Honda LPGA Thailand First-round Notes and Interviews

Honda LPGA Thailand 2013
Siam Country Club, Pattaya Old Course
Chonburi, Thailand
First-round notes and interviews
February 21, 2013

Stacy Lewis -9, Rolex Rankings No. 3
Karine Icher -6, Rolex Rankings No. 33
Gerina Piller -5, Rolex Rankings No. 91
So Yeon Ryu -4, Rolex Rankings No. 8 


Reigning 2012 Rolex Player of the Year Stacy Lewis (@Stacy_Lewis) looked to be right back to last year’s form as she fired a 9-under 63 in the first round of the Honda LPGA Thailand on Thursday. Lewis leads by three shots over France native Karine Icher.

Lewis, who turned 28 on Saturday, got off to a hot start by holing out her second shot from 145 yards with an eight iron on the par-4 third hole for eagle.  She would go on to play nearly mistake-free golf with eight birdies and one bogey en route to tying her career-low round.

“Coming off of last week I didn’t hit it very well,” said Lewis, who finished T15 at the season-opening ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. “So to come out today and I really started hitting the ball solid early on. Holed out for eagle on No. 3 and from there, I don’t know, that shot just really gave me the confidence to really start swinging at it. I think I missed two greens all day. I just had a ton of birdie putts and I even left a few out there. The fact that it could be lower – I’m not complaining laug.”

Lewis did have a few bad breaks in the round, which included missing two birdie putts by a half-roll each on her first two holes of the day. But nothing compared to the bad break she suffered on No. 15 when she hit the flagstick on the fly and saw her ball kick back toward the front of the green, leaving here with a difficult up and down.

“The weird thing is that I was playing with Pornanong Patlum and she hit before me and hit the pin flag, the actual flag, and went straight down,” Lewis said. “And then I followed up right behind her and hit the pin on the fly but I can honestly say I’ve never seen that happen before back to back.

“ Usually when it hits the pin it’s never anything good so it came back off the front of the green. It was only 30 yards in front of me. I had a hard up and down and made a 10 foot slider for par. Usually I would kind of get upset and be mad about the break that I just got but I told myself I hit a good shot and there is nothing else you can do. I think that kind of helped me make that putt.”

 

Watch out, ladies: Stacy Lewis lost her primary driver last year when the club cracked during a round at the Evian Masters. She played with a replacement for the rest of the season but the 2012 Rolex Player of the Year admitted that it wasn’t quite the same.

So this offseason, Lewis went on the hunt for a new driver and found the one that she liked best, the Taylor Made R1.

“I spent probably four weeks over the offseason trying to find a driver that I like between Mizuno who is my sponsor and Taylor Made as well,” Lewis said. “I have the Taylor Made R1. I wanted something with a higher ball flight. I didn’t need to hit it further, I just wanted a ball flight a little better. Luckily I hit it a little further so I had to play my practice round on Tuesday and get some different lines off the tees than I was used to because I’m hitting it a little further. All in all it’s a good thing.”

The reigning Player of the Year getting longer off the tee? Doesn’t sound like the ideal situation for the rest of the LPGA Tour but for Lewis the challenge will be not putting too much pressure on herself to try and repeat her breakout 2012 season.

“I think that’s the hardest part,” Lewis said. “Every year is going to be different. It’s going to work out a different way and [I’ve been told] just to keep the expectations down. To win Player of the Year, a lot of things have to go your way and a lot of things have to go right. So it’s kind of putting your head down and just getting back to work. You can’t go out there and expect to…I mean you want to win every week but realistically you can’t win every week. So you have to kind of take the expectations down and go through the process of hitting good golf shots and come up with a good round.”

 

One change makes all the difference: Karine Icher felt good about the state of her game heading to Australia last week but the results didn’t exactly reflect that. After a successful 2012 campaign, Icher opened up the 2013 season with a T55 finish at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.

So Icher decided to make a switch with her putter. One day into the change and Icher felt the move was a great one. Icher shot a 6-under 66 on Thursday in the opening round of the Honda LPGA Thailand and credited her improved putting for the strong results.

“When something goes wrong, I think it’s a good thing to just change it,” Icher said of her putter. “Take a new feeling with a new club and go with it.”

Icher spent the offseason working on her physical conditioning. She hired a new trainer and focused on cardio to improve her stamina for dealing with four grueling rounds in extreme heat and humidity like can be found this week in Thailand.

“I did a lot of cardio, a lot of cardio,” Icher said with a laugh. “I have a new trainer and he’s a crazy guy. But it’s good. I did a lot, a lot of cardio and strength training to be a little longer on the driving because I need that today to be at the top. I need to be longer and longer. It seems to be working so that’s good.”

