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LPGA KEB HanaBank Championship

Round 4 - Second 2015 title for Thompson

October 18, 2015

One stroke back of the lead to enter the final round of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship, Lexi Thompson said her plan was to make birdies, and she did exactly that. Thompson posted a final round 3-under par, 69 to win on Sunday for her second victory of 2015 and sixth win of her career.

“It's very satisfying,” said Thompson. “I always look forward to coming back to South Korea and playing in front of these amazing fans, and I love Sky 72. It's a great golf course. I always look forward to it, but getting a win, it means so much.”

Thompson won at 15-under par for the Tournament, 1-stroke ahead of Sung Hyun Park and Yani Tseng, who was looking for her first win in three years. The former World No.1 finished tied for second after a final round 68 for her third top-5 finish in her last four starts.

“Just being back where I am. It's better where I am I think,” said Tseng. “I'm just looking forward to win. I came to Asia for these five weeks and looking for a win. I know every week is getting close, and next week in Taiwan, it would be a great win in Taiwan.”

Amy Yang made history with a final round 62, tying the course record set in round one by Sung Hyun Park. Yang birdied every hole on the back nine, a first in the history of the LPGA Tour to climb to 13-under par for the championship.

“I don't know what just happened. Just can't believe, first time,” Yang said after her round. “I think six in a row was my best. That's the first time. Shots were great. Early in the week I was shaky, but I don't know, this back nine was crazy good, plus putting.”

Yang finished T-4 with Gerina Piller and Lydia Ko. 54-hole co-leader and World No.2, Ko had the opportunity to move to No.1 in the world with a win or runner-up finish on Sunday, but uncharacteristically struggled to an even par, 72, to finish two back of the lead. Ko couldn’t get any putts to drop throughout her round.

"I'm a little disappointed more that I left my two putts short on 15, 14, where I think if I just hit it a little bit harder, it would have dropped. But I played solid," said Ko. "I was struggling in the middle of my round, but to know that I was maybe able to turn it around a little bit in the end, I think that's a good sign."

Suzann Pettersen and Shanshan Feng posted final rounds of 3-under par, 69 to finish T-7.

27! Yang posts record back nine:
Amy Yang made nine consecutive birdies over the back nine Sunday to post the lowest nine-hole score in relation to par in Tour history. Yang’s 9-under-par 27 also ties the lowest nine-hole score in history and her nine consecutive birdies ties Beth Daniel’s previous LPGA best of nine, which she set during the second round of the 1999 Philips Invitational Honoring Harvey Penick.

“Oh, my gosh, I just told them, I never thought about it. Never thought about it,” Yang said. “I don’t know what just happened. I mean, if it can be a history, so honored.”

It was hard for anyone to fathom what just happened Sunday. Yang’s 62 also ties the tournament record here, which was previously set Monday by Sung Hyun Park. Yang had shot 62 twice before but never on this stage. Her first 62 came when she was 16 in a club championship and her second came in a mini-tour event in Orlando before she made it onto the LPGA.

But she had never shot a 27 and never made nine consecutive birdies.

“I think six in a row was my best,” Yang said. “That’s the first time. Shots were great. Early in the week I was shaky, but I don’t know, this back nine was crazy good, plus putting.”

Feeling like old:
Yani Tseng made birdie at the last but finished just one shot shy of Lexi Thompson. Still, Tseng’s sure of one thing heading out of this week: a win is coming her way sooner than later.

“Getting closer and closer. I’m very feeling good about my game today and actually the whole week,” Tseng said. “I know I left some shots out there, but I do my best on every putt, every shot. I didn’t give up any away. Still try to do my best to win the game and to fight to the end.”

Tseng’s now posted a top-five finish in three of her last four starts, including runner-up finishes in two of the three. Now, Tseng heads home to Taiwan feeling like the Yani of Old. She can’t describe what’s changed in her game, she just knows it feels like it used to before the two-year slide.

“Just being back where I am. It’s better where I am I think. Just very happy working with my mental coach, my trainer, my coach,” Tseng said. “Everything just kind of get together and just want to thank some of the people that they are believing in me and trust me that I can still can win a tournament. I’m just looking forward to win. I came to Asia for these five weeks and looking for a win. I know every week is getting close, and next week in Taiwan, it would be a great win in Taiwan.”

