LPGA LOTTE Championship Presented by J Golf
Ko Olina Golf Club
Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii
Pre-Tournament Notes and Interviews
April 15, 2014
The LPGA Tour will be saying ‘Aloha’ to Hawaii this week for the third-annual LPGA LOTTE Championship Presented by J Golf. A group of 144 players will battle for a $1.7 million purse and for a chance to do the celebratory hula dance on the 18th green at Ko Olina Golf Club.
Defending champion Suzann Pettersen will miss her third consecutive event with a back injury but this week’s field has plenty of star power to put on a show in Kapolei. Rolex Rankings No. 1 Inbee Park headlines the group and is still searching for her first win of the 2014 season. Park, who has held the top spot in the world for 53-consecutive weeks, has played well in Hawaii with a tied for fourth finish last year and T12 in 2012.
Hawaii native Michelle Wie will be having a homecoming this week as the 24-year old from Honolulu returns to the island of Oahu. Wie is coming off a runner-up finish at the season’s first major at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and has yet to finish worse than T16 this season. Rolex Rankings No. 4 Lydia Ko will make her second appearance at the LOTTE Championship and will try to improve on her T9 finish from a year ago.
American Lizette Salas returns to Hawaii with some extra motivation after her career-best runner up finish last season. She carved up Ko Olina in the final round last year and shot an incredible 29 on the back nine to force a playoff with Pettersen. Even after hitting her second shot on the first playoff hole into the greenside water, Salas has said that she’s taken the positives from her course record 62 on Saturday.“I could have been really down,” said Salas. “I did cry about it, but I could have had a pity party for a long time. But I reversed it. It was definitely a motivating thing and I think was a reason I had such a great year.”
Home Sweet Home
It couldn’t be better timing for Michelle Wie to make her return home to Hawaii with the state of her game being the best it has been in quite some time. The 24-year old from Honolulu has played consistently strong since the start of the 2014 season and has yet to finish outside the top-16 in an event this year.
She’s currently seventh in the Race for the CME Globe standings and leads the Tour in both scoring average (69.750) and greens in regulation (81%). After being outdueled by 19-year old Lexi Thompson at the Tour’s last stop at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, Wie said she was split on wanting to continue playing with her positive momentum or whether she welcomed the week-long break after the season’s first major.
“I think half and half,” said Wie. “I think it would have been nice to play a tournament coming off ‑‑ just being so close, I would have liked to have played last week, but at the same time I was pretty tired. It's been three weeks in a row and it's been kind of nice to come back home and do nothing, kind of beach it up all week.”
Wie will undoubtedly be the local favorite throughout the week at Ko Olina and the two-time LPGA Tour winner said that the Tour’s stop in her home state puts the pressure on her to resist the all of the local cuisine options.
“I love coming back home,” said Wie. “It's just I get so excited the night before, I can't sleep, and that flight from LA can't be longer. It's just such a long flight, the longest five hours of my life, but when I finally land, that feeling that I get is I'm home. There's a couple spots I go to. I try not to eat so much. I feel like I need to eat everything when I'm home for a short period of time.”
She admitted to putting more pressure on herself to perform in front of her fellow Hawaiians in the past, but said she’ll just try to ride her momentum of strong recent play and enjoy her time home.
“I think the last couple years I've just put so much pressure on myself to play well,” said Wie. “Obviously playing in my hometown, home course. I feel the support from a lot of people. I think the last couple years I put so much pressure on myself. I want to win, I want to play really well here. This year I'm just going to put no pressure on myself, I'm just going to go out there and try and enjoy myself and have a lot of fun.”
“Obviously the time has gone really fast,” said Park. “This was the week I took over the No. 1 spot last year, and a lot of things happened since this week last year. I've had a lot of wins, and I've experienced a lot of things. A lot of things going well for me in my career. I feel like I'm probably a lot more mature player than I was last year, and I feel more comfortable out here, and being in the No. 1 spot feels a little more comfortable now.”
The South Korea native got off to a great start in 2014 to follow up her historic 2013 season and picked up four top-10’s in her first four starts including a runner-up in Thailand. She’ll be looking to bounce back after a 36th place finish at the Kraft Nabisco. She has played well at Ko Olina in the past and finished tied for fourth a year ago and T12 in 2012.
Tough wind conditions have been a topic of conversation so far through the practice rounds at Ko Olina and will likely be a factor this week. Gusts reached up to 30 miles per hour at times early on in the week and had steady winds of about 20 miles per hour. The forecast calls for less extreme conditions for the rest of the week but players are preparing for it. Paula Creamer said she welcomes the wind and relishes the challenge of gusty conditions.
“I've always liked playing in the wind. I've always liked harder conditions. Growing up in Northern California, we kind of had it all, whether it was wind, rain, cold, the tougher the conditions the better.”
