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Kang takes first day lead in Korea
October 16, 2014

Interviews:
Rolex Rankings No. 77 Haeji Kang (-5)
Rolex Rankings No. 78 Minjee Lee (-3)
Rolex Rankings No. 24 Brittany Lincicome (-2)
Rolex Rankings No. 2 Inbee Park (-1)
Rolex Rankings No. 10 Hyo Joo Kim (E)

South Korea's Haeji Kang grabbed the first-round lead with a 5-under 67 at the KEB-HanaBank Championship. The sixth-year LPGA Tour member had six birdies and one bogey on the round and managed her way around the Ocean Course at SKY 72 Golf Club in blustery conditions. Wind gusts reached 35 miles per hour on Thursday.

“I think looking back on my game overall today, I did very well,” said Kang. “Especially in the first nine holes, there were a couple of risks of actually bogeying some holes but I was able to stop and save with my putting.  And No. 12, I succeeded in a very long putt and I think psychologically and mentally it gave me a boost.”

Kang leads a group of five players by two shots and holds the first-round lead for only the second time in her career. The last time came at the 2012 RICOH Women's British Open where she ended up finishing in a tie for 47 th . The 23-year old will be in the hunt for her first LPGA title. Defending champion Amy Yang sits alongside Ilhee Lee, Minjee Lee, Catriona Matthew and Mirim Lee at 3-under par in a tie for second.

Kang said making the turn at 2-under par set her up for a strong back nine that included back-to-back birdies on Nos. 11 and 12. She sank a 40-footer on the 12 th hole to get to 4-under par and birdied the par 4 15 th hole to  enter the clubhouse with a two-shot lead. Kang has had two top-20 finishes the past two years at this event and said it's a course where you need to use your length wisely. She ranks 130 th on Tour in driving distance.

“I think this course overall tends to be windy and it not really that long,” said Kang. “So even some par 5 holes, hitting on in two is possible.  So I think it's a course where you can gain an advantage if you use your length wisely.”

Rolex Rankings No. 2 Inbee Park finished with a 1-under 71 and sits in a tie for 15 th . No. 3 Suzann Pettersen trails Kang by three shots and is in a tie for seventh at 2-under par.

The tough conditions got the best of some of the top names on the LPGA, leaving some surprises toward the bottom of the leaderboard. Michelle Wie did not fare well in her return to action and finished at 5-over par. She's in a tie for 59 th alongside three-time LPGA winner So Yeon Ryu. Lexi Thompson finished at 5-over par while Paula Creamer shot 81 and is in 78 th place.

Hot ticket in town: Many Korean players made arrangements months in advance to secure tickets for family and friends for this week's event and the KEB-HanaBank Championship is one of the hottest tickets in town.

On NAVER.com (the Google equivalent in Korea) – “Hana Bank LPGA Championship tickets” has been the seventh-most searched phrase on internet amongst the working professionals demographic in Korea this week. Haeji Kang was among many players with her own personal gallery and she said her group of supporters will grow as the week goes on. Some of her cousins carried around a banner that said, “Smile, Angel” in Korean.

“I think my personal gallery will be different every day but today my parents were here and my cousin and my cousin's friends were here,” said Kang. “Everyone was as you mentioned very supportive of me and I think that helps my game and definitely helps me mentally and helps me relax.”

Teenage trio: Three teenagers were grouped in the third-to-last pairing on Thursday and expectantly the conversations throughout the day was anything but golf. Minjee Lee, Hyo Joo Kim and Lydia Ko all consider each other close friends and it showed during the first round when the rising stars exchanged smiles and laughs regularly with one another.

“We had a really young group today, Lydia and myself and Hyo Joo,” said Lee. “We just had fun out there and a lot of laughs, a lot of smiles.  I think it looks good on telly and just having fun out there was the main goal for me.”

Lee said a lot of the chatter was about the choices of on-course snacks and says Ko is definitely the biggest eater out of the three of them.

“Not golf.  Food.  We were talking about how much we eat on the course and just girl stuff,” said Lee. “I think definitely Lydia.  She just keeps eating a little bit here and there.”

Lee fared the best out of her group and got a little push from her playing partners early on. Asked whether she felt pressure playing alongside two LPGA Tour winners, Lee said it was more of a positive influence.

“Not really.  I was more impressed than felt pressure.  Both girls made birdie before me, so I was like, I should make birdie, too, so I did.”

With a solid opening round, Lee set her sights high on what she hopes to accomplish this week in Incheon.

