Qualifying for the LPGA Tour's Asian Swing of fall events is a tantalizing target for the best players in the women's game, who know that the likeliest route to get there is either via winning or producing consistent golf throughout the season.
The benefits are plentiful. These are limited-field events with no cut and therefore they offer guaranteed prize money. On top of that, they are generally played in exotic locations where the players are looked after extremely well. For Marina Alex, the late Asian Swing provides a silver lining for those who have played well enough during the LPGA Tour season to get in via the money list.
"It's a nice bonus for the players who are playing well to be able to come out here and play these cool venues and to get to see different cities," American Alex told LPGA.com after carding a three-over 75 in the second round of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship at SKY72 Golf & Resort. "The stress is a little less than the grind from week to week, and the travel is relatively easy once you are over here so it's a very nice end-of-the-year treat. And this week is a really great event."
Alex, who clinched a long-awaited first LPGA Tour victory at the Cambia Portland Classic last month after several close calls in recent years, loves the Ocean Course at SKY72 Golf & Resort and she creditably placed fifth in last year's LPGA KEB HanaBank Championship - on her debut appearance in the Asian Swing’s opening event.
"That was my first time here and I had a really good week," said the 28-year-old from Wayne in New Jersey. "I do like this golf course but I struggled a bit today, just not scoring great. But it's a good set-up for me. I played consistent golf last year as well, had a lot of top-10s and a couple of top-threes, and had a pretty nice finish at the U.S. Open last year. I finished 11th, which is quite a big chunk of money, so that really propelled me up the money list to get into these Asia events at the end of the year."
Alex, who was twice named SEC Player of the Year while competing as an amateur at Vanderbilt University, will certainly never forget her breakthrough victory on the LPGA Tour. She ended up winning the Cambia Portland Classic by four shots over Ricoh Women’s British Open champion Georgia Hall, after erasing a six-stroke deficit in the final round.
"I felt if I just kept giving myself opportunities I would figure it out and figure out how to finish on top, which I was fortunate enough that I did," said Alex, who had hinted at what was to come in Portland by finishing joint second at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in March and then third at the ShopRite Classic in June. "The circumstance probably helped a little bit, just coming from behind and going out there and just playing free and trying to shoot the best round that I could that day."
Alex began her week in Portland in stunning fashion, firing a 10-under 62 in the opening round, then signed off in impressive style with a closing 65 after carding a pair of 71s in the middle rounds.
"That 62 was really cool but it was kind of tough because that was such a special first round and then it was a little difficult to back that up," she said, while walking toward the practice range at SKY72 Golf & Resort to work on her game ahead of Saturday's third round. "Every day after that kind of felt like you just weren't playing that great, even though I was playing fine. It's just that when you shoot 10 under in one round it's kind of difficult to go out the next day and shoot another really low one. So I think overall the whole week just kind of set up well for me."
Asked how much that Cambia Portland Classic victory had changed her life and her career, Alex replied: "I don't think it has changed my career a ton other than the fact that I had a goal that I always wanted and I was able to achieve it. That gives me an incredible amount of satisfaction and joy and I'm just proud that I was really able to do that. Not everyone has a goal like that in mind and not everyone is able to achieve it in their career and so to be able to do it, even if it's just one time, it's special to me and I will have that with me forever.
"But in terms of changing my life, I still have a lot of other goals I want to reach and we play out on this Tour and there's so many incredible players so I have things I need to improve on to get better and better and hopefully reach an even higher level with my golf before I'm done playing."
Meanwhile, there are also the immediate benefits of an LPGA Tour victory to consider.
"It's really cool that a win can get you into the limited-field events in Asia at the end of the season and also the new tournament that we are having to start the 2019 season, the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions," said Alex, who is the first player from Vanderbilt to win on the LPGA Tour. "It's awesome to be able to play in that. It's exciting, an inaugural event and to be able to be in a small field like that is really cool."
The inaugural Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions will be held from Jan. 17-20 next year at Tranquilo Golf Club at Four Seasons Resort Orlando in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Winners from the last two LPGA seasons, along with numerous celebrities and fan favorites, will gather in Central Florida to compete for a $1.2 million purse.