Creamer has seen great success in the state of Hawaii and has picked up two of her 10 career victories in the Aloha State. She won the 2007 SBS Open at Turtle Bay in Kahuku, Oahu and the 2008 Fields Open at Ko Olina. Her past two finishes at the LOTTE Championship are T17 in 2013 and T18 in 2012.
“I've been pretty lucky I've always played well here in Hawai'i, whether it was at Turtle Bay or here when I won,” said Creamer. “But I just like it. I like the golf course. I like the people. It's a great place to come to. Everybody is just so nice and so welcoming. It's exciting to come back and to enjoy such a great event, and hopefully we can come back many more years from now.”
Group 9: 7:40 am (Tee 1) – Inbee Park, Azahara Munoz, Morgan Pressel
The No. 1 player in the world is still playing for her first win in 2014 and is grouped with Spain’s Azahara Munoz who has four top-10 finishes in seven starts this year including two runner-ups and American Morgan Pressel who is coming off a T11 finish at the Kraft Nabisco Championship
Group 34: 12:30 pm (Tee 10) – Anna Nordqvist, Michelle Wie, Shanshan Feng
Nordqvist is one of only two players with two victories already this season and is playing the best golf of her career; Wie will be the hometown favorite all week and has truly found her form in 2014; Feng did not get off to a strong start this season but the three-time LPGA Tour winner and major champ finished T6 at Kraft two weeks ago
Group 36: 12:40 pm (Tee 10) –Cristie Kerr, Lydia Ko, Lizette Salas
Kerr has had three top-10’s in her last three starts including a tie for fourth at the Kraft; Ko has been struggling as of late and will look to get back on track during her second appearance at Ko Olina. She finished tied for ninth here last year; Salas made some serious noise on Oahu a year ago with her final round 62 to force a playoff with Suzann Pettersen
Quote of the Day
“I think we should ask Ai. She did a pretty good job the year she won.” 2014 two-time winner Anna Nordqvist on whether she had any tips on the celebratory hula dance tradition this week
“After practice today had an awesome time with @Bri_D0 was awesome to be able to see and touch the sea turtles” –@CarolineWestrup
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We would like to welcome you to the 2014 LPGA Lotte Championship and welcome to the beautiful island of Oahu, always enjoy getting to come back here. I would like to introduce my special guests that are joining me here today. To my immediate right we have two‑time LPGA Tour winner and 2014 rookie, Lydia Ko. To her right, we have a member of last year's victorious European Solheim Cup team who has two victories in her last five events, Anna Nordqvist. To her right we have the 2014 HSBC women's champion winner Paula Creamer. To her immediate right, someone that you all should recognize, as we are in her hometown this week, Michelle Wie, and to her immediate right we have the woman who's been at the top of the Rolex Rankings for the past 53 weeks, Inbee Park. Ladies, thank you all for joining me here today. This event, we are in the third year here at Ko Olina for the LPGA Lotte Championship. This event has truly become a very special event. We're so lucky to have a wonderful sponsor in Lotte, and it really has been one of those premier events on the LPGA TOUR, and we feel so pleased to be joined here today by one special person from Lotte. I would like to introduce Mr. Hwang Kyu Han from Lotte to say a few words.
HWANG KYU HAN: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Hwang Kyu Han, and I am executive tournament director. Welcome to the third LPGA Lotte Championship. We hope this year's championship will be as successful as the first and second championships. Your support and promotion about the LPGA Lotte Championship will be very much appreciated. Mahalo.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much. We are going to open it up to questions from the audience, but first I thought I'd get it started with a few questions of my own. The No. 1 player currently in the world, Inbee, it's been 53 weeks. It was last year here that we got to congratulate you on taking over that No. 1 spot. What has the past year been like for you holding on to No. 1, and can you believe it's already been a year?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, obviously the time has gone really fast. This was my year ‑‑ this was the week I took over the No. 1 spot last year, and a lot of things happened since this week last year. I've had a lot of wins, and I've experienced a lot of things. A lot of things going well for me in my career. I feel like I'm probably a lot more mature player than I was last year, and I feel more comfortable out here, and being in the No. 1 spot feels a little more comfortable now.
THE MODERATOR: Paula, you always seem to play well in the winds here in Hawai'i and you seem to like playing in Hawai'i. What is it about playing in the islands that seems to suit your game so well?
PAULA CREAMER: I've always liked playing in the wind. I've always liked harder conditions. Growing up in Northern California, we kind of had it all, whether it was wind, rain, cold, the tougher the conditions the better. I've been pretty lucky I've always played well here in Hawai'i, whether it was at Turtle Bay or here when I won. But I just like it. I like the golf course. I like the people. It's a great place to come to. Everybody is just so nice and so welcoming. It's exciting to come back and to enjoy such a great event, and hopefully we can come back many more years from now.