“I've had a good start, so I'm hoping Top-5, is my goal.

Newlywed turnaround: Inbee Park needed to find a way to flip a switch into competition mode after she celebrated her wedding on Monday in Seoul alongside several LPGA Tour players. The No. 2 ranked player in the world said her prep time this week was definitely cut down but tried to approach it the same way she always does.

“Whenever I go to a tournament, I'm just very quiet and just doing my own thing,” said Park. “You know, this week I really tried to approach it the same way.  Obviously it was a busy week and I didn't get a practice round this week or practice.  I just played the Pro-Am day, which is quite different to what I usually have.”

Park is tied for 15 th after a 1-under 71 in the first round and blamed her putter for some missed opportunities on Thursday.

“It was different but I tried to not think about it so much and just do what I usually do on the golf course,” said Park. “Probably I didn't putt as well but my ball-striking was there.  Probably not playing my hundred percent, but close to getting there.  It will take a couple days.”

Now that she's a newlywed, which is something she hasn't gotten totally comfortable being called just  yet, Park said she is glad she can leave the stressors of planning a wedding behind and concentrate on golf.

“I think so.  Like before the wedding, planning for about a month or so, and now it's like, the wedding is coming and I was thinking so much about the wedding,” said Park. “But now it's all over, so I don't have to think so much about that anymore and just kind of move on from there, so just celebrate it.”

Another celebration: In addition to her marriage, Park would have a lot to celebrate this week if she is able to pull off a win in her home country of Korea. The 1-time LPGA winner has been keeping an eye on the closing gap in points between her and No. 1 Stacy Lewis in the Rolex Rankings, but Park's ultimate goal is to get win No. 12 in front of her passionate fans from home.

“For me right now for this championship, recovering my top ranking position is less of a priority because I really want to win Korea.  I haven't had a win in Korea.  I really want to show my Korean fans that I can win in Korea.”

Park (14) and Lewis (16) lead the Tour in top-10 finishes this season and continue to battle as they consistently find themselves at the top of LPGA leaderboards.

“In the first half of the season, there was a considerable gap between myself and Stacy but I feel like I'm catching up.  So I think that recovering the title as being the Rolex Rankings No. 1 player is achievable if I focus week-after-week,” said Park. “This week will be a good opportunity for me to achieve that goal, especially because Stacy isn't here this week.  And although I've been very busy myself, I feel that I can do well.”

INTERVIEWS

Rolex Rankings No. 77 Haeji Kang (-5)

THE MODERATOR:  Our leader in the clubhouse, Haeji Kang, 5-under 67.  Very solid round in windy conditions.  Tell us what the conditions were like.  It was very gusty from what it looked like in the morning.

HAEJI KANG:  When I went to practice this morning, there was no wind, so I was very comfortable.  At the first hole, there was a very strong wind, at you mentioned, and I decided that in these conditions, it is better to play safe than aggressive and try to get the ball on the green.

THE MODERATOR :  Any highlights of the round?  A couple birdies here and there, but back-to-back on the back nine, did that give you a little bit of momentum finishing up the back nine?

HAEJI KANG:  I think looking back on my game overall today, I did very well.  Especially in the first nine holes, there were a couple of risks of actually bogeying some holes but I was able to stop and save with my putting.  And No. 12, I succeeded in a very long putt and I think psychologically and mentally it gave me a boost.

Q.  How long was the putt?

HAEJI KANG:   It was about 40 feet.

Q.  Coming into the Asian Swing, did you have any goals you wanted to achieve?  I know you played very well two weeks ago at rain wood, maybe not so much as last week but did you have any specific goals coming into this final stretch of the year?

HAEJI KANG:   With regards to the end of the season, towards the end of the season a lot of the players have to really manage their condition because a lot of players become burnt out.

So I thought about how I can attack the final stretch of the season, and last year and the year before that during the Asian swing, I realized that if you really over exert yourself and overdo it in this stretch, it can really compromise your game.

So I really took it easy on Monday.  It was just a day for transportation and going places.  On Tuesday, that's when I started to get to know the course.  I think I was taking it a little bit more easy and that's kind of my strategy for this last stretch of the season.

Q.  You feel very comfortable at this course and you've had some good finishes the last couple of years.  What do you like most about this setup and this event in general?  I know it's close to home.  But it's home for you, technically.

HAEJI KANG:   I think this course overall tends to be windy and it not really that long.  So even some par 5 holes, hitting on in two is possible.  So I think it's a course where you can gain an advantage if you use your length wisely.

