LPGA KEB·HanaBank Championship Pre-tournament notes & interviews

LPGA KEB·HanaBank Championship
Sky 72 Golf Club
Incheon, South Korea
Pre-Tournament Notes and Interviews
October 14, 2013

The LPGA Tour heads to Incheon, South Korea for its third stop during the five-week fall Asia swing. A 78-player field will compete over three days on the Ocean Course at Sky 72 Golf Club for the 12th staging of the LPGA KEB·HanaBank Championship with a $285,000 first-place check on the line.

Rolex Rankings No. 2 Suzann Pettersen will be seeking the first of two straight title defenses during the Asia swing, with the second coming next week at the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship. The 32-year-old has produced a stellar 2013 season so far with 12 top-10 finishes including three victories. Her season seems to be hitting its peak now as she captured back-to-back titles at the Safeway Classic Presented by Coca-Cola and the Evian Championship last month. Pettersen’s first win of the 2012 season came in Korea following four top-10s. The 11-year LPGA Tour veteran said that her game is always in great shape during the fall’s Asia swing.

“Something just seems to appeal for me quite well [in Asia],” said Pettersen. “I mean, this is usually a good time of the year for me. I usually have a strong fall. This year the kind of strong performance came a little earlier than it usually does, so hopefully I can keep it going.”

A total of 35 Korean players, including 12 members of the Korean LPGA, will be playing in front of a home crowd this week with No. 1 Inbee Park being the fan favorite to win. She will be welcomed home by the roaring crowds in South Korea as she looks to end her mini winless-streak, having not captured a victory since the U.S. Women’s Open in June. Park’s impressive season includes six tournament wins, three of them being major championships, and she currently tops the season’s money list with $2,320,246. With five tournaments left on the LPGA Tour schedule, Park will be looking to strengthen her lead in the Rolex Player of the Year race as she attempts to become the first South Korean to win the award.

The LPGA KEB·HanaBank Championship is set for October 18-20 and will be featured on Golf Channel all three days with coverage from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. EST each round.


Where it all began…
This week, the LPGA Tour returns to Incheon, South Korea and for Suzann Pettersen, it marks the spot where a streak of solid play all began. At last year’s LPGA KEB·HanaBank Championship, Suzann Pettersen clinched her ninth career LPGA Tour victory after firing impressive rounds of 63-68-74.

“It’s nice to be back,” said Pettersen who finished in a tie for third last week. “When I won here last year it kind of kick started a fantastic year so I’m glad to be back as defending champion. I played pretty good last week so hopefully I can keep the good play going. I really like coming here, Korea has been really good to me in the past so I’m excited to be here again.”

After making her way into the winner’s circle last year, the Norwegian went on to win the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship Presented by Audi the following week, then recorded two top-20 finishes in the remaining two events. This year, the impressive streak of play has continued for the No. 2 player in the Rolex Rankings as she has posted three wins and nine additional top-10 finishes.

In the previous two years, Pettersen has epitomized the LPGA Tour’s global appeal as she has claimed victories in France, the United States, South Korea, and Taiwan. According to Pettersen, she embraces the opportunity to compete in front the hometown crowds of many LPGA Tour players.

“Ever since I won here last year I think I won six or seven times around the world,” said Pettersen. “I feel very fortunate to be able to do what we are doing and go to countries where a lot of our players are from to showcase our skills in front of their home crowd. I’m just glad to be a part of the LPGA.”


Homecoming for No. 1…
This week’s LPGA KEB·HanaBank Championship will serve as a homecoming for South Korean, Inbee Park. With six wins including three major titles already under belt this season, Park returns to South Korea for the first-time since overtaking the top spot in the Rolex Rankings.

“I’m very happy and it’s an honor to be able to come back home as the No. 1 player on the Rolex Rankings,” said Park. “This is the first time I’m playing in an LPGA event in Korea as number one so it’s very meaningful for me.”

While most players would be satisfied with leading the Tour’s Official Money List and Rolex Rankings, Park recognizes there is still significant room for improvement as several players are nipping on her heels to overtake her number one rankings.

