Kintetsu Kashikojima Country Club
Shima-Shi, Mie, Japan
Pre-tournament Notes and Interviews
October 31 & November 1, 2012
November 1, 2012
The race is on. Since early June, Rolex Rankings No. 2 Stacy Lewis has had a steady grasp on the Rolex Player of the Year award but Inbee Park’s recent stretch of top-10 finishes has Lewis shaking in her golf shoes as the gap slowly closed during in the Asia swing.
Park’s win in Malaysia and runner-up finish in Taiwan put her within 28 points of Lewis. After a tie for 33rd at the LPGA KEB HanaBank Championship, the Texan admits she needed a week break to shake off the stress and shift her focus for the final three events of the 2012 season.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself the last two weeks in Malaysia and Korea just knowing what’s at stake and knowing what I was playing for,” Lewis said. “I kind of had to go home last week just to regroup and remember that I went on the same kind of run as Inbee is on right now, I just did it earlier in the year. I had to realize that I still had the lead I still am the person to beat.”
Lewis says it’s a foreign feeling being in contention for the Player of the Year award as Rolex Rankings No. 1 Yani Tseng has clenched the title in back-to-back seasons (2010 and 2011). But regardless of the outcome at the end of the year, Lewis feels fortunate to have held the position for the majority of the season.
“It’s been a different experience playing for all the year-end stuff,” Lewis said. “Every year it seems that Yani runs away with it these last two years. I haven’t really been in that race before. So, winning Player of the Year would make me so happy. Even if I don’t win it, it’s still been a good year.”
Just three events remain for players to earn points toward the season-ending awards; this week’s Mizuno Classic, the Lorena Ochoa Invitational and the season-ending CME Titleholders.
Feels like home. For Jiyai Shin, a certain sense of delight overcomes her each year when closing out the season with a four-week stretch in Asia. The South Korean says the sellout crowds at each event helps motivate her to play her best game and gives her confidence to power through the final events of the season.
“I have a lot of fans in Korea and also in Japan,” Shin said. “I felt really good playing in front of my fans. With all the traveling on Tour, a lot of us miss home. But when I play in Asia, I get a lot of confidence playing close to home and family.”
With two win’s already this season at the Kingsmill Championship and the RICOH Women’s British Open, the two-time defending champion at the Mizuno Classic (2009, 2010) is eager to show off her game in front of Japan’s crowd. She says the course is in perfect condition for her to continue her bogey-free streak at the Kintetsu Kashikijima Country Club.
“The course conditions are really great,” Shin said. “The greens are firm so it’ll be easy to make a lot of putts. Last year, I didn’t make any bogeys so this year I have the same goal this week.
“It’s exactly the same course though. A lot of gallery with fans, so they want to see lots of birdies and this course you can make a lot of birdies. I feel much better than last year.”
Feeling the love. For the last four years, Na Yeon Choi (@nychoi87) has caught the spotlight and become one of the most talented players on the LPGA Tour. Rounding out her fourth consecutive season with at least one victory and more than $1 million in season earnings, it’s no surprise the South Korean is pleased with her 2012 campaign.
“This year is very special to me,” Choi said. “I won my first major and that was really big to me. Still a lot of people call me the U.S. Open champion and that makes me feel really great. I’m really happy with how well I played this year.”
The 25-year-old has become a fan favorite around the world but she feels the most support and affection while competing in the Asian events.
“When I play in Asia it feels like my second home,” Choi said. “Even last week in Taiwan, it was my birthday on Sunday and the Taiwanese fans gave me a lot of gifts and cake. After the round they sang happy birthday to me. So that was very special memory. So I really appreciated that.
“And this week already one of the volunteers gave me a birthday gift. I’m just really thankful for how they take care of me and support me.”
Q. You’ve had some success here in the past, T6 last year and 3rd the year before, is there something about this course that makes you feel comfortable.
STACY LEWIS: I think it’s a course that if you hit it well you’ll have a lot of birdie chances. I think that’s kind of been the key for me, it just depends on how many putts I make. I like playing in Japan. I think we get great crowds here and they’re really nice and respectful so it’s fun playing here.
Q. You’re coming off a win at Navistar, you’re third this season. Just reflect on this season and how pleased you are with the state of you game.
STACY LEWIS: It’s been interesting. I’ve played really well but I’ve also learned a lot along the way. There’s something’s that I didn’t really expect would come and it’s been a whole kind of learning experience for me. I didn’t play very well these last couple weeks in Asia, but I’ve kind of found my game again and I feel good coming into this week.
