Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G
Pinnacle Country Club
Wednesday Pre-Tournament Notes and Interviews
June 19, 2013
Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas will be the backdrop for this week’s Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G, where a star-studded field of 144 players will contend over three days for a $2 million purse and a $300,000 first-place prize.
Reigning champion and Rolex Rankings No. 10 Ai Miyazato is back in Arkansas after an outstanding finish in 2012 when she defeated Azahara Munoz and Mika Miyazato by sinking a birdie putt on the final hole to take a one-stroke victory. The Japan native fired the lowest round of the week, a 7-under 65, during Sunday’s final round to stage a five-stroke comeback and capture the win with a three-day tally of 12-under 201. The win marked her ninth victory in her seven-year tenure on the LPGA Tour and her latest victory to date.
A Birthday wish. Ai Miyazato celebrates her 28th birthday today in Rogers, Ark. and claims she wants nothing more than a successful title defense at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G.
“This week is really special because, it's my birthday week and I'm defending champion,” said Miyazato. “So I can feel it, it's going to be a good week.”
It wouldn’t be the first time Miyazato’s birthday week yielded positive results. In the midst of her most successful year on Tour in 2010, Miyazato claimed her third of five victories that season on her birthday and says the win is always on the back of her mind should a tournament fall on her big day.
“About three years ago, 2010, my birthday week was ShopRite Tournament, which is a little different this year, but I won that week and I became No. 1 in the world in my birthday week,” said Miyazato. “That was a very special moment, and I always remember that when I have a birthday week.”
The Japan native says she doesn’t have big plans to celebrate her day, but was surprised with a special birthday card from 12-year-old Chloe Ellis during Miyazato’s pre-tournament press conference.
Causing Raucous in Rogers! This week, one of the largest grandstands on Tour was erected on the 17th green at the Pinnacle Country Club to give fans the opportunity to see their favorite LPGA Tour pros up-close and personal. Known as the “loudest hole in golf,” the shortened par-3 will give players plenty of birdie opportunities and could provide for a dramatic finish on Sunday.
“There's many birdie opportunity this year,” said Ai Miyazato. “So that's the big difference, because usually 16 and 17 is really tough hole. So you have to play really well on these two. Then there's a birdie chance, birdie opportunity on 18 which is a great finishing hole. But 17, 18, there's a birdie chance opportunity this year. So it's going to be maybe drama, a little bit of drama this year.”
Rolex Rankings No. 1 Inbee Park says the 17th green is something both players and fans will enjoy the most this week at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G.
“Number 17th hole has always been the loudest hole even before this year,” said Park. “Now they have shortened it and I think it became a lot more fun because a lot of players can really go for the pins, and I think they can really top the pins going in with like 9, 8‑irons. So I think it's just going to be a lot more fun for the people watching, and I'm just very excited to see how it's going to be like on the first round.”
Sixteen-year-old amateur Lydia Ko returns to LPGA action this week as a sponsor’s exemption at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G. Ko, who last year became the youngest winner in LPGA history at the 2012 CN Canadian Women’s Open, has yet to miss a cut in a professional event in her young career. She comes to Pinnacle Country Club seeking a second LPGA victory, but thoughts of turning professional continue to stay in the distance.
“I'm not going to turn pro tomorrow, that's for sure,” Ko said. “I can't really say at what age (I will turn professional).”
Ko has four victories in professional events across three tours since 2012, including the CN Canadian Women’s Open where she defeated current Rolex Rankings No. 1 Inbee Park by three strokes. She also won the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
The youngster has made five starts on the 2013 LPGA Tour entering this week with a season-best finish solo third place at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, where she was tied for the lead entering the final round. She tied for 17th at the Wegmans LPGA Championship two weeks ago.
On Tap Tonight in Rogers… More than 400 participants have committed to donating their hair at the Pantene Beautiful Lengths charity event Wednesday night. Among those include two-year LPGA Tour member Jane Rah and Mina Harigae’s caddy, Kurt Moskaly. Several LPGA Tour members along with Commissioner Mike Whan will serve as hair stylist tonight as they cut more than eight-inches of hair from each participant to be donated to cancer patients. This year marks the seventh Pantene Beautiful Lengths event and the most participants since its first year in 2007.
