Kintetsu Kashikojima Country Club
Shima-Shi, Mie, Japan
Pre-Tournament Notes and Interviews
November 6, 2013
Mika Miyazato, Rolex Rankings No. 20
Caroline Masson, Rolex Rankings No. 52
Moriya Jutanugarn, Rolex Rankings No. 95
Rolex Rankings No. 3 Stacy Lewis returns to Shima-Shi, Mie, Japan this week as the defending champion of the Mizuno Classic. Last year, the Texan overcame a seven-stroke deficit during the final round at the Kintetsu Kashikojima Country Club to defeat JLPGA standout Bo-Mee Lee by one stroke. It was her fourth win of the 2012 season and propelled her to earning the Rolex Player of the Year Award.
On track to a successful title defense, Lewis is fresh off a three-week break from the LPGA Tour after notching a runner-up finish at the inaugural Reignwood LPGA Classic in Beijing, China and a tie for sixth at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia. She currently leads the Tour in top-10 finishes with 16, which also includes victories at the HSBC Women’s Champions, the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup and the RICOH Women’s British Open, her second-career major championship.
As the season begins to come to a close with only three tournaments remaining on the schedule, Lewis said taking some time off has helped her remain focused to finish the season strong.
“You just try to be fresh, you know, I’m not playing all the Asia tournaments just because I want to be fresh when I am playing and I want to play good and have a chance to win,” said Lewis, who is No. 3 in the Rolex Rankings. “So it’s about managing your energy level at the end of the season because everyone is tired, everybody is really for the off season.”
Lewis’ quest to repeat as champion will be met with strong resistance from No. 8 Karrie Webb and No. 13 Jiyai Shin, who are also past champions at the Mizuno Classic. Webb has remained at the top of her game as a 17-year veteran on Tour and claimed her 39th career victory at this year’s ShopRite LPGA Classic Presented by Acer. Shin also enters the week as a 2013 tournament champion, claiming the first title of the season and 11th overall at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.
This week’s event will also be a homecoming for LPGA Tour Rookie Ayako Uehara, two-year member Haru Nomura and Rolex Rankings No. 20 Mika Miyazato, who has posted four top-20 finishes at the Mizuno Classic in her five-year LPGA Tour career.
The 54-hole, limited field event is made up of 43 LPGA Tour players and 35 members of the LPGA of Japan. In the 41st edition of the Mizuno Classic, the 78-players will vie for a $1.2 million purse and a $180,000 first-place check.
The race is on… In previous years, it seemed at this point in the season there was an outright winner for the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award. For instance, in 2012 So Yeon Ryu led the race the entire season, amassing 1,448 total points with Lexi Thompson coming in second, 631 points behind. South Korean Hee Kyung Seo won in 2011 with a 370 point lead over Christel Boeljon. The 300-point spread seemed to be the average even further down the list.
This year’s race, however, may come down to the final event of the year, as only 26 points separate current leader Germany’s Caroline Masson and runner-up Thailand’s Moriya Jutanugarn.
Jutanugarn, the co-medalist at the 2012 LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament, grabbed the early lead in the race with a tie for fourth finish at the season-opener in Australian. The 19-year-old held a sizable lead throughout the beginning of the season, earning big points in nine of the first 14 events of the year. However, a late summer slump hit Jutanugarn, earning only ten points through August and September, allowing her fellow rookies to catch up.
“You know a little bit pressure on me and everybody was asking me like 'do you think you will be Rookie of the Year?'” said Jutanugarn. “All the rookies want to be Rookie of the Year, so I just think do my best and enjoy every tournament and that's always my first goal.”
Masson made her first statement on the LPGA Tour with a stellar performance at the inaugural North Texas LPGA Shootout in April when she led the first two rounds but ultimately fell to a tie for 15th finish. It wasn’t until back-to-back top-10 finishes in August that she unseated Jutanugarn from the No. 1 spot. The 24-year-old says she never thought she would be in position to potentially win the vaunted award, but says she embraces it all the more.
“It's good to be in that position, obviously, but you know I didn't think about it all year, I was just trying to play my best, keep my card, do this, do that, play in the Solheim Cup,” said Masson. “But after the two top-10s at the Canadian Women's Open and Safeway I was in that spot all of the sudden and I just realized it then really. It's nice to have a chance to win that title obviously. I'll just try my best in the next few weeks.
“She's had a good year so far, she's a great player so she can always pull off a few good finishes and I'm aware of that. So I'm just going to try to my best. Whoever's going to win this, I think we've both had a great first year and I'm just enjoying being in that position right now.”
