NAPLES, FLA. - Before the first shots of the final event of the LPGA Tour season, the CME Group Tour Championship, were struck, several players announced their intentions for 2020. Among them was one of the year’s most popular major champions.
Hinako Shibuno, the “Smiling Cinderella” who captivated fans with her victory at the AIG Women’s British Open, has chosen not to accept 2020 LPGA Tour Membership, deciding to stay at home in Japan and prepare her game for a possible LPGA Tour run in 2021.
“I am not taking up LPGA Tour Membership for 2020 and will continue to play on the JLPGA next year. But I will try to play in the majors and any other LPGA Tour events where I’m eligible in preparation to play on the world stage,” Shibuno told Japanese media this week. “The best-case scenario is that (I win again in 2020 and) don’t have to go through Q Series, but if necessary, I may go to Q Series (next fall). That is my plan at the moment.”
Two other 2019 LPGA Tour winners have also decided not to join the LPGA Tour in 2020. Ha Na Jang, who won the inaugural BMW Ladies Championship at LPGA International Busan in the Republic of Korea, decided to stay home to be near her family in Seoul. Jang is a five-time LPGA Tour winner who moved back to Korea in 2016 and has been playing the KLPGA Tour regularly for the last three years. “I want to stay near home, near my mother,” the 27-year-old Jang said shortly after defeating Danielle Kang in a playoff in Busan.
Japan’s Ai Suzuki, who won in her homeland at the TOTO Japan Classic, has also decided to stay home and play the JLPGA Tour in 2020.
“After much thought and consideration, I have decided not to take up LPGA Membership in 2020 at this time,” Suzuki said. “Playing on the LPGA Tour has been one of my dreams since I was in junior high so I was really thinking about whether or not I should take (the exemption) until the very last minute. However, I had a few injures this season (left thumb and wrist) and I have another concern about my physical condition. And I do not feel as though I have enough time to select my team. So, I feel like I’m not ready for the U.S. Yet. In 2020, I will continue to play the JLPGA as member and will try to play the majors and other LPGA Tour events if I could get exemptions.”
The LPGA Tour will be welcoming one more of the 2019 Q Series qualifiers early in the year. Andrea Lee, the former No.1-ranked amateur in the world, has chosen to begin her LPGA Tour career in January 2020, forgoing the deferral option the LPGA provides to college players.
“I am incredibly excited to announce my decision to turn professional and compete on the LPGA (Tour) in 2020,” Lee wrote in an Instagram post. “I cannot wait to pursue my lifelong dream of playing amongst the best in the world. Thank you to everyone who has supported me along the way. I’m thrilled to start my professional career and am very proud to call myself a lifelong Cardinal and member of the Stanford Women’s Golf team.”
Lee’s Stanford teammate, Albane Valenzuela, also announced that she will join the LPGA Tour early in 2020.