Q.  What do you feel is the strength of your game and what variation might you want to work on?

HAEJI KANG:  Since I was a young player, I really liked practicing putting.  So I think putting is probably one of the strengths of my game.  When it comes to my iron shots, my GIR is a bit lower so I work on that.  I think mentally when it comes to the driver, I have improved greatly but I'm still focusing on improving my iron shots.

Q.  You have a lot of family and friends here.  Who is here with you?  They had a nice banner saying, "Smile, Angel."  Who is here this week and how much of a difference does it make having your own little personal gallery at the tournament?

HAEJI KANG:  I think my personal gallery will be different every day but today my parents were here and my cousin and my cousin's friends were here.  Everyone was as you mentioned very supportive of me and I think that helps my game and definitely helps me mentally and helps me relax.

Q.  This championship is the first four-round championship for this year, and I would like to know will it make any difference to your game?

HAEJI KANG:  It makes a huge difference.  When there is only three days of games, players can take more days off.  And so having four rounds is physically, mentally more of a challenge.

Rolex Rankings No. 78 Minjee Lee (-3)

THE MODERATOR:  Welcome in Minjee Lee, turned in a 3-under 69 today, a very solid day.  We keep asking players about windy conditions.  How did you fare in those and how big of a factor were they today?

MINJEE LEE:  Well, my score doesn't really show how hard the wind was today, but I felt like every hole was into the wind.  Yeah, I think I played pretty well, although I hit a really high ball.  Just took one shot at a time, which you have to do out here, otherwise it's way too hard.

THE MODERATOR :  I know you had a lot of fun out there, we could tell on the telecast that you had a lot of laughs, a lot of smiles.  What was the best part about playing with those two and what were some of the conversations that you guys had today?

MINJEE LEE:   Yeah, we had a really young group today, Lydia and myself and Hyo Joo.  We just had fun out there and a lot of laughs, a lot of smiles.  I think it looks good on telly and just having fun out there was the main goal for me.

THE MODERATOR:   Anything golf conversation-wise or were you talking about other things other than golf?  Anything that keeps the mood light?

MINJEE LEE:   Not golf.  Food.  We were talking about how much we eat on the course and just girl stuff.

MODERATOR:   Who eats the most out of you three?  Who had the best snacks?

MINJEE LEE:   I think definitely Lydia.  She just keeps eating a little bit here and there.

Q.  Take us through the eagle on 5?

MINJEE LEE :  Well, I made a bogey the hole before.  So I was just like, oh, let's just make a birdie, because it was a par 5.  So the wind normally is kind of cross but today was more down, so I could go for the left side of the fairway.  So I had like 168 and it was a bit crosswind and I hit hybrid on to the green.  It was about like 18 to 20 feet.  Then I holed the putt.

Q.  How big of a statement was that for you just to get an eagle on the front nine and keep things going?

MINJEE LEE:  I was 1-over and it jumped me to 1-under.  So definitely just scoring-wise there.

Q.  This is your first time playing in Korea, so how do you feel about playing in Korea?  And this is the second event for you, and the last event you did very well and you're off to a very nice start at this championship.  So what is your goal about this particular event?

MINJEE LEE:  Obviously my background is Korean, so it's a great honor for me to play in Korea.  It's my first time, and I was a little bit nervous because, you know, you're pretty much playing for your home crowd, even though you're not, but you are.  Yeah, I think I really wanted to have fun today.  I had a good group, so that's what I did.

I've had a good start, so I'm hoping Top-5, is my goal.

Q.  Like you said, you were playing with your friends, so I think in a way that helped your game.  But I want to ask about the last hole, did you feel pressure to birdie, too?

MINJEE LEE:  Not really.  I was more impressed than felt pressure.  Both girls made birdie before me, so I was like, I should make birdie, too, so I did.

Rolex Rankings No. 24 Brittany Lincicome (-2)

Q.  Your first Asian event, obviously you took a lot of time off between Alabama and here, what did you do, anything special?

BRITTANY LINCICOME:  The first week, I played in Cristie Kerr's breast cancer charity event and that next week just kind of hung out with my boyfriend in New York.  He had some outings and we went into the city, kind of did the touristy thing and he had an outing in Washington.  So basically just did nothing, hung out and didn't pick up a golf club for over a week.