Tseng said there were very few swing changes undergone with her new coach, Claude Harmon. It’s just go out there and play and quit worrying about positions, etc. It’s showing.

Two shots away from No.1:
Lydia Ko’s bid for the world No. 1 ranking came up just two shots short of overtaking Inbee Park. Based off of where Park finished, Ko would have needed to finish in a two-way tie for second but fell into a tie for fourth when she was unable to get up and down for birdie at the last.

Inbee Park finished in a tie for 15th, and the two are now dead even in the Rolex Player of the Year points. Ko now leads the Race to the CME Globe, Vare Trophy, and money list standings.

Ko is in the field next week at the FUBON LPGA Taiwan Championship, but Park is not because of a prior sponsor commitment. However, both will be in the field in two weeks at the Blue Bay LPGA.

Two shots away from No.1:
Suzann Pettersen finished an uncharacteristic T-55 last week at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia after two opening rounds of 77. But she found it on the weekend in Malaysia with rounds of 66 and 67 and she carried that over in South Korea. Pettersen posted a tie for 7th and had a chance to make an eagle and tie Thompson on 18 but hit an unfortunate drive that squashed her chances.

“I played pretty good today,” Pettersen said. “I had one bad drive and it came on 18. Had to play an unplayable. But overall, pretty good.”

It is Pettersen’s seventh top-10 of the season and first in five starts.

“It’s a good step in the right direction,” she said.

Round 3 - Ko and Park tied at -13

October 17, 2015

Lydia Ko started the day with a one stroke lead and quickly extended it with four birdies in her first six holes. She looked to be in control when she started on the back nine when things changed.

She struggled with her short game and chipping around the greens, made back-to-back bogeys on the 11th and 12th holes, which opened the door for Mirim Lee who moved into a share of the lead with Ko at 12-under par. Ko bounced back with a birdie at the par 5, 13th to retake the outright lead, but double bogeyed at the par 4, 14th hole after being forced to take a drop from a hazard and trailed Lee and Yoon-Ji Cho by one.

“I thought I hit the ball pretty good until the shot on 11, pushed it on 12. I think that the 11th hole was a turning point where I started not hitting the ball very good. On the front nine, I thought I put myself in good position,” Ko told the media after her round.

Birdies at the 15th and 17th holes put her back into a share of the lead with Sung Hyun Park after Lee and Cho made bogeys to fall back.

“I thought it was an okay ball-striking day. You know, it wasn't fantastic, but it was still playable. I think that when you do hit those missed shots, you kind of have to pray to get a good lie in the rough or get a little fortunate,” said Ko.

“I think the winner tomorrow will probably be holing a lot of putts. I think putting is the most important thing,” said Ko. “You may miss the fairway, but to putt yourself in good position and hole out the birdie or a good par save, I think that's the crucial thing about being in that winner's circle.”

Striking it like a major champ:
Lexi Thompson says she isn’t quite hitting the ball as well as she did in her win at her first major a year ago, but it’s close. That’s how confident she is in her ball striking right now.

“I think I probably hit it better there,” Thompson said. “I mean, I’m hitting it pretty well here. But I don’t know, it’s tough to compete with how I hit it there. But I’m definitely very confident with my game right now.”

Thompson hit 17 of 18 greens Saturday and says it’s her driving of the golf ball that allowed her to do so. She’s been bombing it down the middle and outside of a few errant ones in the first round, she’s set herself up beautifully for her approaches.

“Yeah, the first day, it was bad. But no, I went back to simple thoughts, controlled swing, and good posture,” Thompson said. “Simple stuff and it has helped me out a lot.”

Sister, Sister:
Moriya Jutanugarn fired a 5-under-par 67 on Saturday, but she had more fun during Friday’s 4-under 68. That’s because her sister was in her group Friday, but she wasn’t Saturday. Nevertheless, Jutanugarn has put herself right into the thick of it heading into Sunday just two shots back of the lead.

“Yeah, I like it a lot,” Jutanugarn said. “Like I had a pretty solid game this week, and hopefully I keep it solid tomorrow for my game and keep doing what I’m doing right now and stick with my game plan.”

Moriya even holed out from 110 yards for an eagle Saturday. But it still wasn’t as much fun as it was playing with her sister the day prior.