Q. Inbee Park is starting to close the in the Player of the Year race. You may have an opportunity to pass her on the money list with these last three events. Just talk about that and how important these next three weeks will be for you.
STACY LEWIS: I put a lot of pressure on myself the last two weeks in Malaysia and Korea just knowing what’s at stake and knowing what I was playing for. I kind of had to go home last week just to regroup and remember that I went on the same kind of run as Inbee is on right now, I just did it earlier in the year. I had to realize that I still had the lead I still am the person to beat.
It’s been a different experience playing for all the year-end stuff. Every year it seems that Yani runs away with it these last two years. I haven’t really been in that race before.
The money list seems far out of reach. Inbee played really well at the tournaments with big purses. I think I’d have to win Titleholders in order to pass her. But for me, winning Player of the Year would make me so happy. Even if I don’t win it, it’s still been a good year.
Q. How are you feeling about the state of your game coming into this week?
STACY LEWIS: I’ve been playing really well this year. I just got off to a good start at the beginning of the year and just kind of kept it up throughout the year. There’s still a lot to play for in these last few weeks for me. There’s player of the year and there’s a lot of other awards at the end of the year.
I love coming to this golf course and I feel really good about my game right now.
Q. What do you think the keys are to scoring low this weekend?
STACY LEWIS: I think there are a couple par 5s that are reachable so you have to play those well. From there, you just have to make a ton of birdies. Like 15 or 16 under usually wins and with this tournament only being three days you really have to score low numbers. You just have to hit a lot of greens and make a lot of putts.
Q. Talk more about the awards at the end of the year.
STACY LEWIS: Well, the money list is kind of out of reach for me right now. I think Inbee Park has a really big lead. For me, my main focus has been Player of the Year. I had the lead for the last few months but Inbee is making a run for it lately and she’s playing really well. I just need to go out there and take care of my business, and control what I can control. Hopefully in the next few weeks everything rolls my way.
Q. You’ve won twice here, in 2010 and 2009, just give us some initials thoughts about being back here in Japan and how much you enjoy this event every year.
JIYAI SHIN: I get to play here with a lot of fans. I just feel really comfortable because we are very close to Korea. So there is very good support this week on this course. I just want to show my best shot every time.
The food is really good, too, so I feel energy and recharged.
Q. How are you feeling about the state of your game coming into this week?
JIYAI SHIN: I feel like I’ve played really well this year, especially dealing with my injury in the middle of the season. I had to have surgery on my hand and I was out for two months. I thought I would recover very slowly, like another year. After that I worked really hard during recovery, I did a lot of training.
After that I made two great wins so after that it really boosted my confidence. I was really surprised after my win in Kingsmill and British Open because both games were very hard conditions. I played 81 holes at Kingsmill and then straight after that 36 holes in terrible weather. It was great experience for me, and I learned a lot from my winning. I get a lot of confidence.
This week I have always had a good experience here, winning two times on this course. I’m really thankful for the support here, so I’m going to do my best this week.
Q. What happened to your hand?
JIYAI SHIN: My bone was broke in my hand so they took it out. A lot of player’s come to me and say “see, you practice too much.”
Q. This is your final event before CME. How exciting is it to close out the season here in Asia?
JIYAI SHIN: I have a lot of fans in Korea and also in Japan. I felt really good playing in front of my fans. With all the traveling on Tour, a lot of us miss home. But when I play in Asia, I get a lot of confidence playing close to home and family.
Q. What do you think the keys are to scoring low this weekend? Are there any chances to the course?
JIYAI SHIN: The course conditions are really great. The greens are firm so it’ll be easy to make a lot of putts. Last year, I didn’t make any bogeys so this year I have the same goal this week.
It’s exactly the same course though. A lot of gallery with fans, so they want to see lots of birdies and this course you can make a lot of birdies. I feel much better than last year.
Q. Talk about your new hair style.
JIYAI SHIN: Since it’s Autumn time there’s a lot of maple color so I just try to match.
Q. This is your final event before CME Titleholders, just reflect on your season this year. Winning your first major championship, third in the Rolex Rankings, currently third on the season money list. What would you say has been the highlight for you this year?
NA YEON CHOI: Actually, this year is very special to me. I won my first major and that was really big to me. Still a lot of people call me the U.S. Open champion and that makes me feel really great. I’m really happy with how well I played this year. Even like the beginning of this year I finished two-time runner-up.
I want to finish strong this year at this tournament. I think a lot of my fans come to Mizuno Classic and watch my game, so I would like to play well and show them how I play this week. At CME, it’s the last tournament so I want to finish strong.