So far this year, a rookie has yet to step into the winner’s circle, which awards 150 points. Only 177 points separating Masson from current No. 4 Japan’s Ayako Uehara and each are only slated to be in two of the final three events left on the 2013 schedule, meaning this year’s rookie race could provide for a dramatic end to the season.
Japan, gearing up for the International Crown… Starting next year, 32 players from eight different countries will battle for the right to be crowned the world’s best golf nation. The International Crown, a first-of-its-kind, biennial, global match play competition will be staged at the Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Maryland and will unfold July 21-14.
While the countries who will earn the eight available spots in the International Crown won’t be announced until the CME Group Titleholders, Japan currently ranks as the third-strongest golf nation behind South Korea and the United States, but the
When Rolex Rankings No. 20 Mika Miyazato heard of the new event, the first thing that came to mind was her experience in match play competition. The winner of the Japan Women’s Amateur Championship at just 14 years old and a three year participant, Miyazato says she hopes to channel that experience should she make the four-player team.
“I was in a similar situation as an amateur and represent Japan so I have experience,” said Miyazato. “To play for the country, I love it. I think it would be great to make the team for International Crown and I try my best to give best performance. It’s fun but at same time a big responsibility but I’m prepared for it. It would be an honor.”
The overwhelming crowds at this week’s Mizuno Classic give plenty indication as to how the country will support its contestants in the International Crown. Miyazato has confidence Japanese fans will fully embrace the team event.
“There hasn’t been a chance for all the professionals to represent Japan,” said Miyazato. “I think it’s going to be a huge impact on Japan. When you look at all other sports, like baseball and soccer, all Japan is represented in that team. It creates a lot of impact on fans. I think it’s good for golf. The popularity of women’s golf now, it’s good for the sport.”
MIKA MIYAZATO, Rolex Rankings No. 20
Q. First off, welcome home to Japan! I’m sure it’s exciting to finish off the Asia swing playing in front of a hometown crowd. What’s it like to be back?
MIKA MIYAZATO: Always exciting to come back to the home. So many people come and support first day, Saturday and Sunday.
Q. You have a great track record at this event, you have four top-20 finishes in that last five years. How does it feel to be back at a course that familiar to you?
MIKA MIYAZATO: I didn’t know that! I didn’t know I finish that good. Every year is different here, my golf is so much different. But this year I won the Japan Women’s Open and that gave my confidence in my golf game. So hopefully, maybe top-10 finish but maybe a win this week.
Q. Talk about your season so far, you were so close to getting your second-career victory in Arkansas, 2 top-10s, maybe a rough season for you, but then again you have a win at the Japan Women’s Open. Does being at home kind of give you that last boost of confidence to carry that momentum and finish the season strong?
MIKA MIYAZATO: Beginning of the season not so much happy with my result. After Bahamas, I changed my driver and much better ball striking. So a little bit confidence then. Then at Evian, after second round I was the leader but it’s pressure and maybe too much thinking the result because I almost win the tournament. It was unfortunate I couldn’t pull off a win there. Then Japan Women’s Open was two weeks later, I think. Up and down this season but getting better.
Q. Let’s talk about the International Crown. Next year you might have the opportunity to represent Japan in the inaugural event. First, just tell me your initial thoughts about the event when it was announced.
MIKA MIYAZATO: I guess my experience. Six years ago, World Amateur, I played three times but it’s a different situation, everyone is a professional golfer. Four people, I don’t know, but it’s pretty interesting this tournament. I hope I play.
Q. How do you think the fans will react here in Japan knowing that four of its best players could have the chance at winning and being the best golf nation?
MIKA MIYAZATO: There hasn’t been a chance for all the professionals to represent Japan. I think it’s going to be a huge impact on Japan. When you look at all other sports, like baseball and soccer, all Japan is represented in that team. It creates a lot of impact on fans. I think it’s good for golf. The popularity of women’s golf now, it’s good for the sport.
Q. How would you feel playing in a team competition? Golf is a very individual sport.
MIKA MIYAZATO: It’s pretty difficult, team play, because not only my shot. It’s team ball. It’s a tough game but pretty interesting.
Q. What would it mean to you to make that team and represent your country?
MIKA MIYAZATO: I was in a similar situation as an amateur and represent Japan so I have experience. To play for the country, I love it. I think it would be great to make the team for International Crown and I try my best to give best performance. It’s fun but at same time a big responsibility but I’m prepared for it. It would be an honor.
