Hinako Shibuno said she made it her goal to represent her country at the TOTO Japan Classic as an LPGA Tour Member. Shibuno played in the event in 2020 and 2021 as a JLPGA Member, when it was not a co-sanctioned tournament with the LPGA Tour, and finished T30 and T7, respectively. But it was her start in 2019 that seems to stand out from the rest. She finished in a tie for 13th in her third-ever LPGA Tour event, and her second start since she had won her maiden major championship at the AIG Women’s Open. The “Smiling Cinderella,” a 2022 Tour rookie after qualifying through 2021 LPGA Q-Series, is back at Seta Golf Course from what seems like a lifetime ago for the now 23-year-old from Okayama.
“When I played this tournament in 2019, most members from the US were not familiar with me. I only knew some of them whom I saw on TV,” said Shibuno to media on Tuesday. “However, I know most of the players for this year. So, I could say ‘Welcome to Japan’ to them.”
Shibuno, who ranks No. 33 in the Race to the CME Globe after five top-10 finishes this season, has found her stride as of late in her play on both the LPGA and JLPGA. Shibuno, who missed four cuts in five events during the month of September on the LPGA Tour, turned it around in October with a tie for eighth at the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship and a T19 result at the BMW Ladies Championship. She’s more recently coming off a week on the JLPGA at the Mitsubishi Electric/Hisako Higuchi Ladies Golf Tournament, where she secured a T9 finish, her first top-10 result on the JLPGA since her start in the 2021 TOTO. Shibuno, who said she remembers playing Seta Golf Course in her junior golf days, will be focused on putting this week, and hopes to carry her momentum from last week in Saitama to another opportunity on Tour in Shiga.
“The slope on the green is pretty tight. this week,” said Shibuno. “So, it might be a key to have uphill putting as much as possible.”