nine Bridges Golf Club in Jeju; 2006-2007 at Mauna Ocean Golf & Resort in Kyeongbook; 2008-present at Sky 72 in Incheon). Hana Financial Group Inc. has sponsored the event since 2006 and made an announcement this past July of a three-year extension through 2015

Six players will have the opportunity this week to earn one of three qualifying spots up for grabs this week for the season-ending CME Group Titleholders. Nicole Castrale, Jennfier Johnson, Cindy LaCrosse, Brittany Lang, Pornanong Phatlum and Karin Sjodin are all in the field and have yet to qualify for the final event for the year. The second-annual season finale will be held Nov. 15-18, 2012 at The TwinEagles in Naples, Fla. with a field made up of three qualifiers from every LPGA Tour tournament.

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