Warm, calming breezes, palm trees and the sweet smell of flowers in the air greet the LPGA this week in Oahu, Hawaii, as the Tour returns from a week off.
A group of 144 of the world’s best are set to do battle in the $1.7 million LPGA LOTTE Championship Presented by J Golf at Ko Olina Golf Club. The par-72, 6,383-yard course presented a birdie-fest last year, as Suzann Pettersen won with a 19-under-par total after carding four rounds in the 60s.
Pettersen said last week via social media that she is feeling better as she continues to rehab her ailing back after being forced to withdraw from the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the Kia Classic, but she will be unable to defend her title. Ai Miyazato, who won the inaugural LOTTE Championship in 2012, will be a player to keep track of.
She will have her hands full with most of the top-ranked stars also in the field, including world No. 1 Inbee Park. Lydia Ko, So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng, Paula Creamer and 2014 two-time winner Anna Nordqvist are other names that should be taking up spots high on the leaderboard.
This week’s event is unique, as it features a Wednesday start and Saturday finish, giving players an extra day to soak up the sun and enjoy the majesty of the United States’ tropical wonderland. Sponsored by the multifaceted Korean company LOTTE, the Hawaiian stop has been a highlight for players the past two years.
The scoreboard should be red with birdies – especially if the Hawaiian winds are calm – and fans can expect big swings from top to bottom as players jostle for position on the picturesque course. Last year’s event produced a playoff between Pettersen and Lizette Salas, who carded a career-low 62 in the final round.
Salas hit her approach on the 18th on the first sudden-death hole into the water short of the green, and Pettersen took home the title. Salas will be back to make another run at the winner’s trophy, and perhaps she has another 62 in her bag.
This week’s tournament kicks off a three-week swing for the LPGA that also includes a new event in San Francisco, followed by a tournament in north Texas that was added to the Tour’s lineup just a year ago. Time will tell who will wear the lei and get to perform the traditional champions’ hula dance, and luckily the Golf Channel will have all the action from start to finish.