THE MODERATOR: Lydia, you're in your rookie year on the LPGA Tour, but I think for all of us it doesn't seem like you're a rookie. You seem so comfortable out there. How have you felt at the start of the year? Do you really feel like a rookie out here?
LYDIA KO: I do feel like a rookie. I think after the rookie session, the rookie meetings, then I kind of know more about the Tour. So yeah, I'm feeling like a rookie out here, and I'm learning a lot of things, and now I'm getting to play all the
courses that I haven't before. Yeah, I'm enjoying the moment.
THE MODERATOR: Michelle, I know I asked you this last night at the pro‑am party, but everybody loves coming to their hometown events and loves the support, and I was out there playing in the pro‑am this morning and saw the big group that was following you ‑‑
MICHELLE WIE: Of 10 people?
THE MODERATOR: That's a big group in a pro‑am. But the amount of attention you get, do you like coming home to Hawai'i and seeing the number of people that love seeing you here? Do you like coming back home and playing?
MICHELLE WIE: I love coming back home. It's just I get so excited the night before, I can't sleep, and that flight from LA can't be longer. It's just such a long flight, the longest five hours of my life, but when I finally land, that feeling that I get is I'm home. There's a couple spots I go to. I try not to eat so much. I feel like I need to eat everything when I'm home for a short period of time, but it's just so great to have a tournament here on Oahu at Ko Olina, just growing up here, and I just feel so much pride when people come to my hometown and I can say that Oahu is my hometown and I can show people places to go, so I'm very happy.
THE MODERATOR: Anna, you've gotten off to such a great start this year. You talked a lot about some of the changes that you've made over the off‑season and different things, but what do you really credit as the key to your success so far this year and how different do you feel right now than you did say a year ago?
ANNA NORDQVIST: Well, I was just talking to my caddie today saying what a difference a year can make. I worked really hard in the off‑season, and I got off to a great start winning my second tournament in Thailand, and I seemed to get some momentum, and then winning the second one at Kia a couple weeks later was obviously incredible because I worked so hard for a couple years when I didn't win on Tour. You know, I'm just in a happy place. I love playing golf, and I like the challenge of putting my best foot forward every day trying to get better. If you're smiling a lot and you have great people around you, golf seems a little easier.
Q. You had such good momentum right after Kraft. Do you wish you played right afterward?
MICHELLE WIE: I think half and half. I think it would have been nice to play a tournament coming off ‑‑ just being so close, I would have liked to have played last week, but at the same time I was pretty tired. It's been three weeks in a row and it's been kind of nice to come back home and do nothing, kind of beach it up all week. It's kind of weird weather, though, unfortunately.
Q. How have you been able to keep your consistency this year and was that goal for you this season?
MICHELLE WIE: Yeah, just been working on a lot of different things, but that's just been really my main goal with David Leadbetter and I in the off‑season. We talked a lot about our goals this year and consistency is definitely one of my top priorities this year. I just want to go out there and just play consistent rounds. Just been working on all parts of my game, nothing really in particular.
Q. Michelle, do you surf at all or get involved in water sports while you’re home? And can you touch on your charity event on Saturday?
MICHELLE WIE: Yeah, I don't surf really. I think I'm too clumsy to surf. But we have been out on the water a lot and we've been canoe surfing. There weren't a lot of waves, though, unfortunately in Waikiki the last couple of days. But I caught a couple of waves, which were fun. But I've just been lying on the beach kind of catching some good Z's. But my fundraiser on Saturday night we're having a ping‑pong charity tournament. It's going to be some of the girls from the LPGA, and we're all going to be competing for the grand prize. But it's for the Hawai'i State Junior Golf Association Scholarship Fund so people can come and can buy a table, can participate in the tournament, as well. I'm actually doing another event afterwards. It's at Hawaiian Brians. It's for Protect Hawai'i for the homeless. We're doing it with The Green and it's hosted by Eli‑Mac, and the doors open at 10:00 p.m. and the proceeds are going to go to Protect Hawai'i. It's going to be a busy Saturday night after the event, but it should be fun.
Q. Do you feel more pressure playing at home?
MICHELLE WIE: Yeah, I think the last couple years I've just put so much pressure on myself to play well. Obviously playing in my hometown, home course. I feel the support from a lot of people. I think the last couple years I put so much pressure on myself. I want to win, I want to play really well here. This year I'm just going to put no pressure on myself, I'm just going to go out there and try and enjoy myself and have a lot of fun.
THE MODERATOR: Paula, we've talked a lot about the momentum the LPGA has had so far this year and the excitement and growing to 32 events. What has it been like, the differences you've seen in the LPGA now and how it's been growing the last couple years, and how nice is it to see the resurgence, the media attention your putt got in Singapore, people paying attention to what's going on out here?