“Well, like always when you play good and you’re having fun with your golf game,” she said, “but I would say yesterday I had more fun with my sister.”

Home course advantage:
When it’s good, it’s really good. When it’s really bad, it’s really bad. That’s Suzann Pettersen’s description of the swing changes she’s undergone in 2015. In other words, it’s still a work in progress, but she joked that her coach, Butch Harmon, thinks it probably shouldn’t be taking this long.

“I mean, I would say he would probably say, she should have had it by now,” Pettersen said. “But I’m learning every day and I’m learning to get out of the bad stuff and I’m learning to embrace the good stuff. This week’s been a good kind of week so far. I’ve been doing what I need to do and the change of putter that I did last week has kind of seemed to help a little bit.”

It’s certainly helped. She says her ball striking is better than it’s been in a long time and she’s even hitting it further than she used to. It showed Saturday when Pettersen fired a 4-under-par 68 Saturday to get within four shots entering the final round.

“Yeah, especially ball-striking-wise, it was always good before. Now it’s even better,” Pettersen said. “But I’ve got my distance, if not even more distance.”

Round 2 - Amazing Ko leaps into lead

October 16, 2015

Coming from seven strokes behind leader Sung Hyun Park at the start of the second round, Ko posted a 7-under par 65 on Friday, including a birdie at the last to take the outright lead at 10-under par.

“When a player shoots 10-under, 7-under, 8-under, whatever, they had a great day and all you can do is play good golf yourself and just think about it, one shot at a time and see the closer you are to the leader, or if you're leading, the earlier, the better. Because if you are leading, you've got time where you can expand the lead and give yourself a little bit of breathing room I think,” Ko told the media after her round.

“I think I put myself in good position,” said Ko. “But the weekend is where they say people try to go up the leaderboard. I'm just going to focus on one shot at a time tomorrow and just focus on my game, because I know there's going to be a lot of great golf from a lot of great players.”

Sister, sister:
Moriya and Ariya Jutanugarn got a surprise Thursday evening when they opened the pairings for the second round. There, in Group 11, were both their names - the first time that has ever happened as professionals.

“Yeah, just feels like a practice round, but I was like so excited that I see the pairings last night,” Moriya said. “I was like, ‘Oh, God, I’m going to play with her.’ But we had a lot of fun.”

When both entered the scorer’s tent Friday, it was easy to wonder if it was twins day on the LPGA because the two sisters were both wearing the same thing - white shorts, blue polo with a white under shirt underneath. Normally, the sponsors would make the clothing not look at all the same despite similar colors, but that’s not the case with the Jutanugarns. They have the same sponsors as each other too.

“You know what’s funny is like on Tuesday, we left like maybe 30 minutes apart, and we got there, same shirt,” Moriya said. “And Wednesday, we got the same shirt again. Is that funny -- and then we got the same shirt again today.”

There are different opinions between the two sisters on who copied who, but there’s no debate on who won Friday’s second round among the sisters. That was Moriya, who shot a 4-under-par 68 and is currently six strokes up on her sister.

“We are always trying to beat each other all the time,” Moriya said. “Yeah, like she make birdie, birdie, like first two holes, and I was like, ‘wow, that’s pretty hot.’ And then I just make birdie, par, birdie. I was like, all right, let’s see how it goes.”

Easing it back:
Lexi Thompson will be the first to admit that sometimes she was too hard on herself in the previous year. She began seeing a different mental coach at the start of this year and has worked on enjoying the experience more and not letting a poor shot get to her. It certainly worked Friday with a 5-under-par 67 that has her just one shot back of Lydia Ko.

“It took me awhile to kick into my game and get used to being positive out on the golf course. It’s a huge part of it,” Thompson said. “Golf is like so mental, and I needed to realize that. He’s helped me out a lot and I think that has helped me out on the golf course in just trusting myself.”

Thompson admits it’s an ongoing process and the bad habits creep in sometimes. Her frustration is built in her competitiveness but she has to remind herself not to let it get the best of her and cause a mistake to snowball.

“I hit some bad shots yesterday and I caught myself getting negative, but it’s going to happen,” Thompson said. “You just have to keep on focusing on the positive shots and the good shots that you hit, and keep on replaying those in your head.”