 

Focus on the Cup? The 2013 Solheim Cup is a little less than six months away but there is no question that American and European players are already focused on what it will take to make those teams. Count Gerina Piller (@gerinapiller) among the players who has set a goal to earn one of those coveted spots on the U.S. Team.

“That would be one of the biggest accomplishments of my life to play for my country,” Piller said. “But it’s one of those things where it’s there but you can’t focus on it. You can’t live, breathe and die about Solheim. I have a lot of faith in my God and I feel that if that’s where I’m going to be, that’s where I’m going to be. All I can do is just come out here and play my game and it will take care of itself. You know how golf is -- the more you try, the more it’s going to push back. So me trying to get on the Solheim Cup Team, I’m probably going to be pretty unsuccessful.”

Piller got a taste of the Solheim Cup back in 2011, her rookie season on the LPGA Tour. Fellow Texan and U.S. Solheim Cup Team member Angela Stanford wanted Piller to experience what the atmosphere was like for herself even though she wasn’t on the team.

“They played in Ireland and Angela flew me out there,” Piller said. “She was like, ‘Rookie, if you are going to play on one of these someday then you better come see what it’s all about.’ And so that was very awesome of her. I got to go out there and it was just great. The camaraderie and just to put on the stars and stripes, I couldn’t be more proud to have the chance to do that.”

With more points on the line at each LPGA event this year since it’s a Solheim Cup year, Piller put herself in good position to earn a decent number of points with a strong opening round on Thursday at the Honda LPGA Thailand. Piller fired a 5-under 67 and is in a tie for third.

Piller is currently ranked 13th in points for the U.S. Solheim Cup Team race. The top eight players in the points race will earn a spot on the U.S. team. The next two players will qualify via the Rolex Rankings and the U.S. Captain will still have two choices to fill out the 12-player team.

 

Eye on the prize: So Yeon Ryu (@1soyeonryu) wasn’t playing at 100 percent during Thursday’s opening round of the Honda LPGA Thailand. Last year’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year is battling a sty in her left eye that she said appeared on Monday in Australia.

“It’s really hard to aim the ball,” Ryu said.

The ailment didn’t seem to hamper Ryu’s play, though, as she fired a 4-under 68 to sit in a tie for seventh. Ryu said that after an up-and-down front nine, she managed to get more relaxed on the back side. It was something that she struggled to do last week in her first event of the year in Australia where she finished T55 at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. Ryu admitted that there is some additional pressure on her following her award-winning rookie season and she believes that the stress she put on herself last week may have also led to her current problem with the sty.

“Sometimes if I’m really stressful, the same thing happens,” Ryu said of her sty. “It might be last week that was my first event on the LPGA this season and last year I played so well. So I really wanted to play well and I didn’t. So maybe I was thinking a lot about things and that’s why I was stressful. But this week has been a bit more freedom.”

 

Forever Young: One of the most interesting pairings on Thursday came in the fifth to last group in Thailand when LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame member Juli Inkster (@JuliInkster) was paired with two of the youngest players in the field – 15-year-old amateur sensation Lydia Ko (@Lko424) and 18-year-old Lexi Thompson (@Lexi). Inkster, who is 52, joked that her two playing partners didn’t even combine to equal her own age.

 

Seeing Orange…A number of players were donning orange ribbons on their hats and shirts during Thursday’s opening round of the Honda LPGA Thailand. The ribbons were in support of 2 ½ year old Liam Smith,  the grandson of Yani Tseng’s caddie, Paul Fusco, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia. Smith is currently on a three-year, two-month recovery program.

Quotable: “It’s almost like my putter knew that it was in time out.” – Gerina Piller on having success with her old putter on Thursday after trying out a new putter last week in Australia.

 

Of Note…Yani Tseng’s attempt at a three-peat in Thailand took a slight hit on Thursday when the No. 1 player in the Rolex Rankings opened the event with a 3-over 75. Tseng won here in 2011 and 2012…The low round by a Thai player on Thursday belonged to Ariya Jutanugarn, sister of LPGA rookie Moriya Jutanugarn, who shot a 3-under 67…Amateur Lydia Ko also delivered another solid opening in her second straight LPGA event, shooting a 3-under 67 to sit in a T10 with a group of players that includes 2010 champion Ai Miyazato.

 

Stacy Lewis, Rolex Rankings No. 3

Q. We’d like to welcome our current leader Stacy Lewis into the interview room. First off, what a great round out there today, 9-under par 63 ties your career-low round and ties the tournament record as well. What was working well for you out there today and did you see this kind of round coming for you?

