LPGA PLAYS IN WORLD’S BEST GOLFING NATION
Team Republic of Korea claimed victory on home soil and the country earned the title of ‘best golfing nation in the world’ due to their stellar performance at last week’s UL International Crown.
Two members of that triumphant team, Sung Hyun Park and In Gee Chun, will be back in action this week and they will be joined by 18 others from the 32-player field last week who are returning to compete at the 2018 LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship, marking the first official week of the LPGA Tour’s fall swing of events in Asia.
Past champions in the field this week include Amy Yang (2013), Lexi Thompson (2015), Carlota Ciganda (2016) and defending champion Jin Young Ko.
JOY, AND RELIEF, FOR SUNG HYUN AFTER TEAM KOREA'S VICTORY IN THE UL INTERNATIONAL CROWN
Rolex Rankings No. 1 Sung Hyun Park heads into this week's LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship with feelings of both joy and relief after she and her teammates gave golf fans in the Republic of Korea a Sunday to savor with an impressive victory two days ago in the 2018 UL International Crown at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea.
Team Korea held off the challenge of England and the United States to triumph by four points with an overall total of 15 as Korea banished memories of close calls at the first two editions of the UL International Crown - third place in 2014 and second in 2016.
"As we were preparing for the International Crown, I did feel a lot of pressure, but the fans were out there supporting us, so I think that was what drove team Korea to victory," fan favorite Park said while preparing for Thursday's opening round on the Ocean Course at SKY72 Golf & Resort. "And now that it's all over, I feel a great sense of relief, and looking back on last week, I think we had a lot of fun. As for the event this week, it's my sponsor's tournament and I'm really feeling good. I feel like I'm in good form, so hopefully I will do good this week."
Asked how Team Korea had celebrated their long anticipated first victory at the UL International Crown, Park replied with a soft smile: "We did not have time to celebrate together as a team. I actually went to bed pretty early (on Sunday)."
Park will now switch her focus back to individual stroke-play this week as she seeks her fourth LPGA Tour victory of the year on a layout where she has twice finished runner-up in the past three years. Yet despite her success on the Ocean Course, she feels she has never taken full advantage of the par-five holes.
"With this course, I always thought that the par-fives were shorter, but if you look at my past performance, I haven't done very well on the par-fives here," said the long-hitting Park. "That's something I really want to work on, so this year I'm going to change my strategy a bit and hopefully go for more birdies and eagles on the par-five holes."
ADMIRATION MORE THAN RIVALRY BETWEEN PARK AND JUTANUGARN
No. 1 Sung Hyun Park and no. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn found themselves going head-to-head on the final day of the UL International Crown in the concluding singles matches. After chipping in for eagle in the sudden-death playoff to secure the fifth-place spot for Team Thailand, Jutanugarn won that high-profile encounter 2 up but she had to deal with a great deal of pressure and massive home support for Park, courtesy of the Korean’s sea of Namdalla (“I am Different”) fans.
“I feel like [Park] inspires me a lot. She hits the driver so good. When I see her hit driver, I feel like I wanted to hit like her. She hits really straight and really long. I feel like I don't see any weaknesses from her game at all,” Jutanugarn said of her competitor’s form.
Park has held the no. 1 spot for seven consecutive weeks, closely followed by Jutanugarn, who is held in high regard by the Korean. Yet apart from their mouth-watering UL International Crown match-up, Park has never given their ‘rivalry’ much thought.
“I couldn't really see any weakness from Ariya,” said Park. “She's a known long hitter, so I knew that I could expect that from her, but her short game (at the UL International Crown) was phenomenal, so just playing with her, I learned a lot. I think that's why we had a lot of fun out there.”
Jutanugarn and Park lead the LPGA Tour’s standings for the most wins this season with three apiece, and they have each won a major title this year, Jutanugarn claiming the U.S. Women’s Open presented by the USGA and Park landing the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
BROOKE HENDERSON EXCITED TO GET SWINGING
CP Women’s Open champion Brooke Henderson is no stranger to earning a national victory in front of huge home crowd support and she is excited to be in South Korea this week after watching Team Republic of Korea win the 2018 UL International Crown. Henderson is the fourth player this season to win in her home country.
“That was pretty exciting to watch,” said Henderson about the UL International Crown. “Winning on home soil for me in Canada, it was amazing, something that I thought about since I was a little girl, and to finally be able to do it was really incredible. I'm just really excited to be back here in Korea. I had a really good finish last year.”
Touching down in South Korea where women’s golf has a substantial following, the 20-year-old Canadian champion commended the success and high level of competitiveness which the South Korean golfers bring to the global Tour.
“There's definitely been a huge influence of Korean golfers in the women's game,” said Henderson. “I think just overall the whole Tour has had to get better to be able to compete. The Tour has to grow with them, and it just happens to be that there's tons of Korean players that are very good and very talented that the rest of the world has to keep up with.”
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE LPGA KEB HANA BANK CHAMPIONSHIP
- This is the 17th edition of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship event
- The tournament was first held in 2002, hosted by The Club at Nine Bridges on Jeju Island where LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame member Se Ri Pak won the inaugural title
- For the first 12 editions, the event was played over 54 holes before being increased to 72 holes in 2014 when Q Baek triumphed in a playoff with Brittany Lincicome and In Gee Chun, sealing victory with a birdie on the first extra hole
- The Club at Nine Bridges was the tournament venue from 2002-2005, then Mauna Ocean Golf & Resort played host in 2006 and 2007 before the Ocean Course at SKY72 Golf & Resort took over in 2008
LPGA KEB HANA BANK CHAMPIONSHIP IS LAP 27 IN RACE TO THE CME GLOBE
This week’s LPGA KEB HANA BANK CHAMPIONSHIP marks the 27th lap of the 2018 Race to the CME Globe. Ariya Jutanugarn continues to sit atop the standings with 3,512 points, followed by Minjee Lee with 2,538 points. Brooke Henderson sits third with 2,514 points, followed by Sung Hyun Park (2,088 points) and So Yeon Ryu (2,043 points).
Throughout the season’s official events, LPGA Members will battle for position, with the top 12 players after the Blue Bay LPGA heading into the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship with the opportunity to take home a $1 million bonus, the biggest prize in women’s golf.
All tournaments have the same point values except for the five major championships, which carry 25 percent more value. For all events with a cut, points are awarded to members who make the cut, while for events without a cut, points are awarded to members who finish in the top 40 and ties.
Points will be reset for the CME Group Tour Championship following the Blue Bay LPGA, with the top 72 LPGA Members, as well as any non-Member winners and alternates, seeded into the championship field. For the top five players, it’s easy – win the CME Group Tour Championship and take home $1 million. However, the top 12 in the points race all have a mathematical chance to take the title of Race to the CME Globe Champion and win the coveted check.
In 2017, Lexi Thompson became the first American winner of the Race to the CME Globe and the accompanying $1 million prize. She joined Lydia Ko (2014, 2015) and Ariya Jutanugarn (2016) as the only players to hoist the crystal trophy.