CAROLINE MASSON, Rolex Rankings No. 52
Q. Alright I’m joined by LPGA rookie Caroline Masson here at the Mizuno Classic. Caroline, you are one of only four rookies to participate in the Asia swing this year. Just talk about this stretch of events and maybe some of the experiences you’ve had this past few week.
CAROLINE MASSON: It's definitely been a good experience. I didn't play the way I was hoping for. I struggled a little bit last week in Taiwan. But it was still a good experience seeing all the different countries and all the different courses out here. I've enjoyed my time over here in Asia.
Q. As a rookie this year on the LPGA you’ve tallied two top-10s, in contention at the North Texas LPGA Shootout and played in your first Solheim Cup. Just talk about some of the experiences you’ve had as a rookie this year. Obviously it’s been an exciting year for you so far.
CAROLINE MASSON: I've really enjoyed my first year so far. It's a bit strange coming to a new tour. I've played on the LET for three years, but it's different coming out here and meeting all the girls and playing on different courses and different tournaments. I've really enjoyed it. I struggled a bit in the beginning and then I had a few good finishes which was nice to get some confidence in the middle of the season. Right now it's just great to still be in the race for Rookie of the Year. It would be a great honor to win that title. So I'm just going to try my best over the last few events but no matter what happens, it's been a great experience and a great year so far and I really enjoy playing on the LPGA.
Q. After your fifth place finish at the Safeway Classic you unseated Moriya Jutanugarn from the No. 1 spot in the Rookie of the Year race. Just talk about what it’s like being in that position and I guess having that target on your back.
CAROLINE MASSON: It's good to be in that position obviously but you know I didn't think about it all year, I was just trying to play my best, keep my card, do this, do that, play in the Solheim Cup. But after the two top-10s at the Canadian Women's Open and Safeway I was in that spot all of the sudden and I just realized it then really. It's nice to have a chance to win that title obviously. I'll just try my best in the next few weeks. She's had a good year so far, she's a great player so she can always pull off a few good finishes and I'm aware of that. So I'm just going to try to my best. Whoever's going to win this, I think we've both had a great first year and I'm just enjoying being in that position right now.
Q. Moriya had a pretty good finish in Taiwan and I guess closed the gap in the rookie race. What’s going to be key for you to finish out this season strong and keep that lead?
CAROLINE MASSON: I just have to play with confidence and believe in my swing. I felt a bit tired the last few weeks and didn't really trust my swing and stuff. So I just want to play this week and enjoy the course. It's a pretty straight forward course, a pretty easy course so I think it's easy to get your confidence back here. I'm actually not hitting it that bad so I think I can really have a good finish this week in Japan and maybe if I get into Lorena's event and play well at CME. I'm just going to really enjoy my time on the golf course and enjoy the last few events this year. Whoever plays better deserves that title so I'm just very relaxed about it. Of course it's a big goal.
MORIYA JUTANUGARN, Rolex Rankings No. 95
Q. You got off to a great start early in your rookie season with a tie for fourth at the season-opener in Australia. Just talk about your rookie experience this year and what your expectations were for this season.
MORIYA JUTANUGARN: You know what this season is really good for me. I had a good start because my goal on the first time was just keep the card. I try to enjoy every tournament when I play.
Q. Being from Thailand, I’m sure you always look forward to the Asia swing.
MORIYA JUTANUGARN: When I play in U.S. I have been waiting for Asia swing. You know because it's close to home, the events in Asia is close to Thailand. So I look forward to it because I was like I can go home. I've been waiting for this moment all year.
Q. You took an early lead in the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year race, and you kept that lead throughout the majority of the beginning of the season. What that like being in that position?
MORIYA JUTANUGARN: You know a little bit pressure on me and everybody was asking me like 'do you think you will be Rookie of the Year?' All the rookies want to be Rookie of the Year, so I just think do my best and enjoy every tournament and that's always my first goal. But also I want to be Rookie of the Year and it's going to be great.
Q. Caroline Masson took over the No. 1 spot in late August, but you seemed to close that gap with a tie for 11th finish in Taiwan. It’s going to be quite the battle between you since you both only have two more events left on the schedule. I guess what’s your mind set going into the last few events what’s going to be key for you to take back that lead?
MORIYA JUTANUGARN: I still want to be Rookie of the Year. After I finished tied for 11th in Taiwan I was thinking I have one more thing to do. So I don't want to put too much pressure on myself so I just think walk out each morning, play golf, enjoy and everything will work out.