STACY LEWIS: Well I would say coming off of last week I didn’t hit it very well. So to come out today and I really started hitting the ball solid early on. Holed out for eagle on No. 3 and from there, I don’t know, that shot just really gave me the confidence to really start swinging at it. I think I missed two greens all day. I just had a ton of birdie putts and I even left a few out there. The fact that it could be lower – I’m not complaining laug – but it was just a great day. I made a couple key up and downs. It was pretty good.

Q. Take me through that eagle on No. 3. What did you hit there and how did that get your round started?

STACY LEWIS: The first two holes I had birdie putts that I left a half roll short right in the center. I was a little frustrated going to three and I think I had about 145 to the pin and I hit an eight iron. It landed a few feet short and all the fans hands went up so I knew it went in. I guess it was just perfect.

Q.For as many tough breaks you had on putts, you had the toughest break on No. 15 when you hit the flagstick  on your approach shot and it kicked back to the front of the green. Have you had something like that happen a lot and how did you regroup after hitting such a great shot to then have to make a save on that hole?

STACY LEWIS: The weird thing is that I was playing with Pornanong and she hit before me and hit the pin flag, the actual flag and went straight down. And then I followed up right behind her and hit the pin on the fly but I can honestly say I’ve never seen that happen before back to back. Usually when it hits the pin it’s never anything good so it came back off the front of the green. It was only 30 yards in front of me. I had a hard up and down and made a 10 foot slider for par. Usually I would kind of get upset and be mad about the break that I just got but I told myself I hit a good shot and there is nothing else you can do. I think that kind of helped me make that putt.

Q. We were talking downstairs about the fact that you have a new driver in the bag. I still remembered when you cracked your old one at Evian last year. What kind of driver are you using now and what difference are you seeing with the driver?

STACY LEWIS: I spent four weeks over the offseason trying to find a driver that I like between Mizuno who is my sponsor and Taylor Made as well. I have the Taylor Made R1. I wanted something with a higher ball flight. I didn’t need to hit it further, I just wanted a ball flight a little better. Luckily I hit it a little further so I had to play my practice round on Tuesday and get some different lines off the tees than I was used to because I’m hitting it a little further. All in all it’s a good thing.

Q. That’s got to be a little dangerous for the rest of the Tour if you are hitting the ball further this year after winning Rolex Player of the Year honors last year. Coming off a year where you were that successful and reached a goal, how is it coming into this year and not putting too much pressure on yourself to try and repeat the performance that you had last year?

STACY LEWIS: I think that’s the hardest part. Other players that I’ve talked to and other people I’ve talked to is about the expectations and not even really just doing it again. Every year is going to be different. It’s going to work out a different way and just to keep the expectations down. To win Player of the Year, a lot of things have to go your way and a lot of things have to go right. So it’s kind of putting your head down and just getting back to work. You can’t go out there and expect to…I mean you want to win every week but realistically you can’t win every week. So you have to kind of take the expectations down and go through the process of hitting good golf shots and comes up with a good round.

 

Karine Icher, Rolex Rankings No. 33

Q. Great round today. What was working out there for you?

KARINE ICHER: Good putting. Better than last week. I changed my putter so I had better sensation and feeling everything. A good day.

Q. Completely new putter?

KARINE ICHER: No same brand Odyssey two balls but it seems different, a little heavier and it seems to be working so I’m going to keep it.

Q. When was the first time you used the putter?

KARINE ICHER: Two days ago. When something goes wrong, I think it’s a good thing to just change it. Take a new feeling with a new club and go with it.

Q. Anything else that you changed in your game today compared with last week?

KARINE ICHER: No, I have exactly the same game. The game is good. Last week I played really well but I missed all of the putts. I’m happy because I improved my putting today and it’s a good sign for the rest of the season.

Q. You are coming off a good season last year. What have you taken from that season into this year?

KARINE ICHER: It gave me a lot of confidence from last year. I worked on my physical condition his winter to be more fit and more physically ready to do four good rounds. That’s what I did this winter and then just still working on a little bit of the technique. It was a short winter. I took December almost off, we went back to France. Then I had January to work and a big, big change to work on all parts of the game.

Q. What did you do to help your physical conditioning?

KARINE ICHER: I did a lot of cardio, a lot of cardio. I have a new trainer and he’s a crazy guy. But it’s good. I did a lot, a lot of cardio and strength training to be a little longer on the driving because I need that today to be at the top. I need to be longer and longer. It seems to be working so that’s good.

 

Gerina Piller, Rolex Rankings No. 91

Q. Great round today of 5-under par. What was working well for you today out there?

GERINA PILLER: My irons were pretty good. I drove the ball really well and my putting was actually the difference. I hadn’t been putting very well before I came out to start the season so I had gotten another putter. I had changed because I wasn’t putting very well so I thought I would just change. I putted OK last week but I was kind of hit or miss. When I putted well, I would shoot really good and if I didn’t putt well, it was just OK. So I went back to my putter that I had been using last year and the year before. It felt so good. It’s almost like my putter knew that it was in time out. It’s walking the straight line. So I think just a combination of everything. I hit good drives. I think I missed three fairways towards the end of round but I hit the fairway and that’s huge here because I hear the rough is a lot worse than it has been. Then just kind of played to my strengths, especially on the green. There are some pins you just can’t go at due to the severity of the drop off or where the pin is. So I think my caddy and I played really smart with placement of my balls on the green.