The always humble Park admits the second half of her season has been a bit sluggish as she has only recorded one top-10 finish since her win at the U.S. Women’s Open in June.

“Although I’m number one in the world, I think I still have a lot of things to get better at so I wouldn’t say I’m a complete player as of yet,” said Park. “Of course I’ve had a lot of wins this year but I don’t think I have been as consistent throughout the year as Suzann or Stacy. I think my second half has been a little slow but I think I’m learning a lot from watching those two players and how consistent they are on the golf course. This week I want to learn even more from Suzann and play my best.”

Preview of the Crown… Monday’s press conference at the LPGA KEB·HanaBank Championship served as a bit of a preview for next year’s inaugural International Crown as several of the top players from the United States and South Korea all convened on one stage.

The first-of-its-kind biennial event will feature eight countries from across the globe and the top four ranked players from those countries competing in a team match play competition. The teams who will compete in the inaugural event will be determined at the conclusion of the 2013 CME Group Titleholders based on cumulative Rolex Rankings of each country’s top four players.

Currently in the rankings, South Korea holds a 21 point lead over the United States. With the Solhiem Cup only consisting of the United States and Europe, the International Crown will give Asian fans the opportunity to cheer on their countries and some of the best players on the LPGA Tour.

“As many of you may know the LPGA is launching a new event next year, the International Crown,” said Rolex Rankings No. 1 Inbee Park. “I think it will be a great opportunity for the players in Asia because we don’t get to play in a marquee event like Solheim Cup. Since it is a new format that we have never really experienced before as a team, I think I will have a lot of fun playing with my friends and I think it will also be a fun event for the fans.”

1) South Korea 21  2) United States 40 3) Japan 108
Inbee Park  1 Stacy Lewis 3 Ai Miyazato 15
So Yeon Ryu  4 Paula Creamer 11 Mika Miyazato  20
Na Yeon Choi 6 Cristie Kerr 12 Miki Saiki   36
I.K. Kim  10  Lexi Thompson 14 Rikako Morita 37
           
4) Spain 255 5) Sweden 303 6) Australia 317
Beatriz Recari 19 Caroline Hedwall  23 Karrie Webb 8
Azahara Munoz   33 Anna Nordqvist 24 Katherine Hull-Kirk 93
Carlota Ciganda 39 Pernilla Lindberg 115 Stacey Keating 103
Belen Mozo 164 Karin Sjodin 141 Lindsey Wright 113
           
7) Thailand 330 8) Chinese Tapei 344    
Ariya Jutanugarn 25 Yani Tseng 22    
Pornanong Phatlum 56 Teresa Lu 67    
Moriya Jutanugarn 105 Candie Kung  83    
Onnarin Sattayabanphot 144 Hsuan Yu-Yao 172    

 

Turning heads… Earlier this year, Inbee Park etched her name in the LPGA Tour’s record books as she became only the second player in history to claim victories at the first three majors of the year. The impressive feat of capturing wins at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, Wegmans LPGA Tour Championship and U.S. Women’s Open not only caught the attention of the entire sports nation, but has also turned the heads of many of her fellow LPGA Tour members.

“I think playing golf professionally for almost 18 years now, I’ve never seen anything like that,” said 16-time LPGA Tour winner Cristie Kerr. “I think maybe Tiger Woods obviously but Inbee winning three majors in one year is probably one of the most significant accomplishments in golf in a very, very long time. I think that’s pretty special and looking from the outside in, it’s great if we win one major let alone three in one year, it’s pretty amazing.”

Rolex Rankings No. 11 and 9-time LPGA Tour winner Paula Creamer grew-up playing the junior and amateur golf ranks against Park. On the elite American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) circuit, Creamer claimed 11 victories while Park took home nine wins. In 2003, both players reached the semifinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship but were defeated before reaching the finals.

While Creamer is one of the fiercest competitors on the LPGA Tour, she admitted she enjoys stepping back and witnessing Park’s impressive victories this season.

