This week at the TOTO JAPAN CLASSIC will mark the first time that Mi Hyang Lee will return to an LPGA event as a defending champion.
“I’m trying to not think of being defending champion,” Lee admitted. “A lot of people say congratulations defending champ and welcome back. It’s a little pressure but not much. I’m just trying to play my game. Last week, my play was a little bad so I’m trying to do my best this week. I want to play better than last week.”
While Lee may be trying to avoiding thinking of being the defending champion the reminders are everywhere at Kintestsu Kashikojima Country Club.
“When I saw my victory picture next to the player dining room it was great,” Lee said with a smile. “When I got to the 18th hole teeing ground it felt strange because I can remember everything. When I walked the 18th holes it feels like I can remember everything from last year. I remember all of the good things.”
It's no surprise that Lee would remember the 18th hole, in last year’s event she, Ilhee Lee, and Kotono Kozuma of the JLPGA played five playoff holes before Lee stuffed her 3-hybrid approach shot from 190-yards to tap-in birdie range and the victory.
While her 3-hybird was certainly memorable, Lee points towards a separate moment in the playoff that sticks out most in her mind.
“On the third playoff hole when we made every birdie putt,” Lee remembered. “That moment is the best of the best. Maybe one of the best moments of my life.”
The trio parred the first two playoff holes before an exciting third playoff hole that saw all three competitors make long birdie putts with the shortest being Mi Hyang Lee’s at 25 feet to keep the three-person playoff rolling.
The group exchanged pars again on the 4th playoff hole before Mi Hyang delivered the dagger 3-hybrid and tapped in for her victory.
Lee, who ranks 31st in the Rolex Rankings, will focus on one key part of her game in her effort to repeat this week.
“Last year I putted really good so the key point for me is good putting.”
Stacy Lewis Eyes Top-3 In Race To CME Globe
Stacy Lewis enters the TOTO JAPAN CLASSIC in third place in the latest Race to the CME Globe points race. The third place ranking is significant as players who are ranked in the top-3 following the Lorena Ochoa Invitational will control their own destiny and would earn $1 million with a win at the CME Group Tour Championship.
“The whole goal in Asia for me was to be in the top-3 going into CME,” Lewis said. “I want to be able to control my own destiny there. I’ve played well on that golf course so that’s kind of the focus going into the end of the year. The key is to keep yourself up there and that takes playing well and finishing high on the leaderboards. Winning tournaments would obviously be nice but I’m just not trying to put a lot of focus on that right now and just focus on playing some good golf.”
Lewis, who has an impressive 13 top-10 finishes this year, will enter the event with momentum coming off a runner-up showing at the Blue Bay LPGA last weekend and will look to recapture the magic of her 2012 victory in Japan.
“On this golf course it’s about hitting greens,” Lewis explained. “The rough is dormant Bermuda and it’s just pretty tough so you’ve got to hit a lot of greens. Obviously, having success on it I know certain places where to hit it and where not to. I think I have some more course knowledge than some of the other girls so I like coming back to a place where I have good memories of basically clinching Player of the Year here in 2012 so good memories and glad to be back in Japan.”
Lexi Thompson Ready For Japan Debut
Lexi Thompson is making her first trip to Japan for this week’s TOTO JAPAN CLASSIC.
“It’s beautiful here,” Thompson said. “I’m really excited to be here and get this tournament started.”
Thompson arrived at Kashikojima late Monday night but has already gotten in 36 holes between a Tuesday practice round and her pro-am on Wednesday.
“The course is in really good shape,” Thompson explained. “The greens are rolling pretty fast. It plays a lot different when it’s windy but it’s in good shape for us. The fairways are a pretty generous on a few of the holes but the shots into the greens are fairly difficult. The iron shots into the greens are definitely the key.”
The No. 4 player in the world will look to take advantage of her length this week at Kintestsu Kashikojima Country Club.
“I’ve hit driver on every hole out on this golf course so I like that and then it’s mid-irons from there so I’m going to work on that tomorrow to get ready for Friday.”
After taking the past two weeks off, Thompson is ready to get back out on the course.
“I’m feeling good so far,” Thompson said. “A little bit jet lagged but I’ve got a day and half left so I’m sure I’ll be able to catch up.”