And then the last two weeks, I have not played more than nine holes every other day probably.  So walking 18 in the Pro-Am was a little rough.  I had taken some spin classes, so at least I was doing a little bit of cardio.  Just pretty lazy and enjoying -- I feel like as I get older, if I wanted to join a nine-hole ladies league, that would be perfect.  18 holes is too many (laughing).

Q.  How strategic was the break in taking off a little bit of time?  You were playing so well.  Were you contemplating to keep it going?

BRITTANY LINCICOME :  You know, I was playing really well.  The only one I wish I would have played was last week, Malaysia, just because I've played there before and enjoyed going there, and the weather is nice and warm.  But it was nice to take some time off.  It was hard to get on the plane on Sunday to come here because I had taken almost three weeks off I guess.  But it was just more of I can only play so many in a row that just the way that it kind of fell, and Taiwan is my one in four, so I have to play Taiwan and I love coming to Korea, because the food is really good.  So it was just kind of a no-brainer to come here and then play China next week and Taiwan.

Q.  How many years have you played here?

BRITTANY LINCICOME:  I have no idea.

Q.  Plenty enough that you're super comfortable with the course; was that a huge plus coming into this week, just knowing you would be comfortable?

BRITTANY LINCICOME:   Yeah, I've been here many, many times, so I know the golf course really, really well.  Obviously nobody can prepare for the wind that was today.  So just knowing the course is not enough.  You need to know the course and know how to play in the wind.  But I think today was more just staying calm and knowing that scores were not going to be super low and just try to be patient.  And tonight, Hee Young is taking me for Korean barbeque, so excited.

Q.  The birdies on the back nine, followed up bogeys.  How big was that for a finishing stretch?

BRITTANY LINCICOME :  It was good.  The bounce backs, my caddie always talks about those.  So now it's just kind of like a joke of trying to get it back after I've done something bad.  It's just good for your confidence.  I mean, I didn't mean to bogey those holes but then it was nice to get the birdies.  My boyfriend, before I teed off this morning, just said, go out in the 72 holes and see how many birdies you can make.

I jokingly was like, well, what if I make doubles on all the other holes but I make like 50 birdies.  So it was just a matter of going out and trying to birdie as many holes as I could.  Obviously some of the holes were really, really tough.  No. 2 I felt like could have been a par 5.  A couple of the holes into the wind were very, very challenging.

Q.  Final stretch of the season, did you think about goals to finish out the season or anything that you wanted to concentrate on?

BRITTANY LINCICOME:  Not really.  Just playing, had a bunch of Top-10s here recently which is good.  Just stay trying to get the Top-10s because eventually the wins will come.  Praying the way I was playing before I took the break is still going to be the same way I'm going to play to finish out the next five.  Just building confidence.

Rolex Rankings No. 2 Inbee Park (-1)

THE MODERATOR:  Like to welcome No. 2 in the Rolex Rankings, Inbee Park.  Inbee, 1-under today.  I keep asking players about the wind, had to be tough conditions, not a lot of low scores.  How do you think conditions played a factor today?

INBEE PARK:  Obviously I didn't expect this much wind this morning but looked outside, it was so windy but this golf course changes when it gets this windy, because it can play so easy when there's no wind and warm weather.  But the weather can play a factor and it obviously did today.

The pin positions were probably a little bit easier than what I thought it would have been but the wind made the scores go not low.

THE MODERATOR:  I know you had a lot on your mind earlier this week, other than the golf, and you had a wedding on Monday, congratulations.  How do you collect yourself?  How did you turn on the switch to say, all right, I have to come play in this event, and I know you love to play and you have a lot of expectations and it's a lot to balance.  How did you mentally prepare for that?

INBEE PARK:   Whenever I go to a tournament, I'm just very quiet and just doing my own thing.  You know, this week I really tried to approach it the same way.  Obviously it was a busy week and I didn't get a practice round this week or practice.  I just played the Pro-Am day, which is quite different to what I usually have.

It was different but I tried to not think about it so much and just do what I usually do on the golf course.  Yeah, probably I didn't putt as well but my ball-striking was there.  Probably not playing my hundred percent, but close to getting there.  It will take a couple days.

Q.  As a newly-wedded person, has it changed your mind-set on your game?

INBEE PARK:  Not really, I can't say that anything has really changed anything.  This is the first tournament since my marriage but it has not really affected me.  It doesn't feel like I had a wedding.  It feels like I'm here for the tournament.  And I think whether you're single or married is really -- on the course, first I am a player, and I really tried to focus on my game today.