Quotable: “And because I won last year I have a chance, the opportunity to get to know about this tournament more and more, which is really exciting moment for me. Like yesterday it was a great experience at the press conference and I thought that was just a wonderful thing for women because every woman deserves the opportunity ‑‑ I think it's important for all women to have the opportunity to be successful. It's very inspiring to know that women have more opportunity to be successful.” – Ai Miyazato on presenting a $500,000 check from the Walmart Foundation to Dress For Success.
THE MODERATOR: All right. I'd like to welcome defending champion and Rolex Rankings No. 10 Ai Miyazato into the interview room today.
AI MIYAZATO: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: First off, Happy Birthday.
AI MIYAZATO: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Any plans for this evening?
AI MIYAZATO: Not really. Might go to good restaurant tonight and have a good dinner maybe.
THE MODERATOR: We have a big fan of yours in our audience today. She'd like to give you something for your birthday.
AI MIYAZATO: Oh, really? Thank you, Chloe. It's so sweet, thank you, thank you. I like this.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Last year ended in pretty dramatic fashion with you sinking a birdie putt on the final hole to take the win.
AI MIYAZATO: Yeah.
THE MODERATOR: It was your second win last year, your ninth career victory. Just talk about memories from last year and how excited you are to be back.
AI MIYAZATO: I know, it was so exciting moment. I had a great time over here. This is one of my favorite tournaments and it's always a nice feeling to play in this tournament, but last year was very special. I always wanted to be a champion of this tournament. I was getting close last few years, but then I couldn't reach to the top. But then last year I did it, so it was really exciting moment.
THE MODERATOR: Talk about coming back as the defending champion. Do you kind of thrive in this kind of situation, do you feel pressure? What's your mindset coming into this week?
AI MIYAZATO: No, I don't feel any pressure at all, you know. Like I said, this is my favorite tournament so I enjoy staying here. The people are really nice over here and the tournament is very organized every year. Seems like the golf course is in good shape, and it's such a beautiful week this week. So definitely going to enjoy it.
THE MODERATOR: There are a couple changes to the course this year, I'm sure you've seen the 17th hole?
AI MIYAZATO: Yes.
THE MODERATOR: And the big grandstands. It's coined as the Loudest Hole in Golf this week, so it should add some excitement.
AI MIYAZATO: Yeah.
THE MODERATOR: So talk about what we can expect to see at the finish this year and the conditions on the course.
AI MIYAZATO: The greens are in good shape, very smooth. And like you said about 17, it's usually playing really long on Sunday. We have a back pin on the right side which is like playing about 200 yards, and I was hitting my 7‑wood last year, but then this year is going to be a little different because if they have the pin in the front, then you can hit like 7‑iron also. So there's many birdie opportunity this year. So that's the big difference, because usually 16 and 17 is really tough hole. So you have to play really well on these two. Then there's a birdie chance, birdie opportunity on 18 which is a great finishing hole. But 17, 18, there's a birdie chance opportunity this year. So it's going to be maybe drama, a little bit of drama this year.
THE MODERATOR: All right. We'll take some questions for Ai.
Q Has your approach changed? When you're playing a tournament that's three days versus four days, how does your approach change? Does it change at all?
AI MIYAZATO: Well, I would say maybe a little bit more aggressive, especially on the first day. The first day is really important day because you have to play well. And if you have a low score, then you have a chance to win because it's so hard to play really, so hard to shoot low score in three days. It feels a little more different. But like I said, trying to make a little bit more birdies and if I have a good start on the first day, then I feel like I can focus more. The first day is key because scoring low would give me an opportunity to win the tournament, and scoring low on the first day will make me play more aggressive the next two days. So the scoring, how I play on the first day is very important because that would put me in contention and that would also lead me to be more aggressive the next couple days.
Q Is there a memorable golf moment that's happened on your birthday? Have you won a tournament on your birthday or shot a real low round?