Q. How fun has it been closing out the 2012 season in Asia?
NA YEON CHOI: When I play in Asia it feels like my second home. Even last week in Taiwan, it was my birthday on Sunday and the Taiwanese fans gave me a lot of gifts and cake. After the round they sang happy birthday to me. So that was very special memory. So I really appreciated that.
This week already one of the volunteers gave me a birthday gift. I’m just really thankful for how they take care of me and support me.
Q. You’ve had some success on this course before, finishing third last year, tied for fifth in 2010, what it is about this course that you think suits your game?
NA YEON CHOI: Well actually, the fairways are a lot firmer here than in America. So I have to be more careful at impact. But I’ve played this course for the last six or seven years so I know this course really well. Only a three day tournament so I have to play more aggressive on first day. Tomorrow I’m not going to play too safely and just try to make a lot of birdies.
Q. Have you started thinking about what you’re going to do during the off season?
NA YEON CHOI: I think, usually I start winter training January 1. So January 1 I set all my goals for 2013 and then just try my best
October 1, 2012
The LPGA Tour heads to Japan for the 40th annual Mizuno Classic for its last stop in its four-week Asia circuit. A 79 player field will compete for three days with a $1.2 million purse and a $180,000 first-place check up for grabs.
Japan’s Momoko Ueda seeks to defend her title after battling China’s Shanshan Feng in a three-hole playoff last year. The course plays hot for Ueda as she claimed her second Mizuno Classic title last season with the first coming in 2007 as a non-member. The five-year veteran on Tour has eight career top-10 finishes, but her season-best in 2012 is a tie for 12th at the LPGA LOTTE Championship Presented by J Golf and the Evian Masters Presented by Societe Generale.
Memories made. Last year’s victory in Japan provided Momoko Ueda with a number of wonderful memories. With two wins under her belt at the Kintestu Kashikojima Country Club, she says nostalgia is setting in as she returns to the site of her first official LPGA win.
“This definitely brings back a lot of memories, like the time I got to play with Annika and Karrie Webb,” said Ueda. “Playing with the world’s best players, and from that I got to build myself up and it gave me great confidence. It’s a great tournament and I’m glad to be back here again.”
With all eyes on her during a nail-biting playoff with Shanshan Feng last year, Ueda says being surrounded by Japan’s spectators and her family filled her with emotions after watching her winning putt fall.
“The last putt, the winning putt,” Ueda says of her favorite memory from last year. “Of course there was a lot of pressure, being a playoff. But the fans, I feel like with that last putt I became one with all the spectators there. It was very emotional for me after that win.”
Ueda admits her 2012 season hasn’t proved last year’s victory well, with her best finishes coming at the LPGA LOTTE Championship and Evian Masters ending in a tie for 12th. Ueda hopes that perhaps the return to Japan and the course she feels suits her game will be just what she needs to end her season.
“I know I didn’t have such a great start to my season, and middle part,” said Ueda. “I guess I prepared myself a lot for this tournament and hope to make the best out of it. I think this week is special because it’s my mom’s birthday and I think it would be great to win for her.”
Coming in hot. There’s no argument that Inbee Park has been on fire for the last three months, which is easily backed up by her impressive stats and high-finishing consistency. With impeccable steadiness with her flat stick, Park leads the LPGA Tour in putting average (28.25) and putts per GIR (1.73). Not to mention she has strung together the longest streak of top-10 finishes this season with 11 in the last 12 events.
The South Korean says this is most comfortable she’s felt over the ball in her six-year tenure on the LPGA Tour.
“I really like the way I’m playing right now,” said Park. “I’ve been getting a lot of confidence over the last three months, especially with my long game. My swing is getting really comfortable and it feels like it’s my swing now.”
Park claimed the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia title at the beginning of the Asia circuit and placed second behind Suzann Pettersen in Taiwan last week. She has seen success in Japan before with a tie for eighth in 2010 and tie for fifth in 2009. She says there’s a level of comfort she always feels each year during these months.
“I’ve always loved the Asia swing,” said Park. “I’m Asian and we get to go to Korea also. It’s been really fun. The LPGA does a great job of taking care of players. This month I’ve kind of taken it as a vacation and it’s really kind of helped my game. I like it.”
Of note… At last night’s opening reception, the LPGA presented a plaque to the Mainichi Broadcasting Systems and Sport Nippon Newspapers for 40 years of continuous coverage of the Mizuno Classic.