Q.  This tournament will give you a chance to recover the top Rolex Ranking; do you have any goals in this championship?

INBEE PARK:  I think that's basically it, in the first half of the season, there was a considerable gap between myself and Stacy but I feel like I'm catching up. 

So I think that recovering the title as being the Rolex Rankings No. 1 player is achievable if I focus week-after-week.  This week will be a good opportunity for me to achieve that goal, especially because Stacy isn't here this week.  And although I've been very busy myself, I feel that I can do well.

For me right now for this championship, recovering my top ranking position is less of a priority because I really want to win Korea.  I haven't had a win in Korea.  I really want to show my Korean fans that I can win in Korea.

Q.  You played under par today, and as you mentioned earlier, the wind was very strong.  Have you played in similar conditions?

INBEE PARK:  I haven't played under these conditions recently.  However, this time around, the wind was strong, so there was difficulty in terms of distance control but I think my shot control was good.

I noticed the wind more on the greens, because the ball would move slightly and I reacted for sensitively to that so I missed a couple of putts.  I can't do anything about the wind but I think I can definitely do something about the putting.

Q.  This is the first tournament after your marriage, so I'm curious to know what's changed now not just in your game but what's changed in general and what your husband said to you this morning?

INBEE PARK :  I don't think anything has changed significantly.  I have to say nothing has really changed much.  But the way people address me has changed a bit.  Some people are calling me newlywed, and I think that married people are feeling a bit of camaraderie with me. 

It's only been a few days, so I'm a bit awkward being addressed or being called a newlywed, but I guess I will become used to it.

Q.  How special was it to see the players come and celebrate at your wedding?

INBEE PARK:  Yeah, I made the date on Monday, because we always travel together and always play together, but I really wanted to take a few of the close friends, take part of my wedding.  I'm really thankful that they came, because it wasn't close.  It was about an hour, hour and a half away.  I'm really happy to have them there and it was really special to have them dressed up differently and in a wedding ceremony.  I think for them, I think it was kind of awkward to experience a Korean wedding because they never have done that before.

Q.  Did it go just as you hoped and planned?

INBEE PARK:  Yeah, everything was good.  It was just a little bit chilly and windy.

Q.  And then lastly, planning up until that, I was looking at your finishes recently, how did you balance planning and playing so long?  You had been playing well leading up to it.  I know you said you had a lot of help, but mentally, you just played through the stressors?

INBEE PARK:  Every week, I feel like this season overall, my ball-striking has been just there, very consistently.  But my putter was just kind of on and off.  I feel like it's getting a little bit better. 

So I think that's why I've been playing a little bit more consistent.  I mean, the putter is obviously not there, like not to my expectations.  But it's getting there.

Q.  Has it been kind of a relief; the wedding went great and now it's like, let's move on.

INBEE PARK :  I think so.  Like before the wedding, planning for about a month or so, and now it's like, the wedding is coming and I was thinking so much about the wedding.  But now it's all over, so I don't have to think so much about that anymore and just kind of move on from there, so just celebrate it.

Rolex Rankings No. 10 Hyo Joo Kim (E)

THE MODERATOR :  I'd like to welcome Hyo Joo Kim, even par 72, very good effort considering the conditions today.  How big of a factor was the wind for you today?

HYO JOO KIM :  So I think the wind picked up considerably compared to the rest of the field, from the first hole to the last hole but I'm satisfied with my play today.

THE MODERATOR :  How much fun did you have today?  Know you played alongside your friends.  Minjee said you had a lot of fun.  What was the best part about playing with your friends?

HYO JOO KIM :  When I saw the group yesterday, I knew immediately that I would feel very comfortable with the game and I knew I would have fun.  It was a lot of fun and we talked a lot.

Q.  So considering all success you had this year, what is your goal for this championship?

HYO JOO KIM:  I think my score here two years ago and last year was not that satisfactory.  My whole goal this year was and is to play better than last year.

Q.  So it seems that you have experience playing with Minjee and Lydia since your amateur years, and now you're all going to be touring professionals.  So I'm curious to know what you think are the strengths of Lydia and Minjee are?

HYO JOO KIM:  As for Lydia, I get this question a lot and I answer it, she's an exceptionally strong putter.

And for Minjee, actually it's the first time I've played with her in competition, and I think that she has a very positive mind-set.  And like myself, she's a bit simple-minded and I think that helps her, as well.  So the two players have different strengths, but I think that they are both exceptionally good players.

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