AI MIYAZATO: Yes, about three years ago, 2010, my birthday week was ShopRite Tournament, which is a little different this year, but I won that week and I became No. 1 in the world in my birthday week. That was a very special moment, and I always remember when I have a birthday week.
THE MODERATOR: Yesterday you had the opportunity to take part in a big donation?
AI MIYAZATO: Yes.
THE MODERATOR: A $500,000 donation to Dress for Success from the Walmart Foundation. This tournament has a lot of great charity aspects to it. How nice is it to be able to take part in events like that this week?
AI MIYAZATO: You know, that is very inspiring for me, you know. I was really happy to be part of the commercial yesterday. And because I won last year I have a chance, the opportunity to get to know about this tournament more and more, which is really exciting moment for me. Like yesterday it was a great experience at the press conference and I thought that was just a wonderful thing for women because every woman deserves the opportunity ‑‑ I think it's important for all women to have the opportunity to be successful. It's very inspiring to know that women have more opportunity to be successful.
Q I’m writing an article about Jiyai Shin and the kind of season that she's having, have you had a chance to play with her this year?
AI MIYAZATO: Jiyai Shin?
AI MIYAZATO: No, I didn't play with her this year, but I played with her many times last few years.
Q She's having kind of a rebound type year. She's having a good season. Could you talk about her game a little bit and what parts of her game are her strongest?
AI MIYAZATO: Well, she's a really solid player. She doesn't have many mistake. Her driver is really consistent and her irons and her shots ‑‑ her game, everything is really consistent, but I think her putting is really important. She can putt under the pressure no matter what the situation is. So I think that makes her game. She's also a really smiling person. Even on the outside of the golf course, she's always smiling and really nice person to other people. So it's a always fun to be with her.
THE MODERATOR: You had two Top 10 finishes this year, a runner‑up at the RR Donnelley Founders Cup. Past three tournaments you've finished in the Top 20. How are you feeling about your game this week and just what have you been working on?
AI MIYAZATO: I've been having a good season so far. My game is pretty consistent this year. Unfortunately it didn't make coming together yet, but I feel good with my game so far and I played well last tournament weekend. I had 6‑under on Sunday and I was good finish in the Major tournament. So I pretty much feel good with my game. And this week is really special because, like I said, it's my birthday week and I'm defending champion. So I can feel it, it's going to be a good week.
THE MODERATOR: Any more questions for Ai?
Q Have you played the course where the U.S. Open is going to be played next week?
AI MIYAZATO: Yes, I have.
Q What are your thoughts on that course?
AI MIYAZATO: It was beautiful. I went there three days and had the practice rounds, but every day was different. The wind was different and the greens are kind of different too. Some days played really long and some days wasn't. So it just depended on the day, but the golf course was just a beautiful place and I'm looking forward to playing next week.
THE MODERATOR: Do you feel like you approach this week differently knowing that there's another Major next weekend?
AI MIYAZATO: No, you know what, I don't think any like change things in my mind. It's just I'm taking one tournament at a time. So this week is just week and next week is just next week. I just do my best every week and see what's going to happen.
THE MODERATOR: All right. I'd like to welcome World No. 1 Inbee Park into the interview room today. Thanks for joining us.
INBEE PARK: You're welcome.
THE MODERATOR: First of all, congratulations on your win at Wegmans LPGA Tournament. You've won two of the five Majors we have this season. Just talk about that achievement and how were you able to celebrate last week during your off week?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, I mean, I was very lucky to actually have a week off after a Major tournament after a win. I've been having ‑‑ I've been fortunate enough to have a bit of time off and really enjoy myself. Last week I went to Na Yeon's house in Florida and I spent the time with her and practiced a little bit.
I mean, last day at the Wegmans I struggled a little bit with my ball striking, so I worked on that a little bit. Just had a lot of fun and very relaxing. Two weeks ago at the Wegmans was a very tough Sunday, and I was really exhausted after the round. I feel very refreshed now coming here this week after a week of break, and I feel ready to go again.
THE MODERATOR: You talked before about how well you've handled being No. 1 with the requests and the recognition. It can get overwhelming for some, but you really enjoy it. Just talk about some of the things that you have gotten to do since being World No. 1. And have the requests kind of piled up since your win earlier this month?