“I think, like Cristie said, it’s hard enough to win one but to win three is something else,” said Creamer. “I played junior golf with Inbee and to have grown up with her, it’s actually really neat and kind of fun to watch. I know we are all obviously trying to win and not let her win the second or the third one but to have that history and playing with her when we were 15, 16, 17-years-old and to have that history now and to watch her have this successful year and be so happy in general is really nice. It shows that you can have a balance of everything and for her to have won three-in-a-row, there’s really not a good description to describe it because it is something that a lot of people don’t come close to. Not to win three but three-in-a-row is pretty remarkable.”

 

Inbee Park, Rolex Rankings No. 1
Suzann Pettersen, Rolex Rankings No. 2
So Yeon Ryu, Rolex Rankings No. 4
Na Yeon Choi, Rolex Rankings No. 6
Paula Creamer, Rolex Rankings No. 11
Cristie Kerr, Rolex Rankings No. 12

Moderator:  I would like to start out by welcoming everyone to the 2013 LPGA KEB·HanaBank Championship. First, I would like to introduce our players who are with us today. We have South Koreans Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu, and Na Yeon Choi. We also have defending champion Suzann Pettersen, 16-time LPGA Tour winner, Cristie Kerr, and Rolex Rankings No. 11 and nine-time LPGA Tour Winner, Paula Creamer.

Suzann, we will start the afternoon with you, you are defending champion of this event, how does it feel to be back in South Korea?
Suzann Pettersen:  It’s nice to be back. When I won here last year it kind of kick started a fantastic year so I’m glad to be back as defending champion. I played pretty good last week so hopefully I can keep the good play going. I really like coming here, Korea has been really good to me in the past so I’m excited to be here again.

Moderator: Na Yeon, also for you, you have a good track record here at Sky 72, how does it feel for you to be back?
Na Yeon Choi: In 2009 and 2010 I had great results here. I think I tried too hard to win again last year and I think that had an effect on my game. Since I didn’t play well last year, I really want to have a good tournament this week. I don’t have a win this season so I think my desire to win here is a little higher than some of the players but I don’t want to get too caught up in the result and outcome. I want to be able to enjoy the tournament with my home fans in Korea.

Moderator:  This is a bit of a preview of the International Crown coming up with Korea currently leading the standings and America in second. Can you all just talk a little bit about how excited you are for that event?
Cristie Kerr:  The LPGA needs these kinds of special events, they are exciting, they are a different format and I know the fans are going to be excited to see that kind of event.

Inbee Park:  As many of you may know the LPGA is launching a new event next year, the International Crown. I think it will be a great opportunity for the players in Asia because we don’t get to play in a marquee event like Solheim Cup. Since it is a new format that we have never really experienced before as a team, I think I will have a lot of fun playing with my friends and I think it will also be a fun event for the fans.

So Yeon Ryu:  As you may know, golf has been elected to be an Olympic sport in 2016 but golf doesn’t have an Olympic type style event yet. I think playing in something like International Crown representing our countries will be a great experience for us and great exposure for the game. I think this is an opportunity to promote the game of golf in other countries that many people may not know about the game otherwise. I think it will attract significant interest to the game.

Moderator:  Paula, you have yet to make a trip to the winner’s circle this year but you’ve been on the verge all season. What would it mean for you to get a win this week?
Paula Creamer:  Obviously it would be a very special thing. I didn’t get to come to Korea last year, I had to miss it because I was playing in another event but I’m really excited to be here. I’ve always liked the golf course, it seems to set-up well for me and it’s fun to be able to come here, we only get a chance one a year. I always have great fans out here, they love their pink and it’s kind of cool to have such a nice welcoming in another country. To have a win here would be great, it’s a great field and a lot of great players here.