Q. You’re coming off a solid season last year where it seemed like your game was really coming together. How much confidence has that given you heading into this year? What have you been able to draw from that?

GERINA PILLER: It’s definitely a huge confidence booster. Obviously my first year out I played OK and last year I played a lot better and put myself in contention a few times. But it’s just that I’m getting kind of settled in and just kind of sinking in and knowing that I belong out here. It’s a huge confidence booster knowing that I’m staying around. When you’re a rookie you kind of don’t know like am I going to be here next year? But I think this year I feel like obviously I’m a better player from the experience last year. I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.

Q. It’s a Solheim Cup year and that’s obviously a big thing for any American player. Is that something that’s in the back of your mind?

GERINA PILLER: Absolutely. That would be one of the biggest accomplishments of my life to play for my country. But it’s one of those things where it’s there but you can’t focus on it. You can’t live, breathe and die about Solheim. I have a lot of faith in my God and I feel that if that’s where I’m going to be, that’s where I’m going to be. All I can do is just come out here and play my game and it will take care of itself. You know how golf is -- the more you try, the more it’s going to push back. So me trying to get on the Solheim Cup Team, I’m probably going to be pretty unsuccessful. So if I do it this year, great. There are many more to play on. I just feel like just play my game and it will take care of itself.

Q. There were a number of American players who have taken you under their wing last year. Have they given you any advice on this?

GERINA PILLER: I haven’t really asked them. It’s kind of one of those things that I don’t want to talk about but I do want to talk about. It’s kind of like you don’t want to jinx yourself but it shouldn’t be any different. Every year is just as important as any other year and it is a huge thing. But on the same side, there are many more to play on and if it’s not my year, it’s not my year. There is nothing I can do about it. Angela was very nice two years ago. They played in Ireland and she flew me out there. She was like, ‘Rookie, if you are going to play on one of these someday then you better come see what it’s all about.’ And so that was very awesome of her. I got to go out there and it was just great. The camaraderie and just to put on the stars and stripes, I couldn’t be more proud to have the chance to do that.

 

So Yeon Ryu, Rolex Rankings No. 8

Q. First off, great playing today with a 4-under round. Take me through your round today and what was working well out there.

SO YEON RYU: Actually the front nine wasn’t great. The first hole I made a bogey and then the third hole I got a birdie. But I got two bogeys in a row on the 5th and 6th. I made a birdie on 7 and 9 so the front nine was really, really tough. But I made a birdie and then I got a lot of confidence. The back nine was a lot better than the front nine. I have to give big thanks to Natalie and Candie because if I’m playing bad, I could be a little depressed but they were cheering me and supporting me. So I really enjoyed playing with Natalie and Candie. After nine holes, my putting was really working well, especially it started on hole nine but I think putting is very important for me this week because the green is really tricky. There is a lot of slope and the weather is really hot so it’s hard to concentrate. The good thing is I like hot weather. It’s really perfect temperature for me so I want to keep this playing conditions the next three days. Hopefully my eye is getting better.

Q. What happened to your eye?

SO YEON RYU: It’s called a sty. It’s really hard to aim the ball. But I’ll just let it go.

Q. When did it start bothering you?

SO YEON RYU: On Monday in Australia but sometimes if I’m really stressful, the same thing happen. It might be last week that was my first event on the LPGA this season and last year I played so well. So I really wanted to play well and I didn’t. So maybe I was thinking a lot about things and that’s why I was stressful but this week has been a bit more freedom.

Q. How difficult is it to wipe the slate clean when you have such a great rookie season like last year and try not to think too much about that?

SO YEON RYU: The most difficult thing is not my expectations but other people expectations – my sponsor, my coaches, my friends. Everybody is like oh you did so well, maybe you can do a bit more well this year. You got a lot more experience and no longer a rookie so maybe you can play a bit more well. But actually every year is really hard and players getting stronger so it’s hard to manage my mind. It’s hard to make my goal. But I just try to keep thinking about my goals and not other people’s goals. But it’s still tough. This is golf. If you have a really bad round on the front nine, you are still able to have a good round on the back nine. So I just want to really enjoy it.

Topics: Icher, Karine, Ryu, So Yeon, Piller, Gerina, Lewis, Stacy, Honda LPGA Thailand, Notes and Interviews [+]

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