INBEE PARK: I usually didn't have to do any pre‑press conferences or anything like that or interviews in between the rounds or interviews before the tournament. I never really had to do any of that. But every week it's really came to my schedule and I've got to do probably two, three interviews before the round. And during the round I get to do more interviews and just a lot of press requests from Korea. A lot of people really want to talk to me, so it's good. I get to see ‑‑ I get to be more recognized and I get to enjoy more and I get more fans. I get a lot more people cheering for me. I think that's a big energy for me.
THE MODERATOR: You've had some success here in the past. Last year you tied for 4th, and then you had Top 10s in 2010 and 2008. Talk about this course and how it suits your game and how you're feeling coming into this week.
INBEE PARK: I really like this golf course, especially the back nine. I think you really have to think your way around to play this golf course and I've been very successful in this golf course and came really close to winning I think a couple years. I feel very comfortable on this course. It plays a little bit different than the last few years that we've played here. It's a lot drier this year. Hopefully we don't get any more rain. We played this golf course really wet the last few years, and this course looks in great condition right now and I really can't wait to play.
THE MODERATOR: Next week will be a big week for you at the U.S. Women's Open. You were the youngest to ever win the tournament when you were 19 years old in 2008. Everyone will be watching you to see if you can get a third victory at a Major this year. Just talk about your mindset this week as you prepare for that.
INBEE PARK: Yeah, I think this week is a good preparation for next week. And next week everybody look forward to that tournament, and that's the biggest tournament of the year. I really look forward to playing in that too. I think it's my third Major this year, you know, and I always love to play in Women's Open and USGA courses. I think they did a great job of course setting, and I think it's just a lot of fun. Even if I don't win, I think I'm really going to enjoy myself next week.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for Inbee.
Q Can you talk about your putts, did you teach yourself and how do you have such amazing speed control?
INBEE PARK: I never really had a putting coach. When I was younger, my dad taught me putting a lot and after I turned pro I pretty much taught myself pretty much. I didn't really get lessons for putting, no.
Q Inbee, how motivated and important was it for you to get to World No. 1, and is there any extra pressure do you feel now that you've kind of solidified that spot?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, I think in the No. 1 spot is a lot of pressure spot. I feel more pressure than before, of course. Yeah, after I took over No. 1 spot at Hawaii this year, I didn't know how long I was going to be up there and I didn't really think about being there for a long time, didn't really think about being there for a certain amount of time. I just try to do my best every week. I always thought that I was very fortunate to actually play for No. 1 every week and I think that's something very special and I think that's something that I really need to take positive. No. 1 spot is a tough spot, but I've just got to try to enjoy it as much as I can.
Q The Solheim Cup is this year, which you cannot play in, but year after is the International Crown. South Korea is really doing well right now. How important is it to you, your teammates, the country, to play well in events like this and just really have your own little, I guess you can say tournaments within tournaments to get better, to make that team?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, I think everybody is really inspired by ‑‑ everybody is really motivated to play well to get into that International Crown, I think. I mean, that's I think very good preparation for 2016 Olympics and I think that's probably one of my main goals for later years. I think it's going to be very fun to play in that kind of tournament. It's a different format, team play. Everybody is really excited to play Solheim this year so I think it's going to be exactly the same for us in how we think about it and how we approach. Everybody really plays to get into Solheim Cup and that's what we're going to do next year.
Q A little bit different, but your caddie, Brad Beecher, what do you kind of ask him to do or how does he help you out there on the course? What does he say to you? What do you rely on him to do?
INBEE PARK: Pretty much everything. He gives me the yardage and we discuss about how it's actually playing and he helps me with the putts also. I think it's mostly he just makes me very comfortable, somebody to talk to on the course. We just feel very comfortable with being together so, yeah.