Moderator:  I know you are always very interactive with your fans, what role do they play in your career?
Paula Creamer:  I think fans are 100% a part of what we do. They are there through the good and bad and they pull for you no matter what. Just to have that extra support, you can’t thank them enough and just try to reach-out to them through social media is something very important and also when you’re here in another country to embrace their culture is even more important. I try to do as much as I can when I do come to other countries and being here is nice. Being here earlier in the week makes it easier to be able to do things, try different food, stuff like that. The fans help you by telling you where to go so that’s a nice little perk to have.

Moderator:  Suzann you have been closing the gap into Inbee’s lead in the Rolex Rankings and Official Money list, has there been any banter going on between the two of you?
Suzann Pettersen:  I have a lot of fun out here. This is a great job and I think we are all trying to become the best we can be. Inbee has had a phenomenal year, she has won three majors and that’s pretty impressive all within itself. I can just work on myself and I feel like I’ve had a fantastic year. Ever since I won here last year I think I won six or seven times around the world. I feel very fortunate to be able to do what we are doing and go to countries where a lot of our players are from to showcase our skills in front of their home crowd. I’m just glad to be a part of the LPGA.

Moderator:  Inbee, you are still ranked No. 1 in the world heading into this week. How does it feel to be back home this week?
Inbee Park:  I’m very happy and it’s an honor to be able to come back home as the No. 1 player on the Rolex Rankings. This is the first time I’m playing in an LPGA event in Korea as number one so it’s very meaningful for me. Although I’m number one in the world, I think I still have a lot of things to get better at so I wouldn’t say I’m a complete player as of yet. Of course I’ve had a lot of wins this year but I don’t think I have been as consistent throughout the year as Suzann or Stacy. I think my second half has been a little slow but I think I’m learning a lot from watching those two players and how consistent they are on the golf course. This week I want to learn even more from Suzann and play my best.

Moderator:  So Yeon, I read online that if you could go in back in time and witness one event it would be the Olympics that were held in Seoul. How does it feel to know that golf will be in the Olympics in 2016?
So Yeon Ryu:  As an amateur I won all the gold medals you can so I don’t think I’m pressing for a gold medal. I think being included in the Olympics will really promote the game of golf and I think even today the image of golf has improved and I think the Olympics will continue to promote and improve the image of the game to more people.

Q.  Inbee has won three majors this year. For all other players, how big of an accomplishment do you think that is?
Cristie Kerr:  I think playing golf professionally for almost 18 years now, I’ve never seen anything like that. I think maybe Tiger Woods obviously but Inbee winning three majors in one year is probably one of the most significant accomplishments in golf in a very, very long time. I think that’s pretty special and looking from the outside in, it’s great if we win one major let alone three in one year, it’s pretty amazing.

Paula Creamer:  I think, like Cristie said, it’s hard enough to win one but to win three is something else. I played junior golf with Inbee and to have grown up with her, it’s actually really neat and kind of fun to watch. I know we are all obviously trying to win and not let her win the second or the third one but to have that history and playing with her when we were 15, 16, 17-years-old and to have that history now and to watch her have this successful year and be so happy in general is really nice. It shows that you can have a balance of everything and for her to have won three in a row, there’s really not a good description to describe it because it is something that a lot of people don’t come close to. Not to win three but three in a row is pretty remarkable.

Q.  Suzann, you are closing the gaps to Inbee Park in the past couple of weeks. How determined are you to play this week and win?
Suzann Pettersen:  I feel like I’ve been on Tour quite a long time now and I feel like we’ve had some great number ones during my time on the LPGA. Annika Sorenstam was one, Lorena Ochoa was a great number one, Yani Tseng was a very dominant player and now we have Inbee and I think all I can do it try to become the best I can be. I love waking up every day trying to get better and I look at my game trying to approach it in the most professional way. It’s a blessing just to be out here and to compete with the top players in on Tour. I think we have probably the deepest field on Tour now compared to when I first came out. I feel like there’s a much better depth of good players and I think it’s hard to win each and every week. It really takes your very best and that also puts Inbee’s performance this year in a special place. If you keep winning tournaments, the rest will take care of itself and that’s what I’m trying to do.

Topics: Notes and Interviews, LPGA KEB • HanaBank Championship

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