One hole stood out in particular Friday, she said. She hit a bad drive on No. 10 and made bogey. But it didn’t compound itself. Instead, she told herself not to get mad, reeled off a few pars, and then poured in birdies on three of the last four to get within one shot of Ko heading into the weekend.

Home course advantage:
It’s safe to say Mi Hyang Lee knows this golf course - Sky 72 Golf Club’s Ocean Course - a little better than the rest of the field. Sky 72 has been Lee’s home course since it opened when she was 13 and she still has a home 10 minutes down the road where she spends the offseason.

But that hasn’t always translated into solid results at this course. In two previous starts here, she’s finished 76th and 66th.

“Just I know the golf course well, but it didn’t work. Just it didn’t work,” Lee said. “And then I did feel a lot of pressure for sure.”

That’s changing this week though. Lee fired a 5-under-par 67 Friday and is currently in a tie for 7th at 6-under-par. Lee says one change she made this week is she’s not staying at home. She wants it to feel like a normal tournament so instead of staying at home and driving the 10 minutes to the course, she’s at the hotel with the rest of the players.

“When I stay at my home, I feel like it’s not a tournament,” Lee said.

Free lessons from a Pro:
The LPGA’s Teaching & Club Professionals program first brought it’s act overseas in 2012 and in the four years since, every year LPGA certified Korean based teaching pros hit the driving range from Friday - Sunday to offer 10 minute free lessons to amateurs. Each year, the T&CP professional numbers in Korea grow and so does the line for assistance.

The LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program will also be on-site Sunday offering a free clinic to juniors age 7-17 from 2:00 PM - 3:30 PM.

Numbers to know:
3 - This weekend marks only the third time Ko has held the 36-hole lead. She closed both the previous two out with a win.
3.5 - With a win here, Ko would break Nancy Lopez’s previous record at 22 years by more than 3.5 years as the youngest to ever reach 10 wins.
7 - Lydia Ko trailed by seven shots entering Friday’s final round and now leads by one entering the weekend.
10 - Lydia Ko is looking for her 10th LPGA win and would surpass Nancy Lopez by more than 3.5 years as the youngest ever to 10 wins.

Round 1 - Sung Hyun Park racing into lead

October 15, 2015

KLPGA’s Sung Hyun Park made the most of nearly perfect conditions at Sky 72 Golf Club’s Ocean Course in South Korea. She posted a 10-under par, 62 to lead by four-strokes on day one of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship in her first participation in this event.

“Last year I came here to watch the championships, and so it's a great honor to take part in the championships as a qualified player,” Park said after her round. “And at this point, I really feel that I have come a long way personally, as well, and I just really want to put in more effort and hard work and do my best, and I also want to thank the people who have helped me to come this far.”

“I was playing with very long hitters today, Michelle and Lexi, and they are taller and bigger than I am and they are much more powerful than I am, but I notice that maybe my swing speed is a bit faster than them, and that that might contribute to me being able to hit the ball as far as I do,”

Her opening round score matches the Tournament’s low round, posted by Gloria Park in the final round of this event in 2003. The 22-year-old has won twice this season, on the KLPGA Tour last week as well as the season’s first major championship, the Korea Women’s Open.

Perfectionist was nearly perfect:
A lot has happened for Sung Hyun Park over the last year. She’s posted three wins on the KLPGA. She went from spectator at this tournament to inside the ropes. And she now owns the course record.

“I’m a perfectionist when it comes to golf, but last year, I was not happy with my game, especially with my swing. I think I thought the rhythm was kind of off,” said Park. “So I invested a lot of time to improving my swing, so right now, I think I have a really good rhythm and timing when it comes to my swing. And when it comes to the way I think or the mentality I have, I think last year, I lacked the experience of being or playing with really experienced players, leaders.”

That should certainly help her over the next three days as she looks to fend off the best players in the world.

“I think today, I was especially lucky, but looking ahead to the next three days, I know that double or triple-bogeys are a possibility, so it’s really anybody’s game at this point,” said Park. “So I’m going to try to not focus on winning too much and really try to do my best.”

Solheim star's putter remains on fire:
Gerina Piller’s heard the popular refrain among her critics throughout her career. “She can’t putt!” the saying goes. Her response? Arguably the biggest putt in Solheim Cup history - a 10-foot clincher at the last to win that kept the Americans in it.

