Putter Change Propels Park to Top
Monday, Inbee Park made a change. After what she described as a horrible putting week at last week’s LOTTE Championship in Hawaii, Park switched from the blade-style putter she used for the last month and won with in March, back to the Odyssey 2-Ball that brought her success throughout her career.
“Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones, and I wasn't really comfortable with the putter,” Park said Thursday. “I just wanted to have a different look, so I just changed it.”
The switch paid off.
Thursday at the inaugural HUGEL-JTBC LA Open, Park carded an opening round 5-under par, 66 to take the outright lead at Wilshire Country Club. The LPGA Tour Hall of Famer holds a one stroke lead ahead of Marina Alex at 4-under par. A large group sits just two strokes back at 3-under par, including major champions Pernilla Lindberg and Lexi Thompson, Caroline Inglis, Aditi Ashok, Moriya Jutanugarn, Eun-Hee Ji and Emma Talley.
“I played really well out there. Especially being the new golf course. I didn't know how it was going to play,” Park said after her round. “The course played really good. Really suited me. I putted really well out there, so I was really happy with that.”
In was an uncharacteristically cool and rainy morning in Los Angeles, but the rain subsided just as Park began her early morning round. She made it around in 28 putts and led the morning wave by two. Earlier this week, Park gushed about enjoying the nearby Koreatown and Thursday was amazed at the outpouring of support.
“I never played a tournament outside of Korea having this much Korean supporters out,” Park said. “I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.”
Park tees off Friday afternoon at 1:06 p.m. local time alongside Lexi Thompson and Anna Nordqvist.
Alex Again In The Hunt
Thursday, Marina Alex continued trending towards her first victory on the LPGA Tour with the low round of the afternoon. She posted a 4-under par, 67 to sit just one-stroke back of leader Inbee Park.
Alex got off to a hot start. She started with back-to-back birdies and added three more, off-set by one bogey, to make the turn in 31. She climbed into a tie at the top with Park at 5-under par, but found the hazard at the par 4, 17th hole and dropped back to solo second. What the scores don’t tell are the number of incredible putts Alex drained on Thursday, including a 40-footer for birdie at the par 5, 2nd hole and a critical 10-footer at the par 3, 18th hole to get up and down from the bunker to remain just one back of the lead.
“I putted really, really well today,” Alex said after her round. “I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make.”
Since joining the LPGA Tour in 2013, Alex has 13 career top 10s. Half of those came in 2017. Now, for the third time in 2018, Alex has put herself again in position to win for the first time on the LPGA Tour. Last month, Alex finished a career best T2 at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup after a T5 finish in February in Australia.
Getting into contention has been a learning process for Alex, who uses breathing techniques and self-talk to work through the nerves of trying to win for the first time on Tour.
“I'm way more aware when I'm kind of getting a little bit anxious, wound up. I kind of like am just, ‘Okay, this has happened so many times.’ Time to step back and not get myself into that place, into that head space. I'm managing it a lot better than my first few years on tour, so I think that's helped contribute to a little bit more consistent finishes.”
Don’t Jinx It
Taking the last two weeks off helped Lexi Thompson. She spent time with friends and family, but she also worked hard on her game. During her time off, the Rolex Rankings’ No. 2 remembered a key to her putting. Something she had forgot to do. She put it back in play Thursday in her first competitive round at Wilshire Country Club, where she carded a 3-under par, 68 to sit two-back of leader Inbee Park.
So, what was it that Thompson discovered?
“I don't want to jinx it,” said Thompson, who wouldn’t share the tip. But she did give a few hints as to what helped her with her putting on Thursday.
“I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year. I'm definitely rolling it a lot better. There is more of a roll to my putts now.”
While Thompson was happy with her opening round of 68, she could have been happier. Despite hitting 16 of 18 greens, the top-ranked American says her ball striking wasn’t up to her standards on a course that puts a premium on shot placement. She often hit 3-wood rather than driver off the tee to better navigate the tight layout and plentiful bunkers.
“It's a placement golf course, just getting in the fairways. The greens are definitely a little bit softer, so it's all about controlling your spin into the green,” Thompson said. “It definitely suited my eye. I like it. Hopefully have a good next few days.”
Alex's Post-Round Interview