The 2015 Coates Golf Championship Presented by R&L Carriers was a big boost for a number of players.
For Na Yeon Choi and Lydia Ko, it was a chance to enjoy some Sunday glory.
Last year, Choi stayed strong while Ko double-bogeyed the 17th hole, finishing a stroke ahead of the talented teen along with Jessica Korda and Ha Na Jang. Even though she missed out on the tournament title, Ko’s performance a year ago was enough to help her become the youngest world No. 1 in women’s golf history.
Choi, a former top-ranked player, ended a winless streak of more than two years and relieved a bit of pressure off her shoulders in the process. She would go on to win again in 2015 and finish 17th on the money list.
“I know they have a lot of expectations from me because they think I’m a good player, so they always want me being a champion and win a tournament,” Choi said after last year’s triumph. “But this is golf and there’s like more than 30 tournaments a year. And still last year I missed the cut twice, but that was the most I have in like the last seven years and they think I got like a slump.”
Choi and Ko did not tee it up in the Bahamas last week and therefore are making their 2016 debuts at Golden Ocala (Fla.) Golf and Equestrian Club. They will be joined in the stellar field with Hyo Joo Kim, who kicked off the season with a $210,000 win on Sunday after finishing two strokes clear of two-time Rolex Player of the Year Stacy Lewis, Anna Nordqvist and Sei Young Kim.
Dean Herden, who caddied for Hyo Joo Kim in the Bahamas, said her experience paid dividends in the island paradise.
“Calm as a cucumber,” Herden said of Hyo Joo Kim’s demeanor down the stretch on Sunday. “She’s just so used to winning. I mean, she’s won so many times in Korea that she’s very comfortable when she’s on top of the leaderboard.”
Ilhee Lee, Pornanong Phatlum and Paula Creamer finished strong in the Bahamas, tying for fifth place, and will all be in Ocala this week. There, they’ll tee it up on the par-72, 6,541-yard course with the likes of major champions Brittany Lincicome, In Gee Chun and Suzann Pettersen.
One multiple-time major winner who will not be in action this week is world No. 2 Inbee Park, who withdrew from last week’s event with a back injury after an opening-round 80. That was the second-worst score of her illustrious career, but Park hopes to be back for the Tour’s fourth event of the season, in Thailand Feb. 25-28.
“I’ve always had a little lower back problem, and some weeks it just gets bit worse and today happened to be one of those days,” Park said after the WD. “Hopefully in Thailand, I’ll be in really good shape!”