It’s one of those career-defining putts and moments that can end up propelling a player to the next level. The more Piller believes in her flat stick, the more putts seem to fall, and she’s put in the work this year to right the perceived weakness of her game.

It’s shown all season in her best year to date on the LPGA Tour and it showed again Thursday in a first-round 6-under-par 66 in which she only needed 27 putts.

“I feel like there’s a lot of times where I may hear that putting is kind of holding me back, and where I think I’m a great putter, but hopefully it’s a little quiet to them, and gives me a lot more confidence obviously to perform on that type of stage,” said Piller. “I played great all week and to make a putt of that much significance was definitely a huge confidence booster.”

Piller’s a supremely talented ball striker, one of the LPGA’s best. And she’s worked all season to ensure that her short game isn’t a weakness. It hasn’t been in 2015 and she’s having the best year of her career to date. It seems sooner than later, that first career LPGA win is coming, and it might even be this week. Either way, she’s pleased with the changes she’s found in her game.

“I think just more confidence and more consistency,” said Piller. “I know we had talked at the beginning of the year, and what I was working on this year was being more consistent. I feel like I’ve got to that point where I’m pretty consistent and it’s just a matter of time.”

New caddie, new Hull:
Charley Hull’s been on the scene so long that it’s easy to forget she’s only 19. With youth sometimes comes inconsistency and Hull’s been one round away from some really terrific results recently. There was the first-round 74 last week that kept her from a top-10. There was the final-round 6-over 77 at the Evian Championship after three consecutive days of 1-under-par 70 that kept her from a top-10. And there was a 1-over-par second-round 73 that left her three shots back of a playoff in a tie for seventh at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open.

But there’s a lot to like about the young Brit’s game these days. She was absolutely terrific for Team Europe at the Solheim Cup and she knows the game she showed on the biggest stage will come out on a more consistent basis as she grows in the game.

She was terrific again Thursday with a 6-under-par 66.

“Just patience at the moment. Just scope on pushing on, keep on hitting good scores,” said Hull. “I’m only 19; I just feel like I’ve got a lot more to progress in my game and a lot more to learn. I feel really comfortable with my caddie, Adam. He’s great.”

Hull first started working with Adam Woodward, a long-time caddie on Tour, at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open and believes it’s had an impact on her game over the last month and half.

“Yeah, well, I first started working with him the first week I was in Canada, and I think I finished eighth there, seventh, I can’t remember which one, but we’ve had two top-10’s in the last five weeks, so I’ve been pretty happy,” she said.

No.1 Ranking scenarios:
Inbee Park is in for a fight this week to hold on to her No. 1 world ranking after Lydia Ko has posted two wins and a runner-up in her last three starts.

Lydia Ko can become No. 1 again if:
• She wins
• She finishes 2nd AND Inbee Park finishes solo 6th or worse

Numbers to know:
.26 - Inbee Park leads Lydia Ko by .26 points in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. For comparison’s sake, Park leads No. 3 Stacy Lewis by 3.5 points.
3 - Both Lydia Park and Inbee Park were 3-under par on Thursday and are tied in 16th place in their battle for the world No. 1 ranking.
10 - This is HanaBank’s 10th year as the sponsor of this event.
34 - There are 34 South Korean players on the LPGA Tour in 2015.
62 - Sung Hyun Park’s 62 Thursday bests the previous course record of Suzann Pettersen - a first-round 63 in 2012.