Q With all the success you've had in the last year, is there a certain swing thought or certain something that changed in the last year specifically on the range or on the course with your swing that has led to your improvement?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, I changed a little bit of my follow‑through two years ago. I released my club a little bit early before, but two years ago I made a change that it goes a little bit later release, really changed a little bit of my follow‑through. And it changes pretty much every week what I work on and what I set for and what I think about on the course. But mostly I really concentrate on my follow‑through, how the swing path ‑‑ how the club path has got to go after the ball. I think that's what I'm trying to be working on for a long time.
Q Before you were No. 1, Stacy was I think for 27 days or something like that. How many times have you played with her this year and what kind of relationship do you have on and off the course with her. Thanks.
INBEE PARK: I think I have played with Stacy I think quite often this year. I'm not sure exactly how many times, but she's a great player. I didn't really get to spend much time off the course with her, but on the course we really play with each other a lot. I feel like I'm really close to her and feel like I really know her, know her game a lot too, playing a lot with her. I think she has great ball striking. She's a great ball striker. She hits the ball much further than me. I think she's a very good player.
Q Change gears a little bit. I'm working on a story on Jiyai Shin. Have you had a chance to play with her this year?
INBEE PARK: This year I'm not sure. No, I don't think I played with her.
Q She's kind of having a bounce‑back season from last year.
INBEE PARK: Yes.
Q Could you talk about her game a little bit and what the strengths of her game are?
INBEE PARK: Well, strengths of her game is accuracy. She hits it very straight and she's a very good putter. I mean, she definitely has a lot of potential to be on top of the Tour, and she is one of the top players out here. I mean, her strength is definitely accuracy. She doesn't miss many fairways, she doesn't miss many greens.
Q Inbee, Mark Warren from The Wall Street Journal. Do you have any superstitions you do for luck? Is there anything you do, either carry in your bag or do you have anything you do that's just kind of a lucky charm?
INBEE PARK: I'm not too superstitious, but I think it's just one thing that I don't use is No. 4 on the ball. I just don't play with No. 4 on the tournament.
THE MODERATOR: Like you mentioned before there's a couple changes to the course. They've shortened the 17th hole and coined it now the Loudest Hole in Golf. Should make for some pretty exciting finishes this week. What are your thoughts about that?
INBEE PARK: Number 17th hole has always been the loudest hole even before this year. Now they have shortened it and I think it became a lot more fun because a lot of people can really go for the pins, and I think they can really top the pins going in with like 9, 8‑irons. So I think it's just going to be a lot more fun for the people watching, and I'm just very excited to see how it's going to be like on the first round.
THE MODERATOR: Any more questions for Inbee?
Q I have a follow‑up on. When you were talking about Jiyai and her bounce back, what really has been the success for South Koreans because you have four South Koreans in the Top 20 in the world rankings. What's the success?
INBEE PARK: You mean the reason for the success? I think it's ‑‑ Na Yeon actually said this last week, but I really agree with her, saying that Se‑Ri and other older generations of Koreans have done it before, that they could really win in a big tournaments out here and they could do it out on the LPGA Tour. I think they really showed me that we also can do it. And before Se‑Ri or before Grace or before anybody came here, nobody would have thought that we could actually compete out here, but they really showed me that we could actually compete out here, and I think that's really inspired us to play good here.
THE MODERATOR: All right. I'd like to welcome our top ranked amateur in the world, Lydia Ko, into the interview room. Welcome.
LYDIA KO: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Fourteen consecutive made cuts in professional events, four wins. Just talk about those achievements and what that means to you to have seen so much success earlier in your career.
LYDIA KO: I guess it boosts up my confidence that I haven't missed a cut yet. So, yeah, I've been close to missing the cut and then grinding it out to next day. Yeah, it's really good and I kind of try and restart after every tournament. So, yeah, it's really good to be up here.
THE MODERATOR: Tell us what all has changed in your life on and off the course since making your professional golf debut.
LYDIA KO: I think I've definitely been more known through public and through media. You know, I walk around in the street sometimes in New Zealand and people recognize me. So it's quite cool to kind of get that celebrity look.
THE MODERATOR: Talk about some of the relationships you've built with the players out here. You came here and some of them just kind of looked at you as a little 15‑year‑old and now they see you as one of them. Just talk about some of the relationships that you have built.