PAULA CREAMER: Well, you have to 100 percent give credit to our commissioner Mike Whan. He is one of us in the sense he knows what we believe in and what we want as a tour and as players, and he goes about and does such a great job with all of our sponsors and everybody that's involved with our Tour. Without him, I don't know where we would be right now. It's been an interesting ‑‑ this is my 10th year out on Tour and I've seen a lot that has happened. But at the same time we have such great players. We have a great organization in the sense of it is international, we do want to be at home, we do want to have events in the States. At the same time you can't take away from what's going on in Asia and everything, and coming from a global player myself, it is important to go overseas, but it's also important to have our events here in the States and to have that home crowd, too. Being an American obviously I'm a little bit biased on that part of it, but I think it's just important that our commissioner is on the same level as us and on the same playing field as everybody else is, and for that reason I think that's why we have 32 events and we are able to now actually choose our schedule instead of having to have to play everything and just kind of go about it.
But you can't take away from the players. It's just a great group. Everything that's happened, just sitting up here at this table, there's just so many different stories, and the list goes on and on and on throughout the players.
Q. Lydia, this is your first year on Tour. What's it like playing now being a pro?
LYDIA KO: Luckily I played a couple tournaments last year and the year before, so I already knew a couple of the players. It's actually really cool to actually be a part of the Tour and be a Tour player, and it definitely feels different, but I've been getting a really warm welcoming. I've been having a lot of fun, and nearly like a third of the season has gone by. I mean, time flies when you're having fun.
THE MODERATOR: Anna, when you look at this group up here, we have five players from four different countries, it's really a representation of the LPGA and the diversity. One of the really cool events we have coming up this year is the International Crown. You've qualified to play for Team Sweden. What is it like to have an event that's going to represent the global nature of the LPGA, and how much does each country want to take home that crown at the end of the day to have that thing to boast about, that you are the best golfing country in the world?
ANNA NORDQVIST: I think it's definitely exciting that we now have a team event that includes more ‑‑ obviously the Solheim Cup is between Europe and the U.S. and it's a one‑of‑a‑kind event, but it's going to be fun having the Asian countries and more ‑‑ I think it's eight countries represented, so it's a more worldwide representation. I think as we get closer to it, there will be some ‑‑ not trash talk, but I think we'll be joking around. It's such an honor to represent your team and your country, and I'm very good friends with some of my team members, so I'm definitely looking forward to playing with them, and we played quite a bit growing up, so it will definitely bring back some old memories.
THE MODERATOR: Inbee, you're also going to take part in that event and represent South Korea. As you've been watching the top 10 in the Rolex Rankings you've been at the top of it, but we've seen a lot of players moving up and it seems to be getting tighter and so many players are playing well. Does that make it tougher to be at No. 1 when you've got so many of these players that are playing well from different countries? What's that been like as you've been watching different players like Lydia and all of them keep moving up and getting closer to that top spot? Does that actually help you?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, I think the more players that come up to the top, the more players playing well, I think it definitely helps me to improve my game and improve myself, so I think it's always good to have a lot of players around you that are always pushing you. I mean, at the moment we're having a lot of players in the top 10 where they are very young and really good players coming up. I think it's really good for the Tour, also, that we get a lot of new players coming up and playing well. Obviously playing a lot of ‑‑ gaining a lot of tournaments in the U.S., I think it's a very good sign. We have a lot of tournaments internationally, but I think just to have diversity of tournaments in a lot of the countries, I think it's good.
And then International Crown obviously, it was very tough to qualify in our country. Team Korea is quite a tough country to qualify for, so I'm very honored to be representing my country and playing International Crown. I think it's going to be a really fun week and really good preparation for the Olympics.
Q. Did you come to Hawaii immediately after Kraft?
MICHELLE WIE: Yes, I got in Monday morning.
Q. What time did you get to the course?
MICHELLE WIE: I actually didn't really touch my clubs until Saturday, but I was out here at 6:30 in the morning on Saturday if that counts, but yeah, I just played it once.
Q. Michelle, you were so close last tournament. What did you take from that and how are you going to bring that with you this week?
MICHELLE WIE: It was just a lot of fun being in contention at a major event. I just had a lot of fun. I think that obviously last day puts a lot of pressure on you, a lot of high‑pressure situations. But I gained a lot of confidence from that, and definitely I'll use that in upcoming events.
THE MODERATOR: I know Michelle and Inbee and Lydia are already aware of this fun hula question that got asked last night, but this is a big part of this event. Does anyone want to share their hula tips, or is anyone nervous about the idea if you win this tournament doing the hula dance?
ANNA NORDQVIST: I think we should ask Ai. She did a pretty good job the year she won.
THE MODERATOR: I know it's an exciting event. I can't wait to see who's going to be hula'ing on Saturday and holding up that beautiful trophy we've been looking at. Thank you so much for joining us.