Scores

Pos. Player To Par R1 R2 R3 R4 Total
T1 Thompson, Lexi -15 68 67 69 69 273
T2 Park, Sung-Hyun -14 62 74 67 71 274
T2 Tseng, Yani -14 70 67 69 68 274
T4 Ko, Lydia -13 69 65 69 72 275
T4 Piller, Gerina -13 66 74 68 67 275
T4 Yang, Amy -13 71 72 70 62 275
T7 Feng, Shanshan -12 67 71 69 69 276
T7 Pettersen, Suzann -12 70 69 68 69 276
T9 Cho, Yoon-Ji -10 68 68 69 73 278
T9 Choi, Chella -10 67 72 71 68 278
T9 Lee, Mi-Hyang -10 71 67 71 69 278
T9 Lee, Mirim -10 68 69 67 74 278
T9 Lincicome, Brittany -10 71 70 69 68 278
T9 Miyazato, Mika -10 71 69 71 67 278
T15 Gee Chun, In -8 73 68 68 71 280
T15 Kim, Sei Young -8 70 70 72 68 280
T15 Lang, Brittany -8 68 71 72 69 280
T15 Lindberg, Pernilla -8 68 70 70 72 280
T15 Pace, Lee-Anne -8 70 68 75 67 280
T15 Park, Inbee -8 69 72 70 69 280
T21 Choi, Na Yeon -7 68 74 71 68 281
T21 Jutanugarn, Moriya -7 70 68 67 76 281
T21 Ko, Jin Young -7 71 70 71 69 281
T21 Ryu, So-Yeon -7 73 73 66 69 281
T25 Kim, Hyo-Joo -6 67 73 71 71 282
T25 Lee, Minjee -6 69 69 72 72 282
T25 Uribe, Mariajo -6 72 67 72 71 282
T28 Ji, Eun Hee -5 67 75 69 72 283
T28 Jung Seo, Yeun -5 70 69 73 71 283
T28 Lin, Xi Yu * -5 71 73 71 68 283
T28 Nordqvist, Anna -5 71 71 72 69 283
T28 Sol Ji, Han -5 67 72 70 74 283
T28 Yokomine, Sakura -5 74 69 68 72 283
T34 Kang, Danielle -4 77 67 70 70 284
T34 Salas, Lizette -4 69 71 72 72 284
T36 Gal, Sandra -3 69 73 73 70 285
T36 Korda, Jessica -3 71 72 70 72 285
T36 Lee, Il Hee -3 70 72 72 71 285
T36 Rym Kim, Hae -3 68 73 72 72 285
T40 Ciganda, Carlota -2 71 70 75 70 286
T40 Hull, Charley -2 66 74 71 75 286
T40 Jang, Ha Na -2 69 73 71 73 286
T40 Kyung Kim, Bo -2 71 74 71 70 286
T40 Lee, Alison -2 72 71 72 71 286
T40 Martin, Mo -2 71 72 71 72 286
T40 Shin, Jenny -2 71 70 74 71 286
47 Granada, Julieta -1 74 73 71 69 287
T48 Icher, Karine E 75 72 68 73 288
T48 Jutanugarn, Ariya E 70 74 69 75 288
T48 Miyazato, Ai E 75 70 71 72 288
T48 Tamulis, Kris E 73 72 72 71 288
T52 Lee, Jung-Min 1 75 73 72 69 289
T52 Lee, Min-Young 1 71 72 73 73 289
T52 Wie, Michelle 1 71 72 71 75 289
T52 Woo Bae, Seon 1 71 72 72 74 289
T56 Ernst, Austin 2 75 72 76 67 290
T56 Kim, Min-Sun 2 74 69 72 75 290
T56 Matthew, Catriona 2 71 73 74 72 290
T59 Baek, Kyu-Jung 3 74 73 71 73 291
T59 Phatlum, Pornanong 3 72 73 75 71 291
T61 Hsu, Wei-Ling 4 75 74 71 72 292
T61 Kim, In-Kyung 4 71 74 73 74 292
T61 Pressel, Morgan 4 70 75 78 69 292
T64 Creamer, Paula 5 74 77 70 72 293
T64 Inkster, Juli 5 71 72 72 78 293
T64 Kung, Candie 5 74 72 74 73 293
T67 Park, Hee Young 6 75 74 76 69 294
T67 Stanford, Angela 6 74 72 77 71 294
T69 Lee, Min 7 72 76 76 71 295
T69 Marie Green, Jaye 7 71 70 75 79 295
T69 Yoo, Sun-Young 7 73 74 72 76 295
72 Ahn, Shi Hyun 10 78 72 74 74 298
73 Munoz, Azahara 11 74 71 73 81 299
74 Eun Lee, Jeong 12 78 72 75 75 300
75 Yun Chong, Hee 18 76 73 80 77 306
76 Hou, Yu-Sang(a) 29 78 83 78 78 317
WD Kerr, Cristie 2 74 74
WD Park, Jane 5 74 73 74 221

Preview

DATES:  October 15-18
SITE:  Sky 72 Golf Club, Ocean Course, Incheon, Korea
PRIZE MONEY: $2,000,000
Click here for tournament stats & info

In Gee Chun, runner-up here a year ago, doesn’t have a prediction of who the winner will be, but she can guarantee fans one thing.