LYDIA KO: You know, getting to play with different players, I guess it starts as just knowing people or just saying hello and then conversations make people closer and I think that's been happening. And, yeah, I hang around with Danielle Kang quite a lot and I played with her in a Hawaii and that was a lot of fun. Everybody out here has been pretty nice, actually really nice.
THE MODERATOR: This is your first time in Arkansas. You got to play earlier this week, I'm sure. So talk about the course and how you're thinking it suits your game.
LYDIA KO: Yeah, to me, Wegmans at Locust Hill there was really narrow fairways, but out here it's quite wide or wider compared to that. And it's going to be quite hot, so my main goal is actually to keep cool and have my wet towel with me and, yeah, or I'm going to probably boil by the looks of how hot it's going to get.
THE MODERATOR: All right, we'll take questions for Lydia.
Q You mentioned your celebrity status, getting a little bit bigger. With the success you've had, more attention, has it been easy to stay grounded and how do you stay grounded?
LYDIA KO: It's not like I'm really a big celebrity or anything, but I guess more around home, more around where I live I guess I get more known. And to me it's kind of awkward. I don't know how to deal with it. But I try and be normal and I don't think personally I've changed from a year ago to now. Occasionally people start staring at me and I'm like, why are they staring at me? I think I know why, but, yeah, I try and be normal. Just because I've been getting more attention, I don't want to be a totally different person to who I am.
Q Being such a young person out here, do you ever seek advice from any of the other players who came up through the ranks as young golfers like Jessica Korda or Morgan Pressel or any of those? Do you ever talk to them or get any advice about basic challenges, how did you handle this challenge?
LYDIA KO: Yeah, I do ask some questions when I'm around. When you play 18 holes, it's four and a half hours with the two other players you're with. Yeah, during that time I ask a lot of questions, and also I ask a few questions to some pros back in New Zealand. One of the biggest pros apart from Michael Campbell, we have Michael Hendry, which he's coached by Craig Dixon, who is from Institute of Golf and that's where I am. Yeah, I always get nervous, doesn't matter how big the tournament is. So I said is being nervous good or is it bad or should I be getting it or not? So lots of questions. Because I'm an amateur, it's kind of that learning phase at the moment. So, yeah, it's been a really good learning experience.
Q Can you talk about your relationship with Inbee Park. Obviously she's the No. 1 in the world and you're No. 1 amateur, but the relationship you have with her and being kind of back on the course with her this weekend?
LYDIA KO: I don't really talk to her much. Yeah, I just say hello when I see here, but I haven't really ‑‑ I've never played with her before. So I think when I play with somebody, that's when I get to know that person better. But because I haven't had that opportunity yet it's quite hard to get to know her and talk a lot.
Q There's at least that respect that you have for her?
LYDIA KO: Yeah, yeah, she's definitely shown her talent out here, won pretty much all the Majors apart from the British Open. Yeah, she's pretty incredible and I think I've got a lot of things to learn from her.
Q And then lastly, is there any added pressure being the No. 1 amateur right now at all?
LYDIA KO: I think so, there's a little bit. But I think that pressure is created from myself. If I didn't think about it, obviously there wouldn't be any pressure. But, yeah, pressure is kind of building as, you know, if I'm playing better people go oh, I think she should. If I shoot over par, they think it's the end of the world. And I've got so many more rounds to go in my life. So, yeah, I know I've got lots of time and many years and I'm still an amateur, so I can take it slower and learn from my mistakes is all.
Q Coming into Arkansas, I'm wondering whether you have a target age where you're thinking about turning professional and also what college plans, if any, do you have?
LYDIA KO: I was wondering why that question didn't come up. You know, I don't know. My parents don't think ‑‑ yeah, we haven't really thought about it. I'm not going to turn pro tomorrow, that's for sure. But I don't know and I haven't talked about it seriously as my family and my coaching staff around. So I can't really say what age. And college, I want to go, but because I can't talk to the college coaches yet, we're trying to see what the best option is. And golf is my No. 1 priority, so when I do turn pro, I might do it at the same time, I might do it later. I don't know. Nothing is for sure in those two areas.