Q. This tournament must bring back a lot of memories for you. I saw the video last night from your win last year and how emotional that win was for you. How does it feel to come back as a defending champ to your home country?
MOMOKO UEDA: It definitely brings back a lot of memories, like the time I got to play with Annika and Karrie Webb. Playing with the world’s best players, and from that I got to build myself up and it gave me great experiences. It’s a great tournament and I’m glad to be back here again.
Q. What are some of your memories from last year? Your favorite memory.
MOMOKO UEDA: The last putt. The winning putt. Of course there was a lot of pressure, being a playoff. But the fans, I feel like with that last putt I became one with all the spectators there. It was very emotional for me to be here for that win.
Q. Being from Japan, talk about what a difference it makes playing in front of your hometown crowd, rather than any other tournament.
MOMOKO UEDA: The biggest difference is that I’m still trying to get comfortable with my English. I’m trying to learn because I can then communicate with more people. But being back in Japan and see the fans cheer me on, I wish I could make the same in other countries as well so I can build myself up more and more.
Q. How does it feel to be playing at home?
MOMOKO UEDA: I’m really comfortable here. But it’s really all the same where ever I go. I think this week is special because it’s my mom’s birthday and I think it would be great to win for her.
Q. Do you feel any pressure this week coming in as defending champion?
MOMOKO UEDA: Just a little bit. No matter how much I get nervous I don’t let it affect my game at all. So I think I manage pretty well.
Q. Your best finish this season has been two ties for 12th. How are you feeling about your game coming into this week?
MOMOKOA UEDA: I know I didn’t have such a great start to my season, and or middle part. I guess I prepared myself a lot for this tournament and hope to make the best out of it.
Q. You’ve had a couple top-10 finishes here in the past, is there anything about this course that you think suits your game?
INBEE PARK: This golf course is pretty much like a short iron and putting. Putting is most important this weekend. Everybody plays really well on this golf course and you’ve just got to go really low and score some birdies on this golf course. Hit is close and try to make a lot of putts.
Q. Do you think we are going to see a lot of low scores this weekend?
INBEE PARK: I think if the weather stays like this, then yes.
Q. You’ve had quite the season, with 11 top-10s in 12 events with two wins and five runner-ups. Talk about how you feel about your game and what has really clicked for you this season compared to others.
INBEE PARK: I feel really comfortable with my ball striking and my putting and everything. I’m really comfortable with the game. I really like the way I’m playing. I’ve been getting a lot of confidence over the last three months, especially with my long game. My swing is getting really comfortable. Early this season I was getting a little bit shaky with my swing and the putter but as the season goes by it kind of takes place over the few months. I’ve just gotten really comfortable and it feels like my swing now.
Q. You’ve played here five times in your career, what do you think the key is to scoring low this weekend?
INBEE PARK: Short game and your putter. The fairways are really wide so I think everybody is going to hit the fairways. Hit it really close. The greens don’t have many breaks on this course. Just hit it where you aim and it will go there.
Q. How exciting has it been for you to be playing in Asia these last four weeks?
INBEE PARK: I mean I’ve always loved the Asia swing. I’m Asian and we get to go to Korea also. It’s been really fun. The LPGA does a great job of taking care of players. This month I’ve kind of taken it as a vacation and it’s really kind of helped my game. I like it.
Q. What was the response from fans when you were over in Korea? What was it like playi
INBEE PARK: Yea it’s always nice getting to play in front of your home country fans and family. My family doesn’t get to come to all my tournaments so it was really fun to actually get to eat Korean food and talking in Korean everywhere.
Q. Did you get to show off Korea to your friends on the LPGA Tour?
INBEE PARK: Yea, I told them to go to Sol and eat all this food. A lot of girls seemed to have liked the Korean food and the culture. It’s fun to see all the LPGA players come to Asia and play because we are in the U.S. for a few months and for them to come over here and see the culture is fun. It’s great.
Q. Just talk about how exciting is it to come back to Japan and play in front of your country.
MIKA MIYAZATO: I’m always excited about this tournament because this tournament is held in Japan. We play a lot of tournaments in the U.S. so it’s always exciting coming back to play in my home country.
Q. Do you feel more at home here?
MIKA MIYAZATO: Yes.
Q. What is it about this golf course that you think suits your game?
MIKA MIYAZATO: Every hole, the greens are very big. The speed is very fast. The greens are so much different than others.
Q. You became a Rolex First-Time winner this year, how much would a win in your home country mean to you?
MIKA MIYAZATO: I’m sure that my Japanese fans would really enjoy it, and it will improve my golf level as well.