“I can’t say which player will win,” Chun said, “but what I can tell you is that you are going to see some great golf this week.”

So Yeon Ryu doesn’t have a prediction either, but in her mind, she considers this championship right up there with a major.

“This is one of the championships that I want to win the most,” Ryu said. “So I am one of the players who want to win it the most. I think all I can do is my best, and of course, sometimes your best is not enough. You do need a little bit of luck. So I will just do my best under the circumstances and hopefully I’ll be a bit lucky.”

Lydia Ko was born here as well but moved to New Zealand when she was a child. Last year was her first time playing in the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship and she only broke par one day, finishing in solo 29th. Therefore, despite a torrid pace recently - two wins and a runner-up in her last three starts - Ko would be content with just gaining improvement over a year ago.

“This tournament last year was the first time where I played in front of the Korean fans in Korea. I had a great experience and wish I could have finished a lot better. So that’s I think my goal for this week, to have a better result than last year.”

On the Ocean Course at Sky 72 Golf Club, where the wind blows in strong from the north down through the golf course, anything can happen, and Ko thinks she’s figured out the recipe for the hilly layout.

“It’s a tough course, and it can get really windy as everyone can see outside,” Ko said. “So I think somebody who is really creative and holes a lot of putts will definitely be the winner at the end of the week.”

Ko would take over the world’s No. 1 ranking with a win this week.

Korean Influence:
Juli Inkster remembers when she first teed it up with Se Ri Pak in 1998. That was 17 years ago, and women’s golf in Korea has exploded ever since.

“It’s evolved rapidly,” Inkster said. “Se Ri was a very powerful player, very well spoken. Their work ethic and their techniques, amazing. It’s been great for worldwide golf.”

Pak started the explosion with her win at the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open, world No. 4 So Yeon Ryu said. All the sudden golf was in vogue, and the host of Korean contenders on the LPGA Tour continued to grow.

“They really set the bar high for all of us, and they are a lot of fun,” Inkster said. “I really enjoy being around them and being with them and playing with them. They are very respectful and they honor golf and respect the game of golf. That’s how I was brought up to play, and I can see it carrying on the tradition.”

Inkster admits being partially jealous every time she comes over to the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship here in Incheon because of the reverence shown to the Korean players. She attended the President’s Cup nearby Sunday to support her friend, United States Captain Jay Haas, and even there in her full American rain gear, she couldn’t hide from the spotlight that’s on women’s golf in Korea.

“What I love about Korea is the way they embrace their players. They have so much respect for women’s golf,” Inkster said. “I wish the United States would do more of that. I couldn’t believe how many people knew my name out there. These players coming up, and Se Ri really set the stage, that they respect their games and they respect women’s golf, which I think is marvelous right now!”

Ryu said there’s a strong sense of national pride in Korea so when Se Ri won four times, including two major championships in her rookie season, the candle was lit and the golf craze spread like wildfire.

“I would say women’s golf is like football in the States,” Ryu said.

Added Inbee Park: “Korean people are really passionate about everything. It’s a really small country compared to the United States so everything gets spread really quickly here than back in the United States.”

Battle for No. 1 Continues:
Lydia Ko wants everyone to know that she’s not just spewing drivel for the sake of humility. She really means it when she says that she doesn’t think that she deserves to be the No. 1 golfer in the world, despite two wins and a runner-up finish in her last three starts.

“To me personally, I’m not trying to be all humble and all that, but I really feel like Inbee deserves to be in that world No. 1 ranking,” Ko said. “I mean, she did a career Grand Slam this year, she won two majors, and she won two other events. So when you have that kind of year and you played consistently well the last couple of years, you deserve to be there.”

When it comes to the No. 1 ranking, Ko could care less. She wants to win and if that comes with it, so be it, but she’d really just prefer to have fun. Well, that and avoid any talk of No. 1.

“I mean, to me, it’s so much fun to be able to play alongside Inbee, Juli, So Yeon, and In Gee; to just go out there and have fun and all of us try to hold the trophy at the end of the week,” Ko said. “I think in a way, we are kind of missing out on the most important part; that we are out here trying to play some great golf, show what the LPGA is like, and I think that’s the most important thing; rather than one shot or what one placing could do to the World Rankings.”

Park agreed and, for her part, admitted that in years past she’s let the talk around the No. 1 ranking and season-ending awards put pressure on her late in the year. She didn’t really enjoy herself as much as she would have liked as a result and thought it was detrimental to her game. Although the awards are more up in the air than ever before with Park owning a nearly edge in the money list and Rolex Player of the Year standings with Ko owning a narrow edge in the Vare Trophy and Race to the CME Globe standings, Park’s determined to avoid the noise this go around.

“Recently I came to realize that being aware and conscious of defending these different titles has kind of sacrificed my game in a way,” Park said, “because I kind of tend to lose my concentration by really paying attention to something that is not really central and pivotal to the game. In fact, the past two to three years, I haven’t really been able to enjoy myself during the Asia Swing, especially when this is a time when you’re wrapping up the season and you’re supposed to have more fun and relax.”

Her goal for the year - win the RICOH Women’s British Open - is already complete, and so really whatever comes her way the rest of the season is essentially the cherry on top of the cake at this point, and she’s taking Ko’s approach of fun over everything else.

“My goal is to really not get side stepped by these distractions that come in the form of defending these various titles, and I really want to enjoy myself,” Park said.

Room For Improvement:
It’s hard to imagine being the top ranked player in the world and yet still needing improvement. But, if there was one area of World No.1 Inbee Park's game that needs a bit of help, she says it’s her putting. She currently ranks second in putts per GIR at 1.75 and 13th in putting average at 29.2.

“At the Evian Championship, I struggled with my putting and thought that it could not get any worse, but in Malaysia, I struggled with my putting again,” said Park. “I thought I might get cancer from the stress.”

In hopes of getting it rolling better this week in Korea, Park put in some extra practice she doesn't normally do during her weekly prep.

“It’s just I think the putting that’s kind of holding back my score at this point,” Park said. “So I usually don’t practice on Mondays, but today I kind of wanted to get out there and try to see if I could find what I can change. But that’s not something that can be identified so easily.”

Park says she she’s keeping her expectations realistic this week given her struggles on the putting surface.

“I’m just going to not have very high hopes. I’m going to keep my expectations low. But I will do my best and try to practice.”

The last time Park said she had low expectations for her week, she won the RICOH Women’s British Open and the Career Grand Slam.

From Solheim Cup to Presidents Cup:
Last week’s Presidents Cup was staged just 20 minutes from the site of this week’s LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship in Korea, where U.S. Solheim Cup captain Juli Inkster enjoyed the VIP treatment in supporting fellow captain Jay Haas and his team’s victory over the Internationals.

“Jay Haas and I have played a lot of golf together. We are very good friends. So he invited me,” said Inkster. “I stayed in the team room for awhile. They geared me up with rain gear and hats and all that. I got inside the ropes. I watched Phil Mickelson for nine holes and then I watched Billy Haas for nine holes.”

Inkster said the reaction she’s received since her team’s victory at the Solheim Cup has been great and is blown away by the great golf the Americans played on Sunday to get the win.

“The response was phenomenal. Everybody in the United States, it was great for women’s golf. I thought the golf that week was phenomenal. You know, just my team on Sunday made 70 birdies. So they played really great golf,” said Inkster.

Inkster received a sponsor’s invite to compete this week in Korea.

Numbers To Know:
0 - Number of starts Q Baek had made on the LPGA Tour before her win here a year ago.
.03 - Lydia Ko leads by .03 strokes per round in the Vare Trophy standings.
.26 - Inbee Park leads Lydia Ko by .26 points in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. For comparison’s sake, Park leads No. 3 Stacy Lewis by 3.5 points.
34 - There are 34 South Korean players on the LPGA Tour in 2015.
1998 - Se Ri Pak started the Korean women’s golf explosion with one of the finest rookie seasons in LPGA Tour history - a four win season in which she won both the U.S. Women’s Open and McDonald’s LPGA Championship.
$12,216 - The amount that Inbee Park leads Lydia Ko by on the money list.





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