After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the TOTO Japan Classic is returning to the LPGA schedule this week. The 72-hole event boasts a $2 million purse with no cut contested by a field of 42 of LPGA’s best and 36 JLPGA players. Started in 1973, the TOTO Japan Classic will celebrate its 50th playing on the Seta Golf Course.
45th Anniversary Highlights
Through 45 playings, the TOTO Japan Classic has seen the LPGA’s finest hoist its trophy. Two of World Golf Hall of Famer Betsy King’s 34 LPGA wins came at this event in 1992 and 1993. From 2001 to 2005, undisputed legend Annika Sorenstam was unbeatable at the event. Set in 2003, Sorenstam’s 24-under par 192 scoring record – which included two rounds of 63 – still stands. Shanshan Feng, the first player from China to reach world No. 1, won in 2017 and successfully defended her title in 2018. The TOTO Japan Classic has crowned many LPGA legends as its champion, setting up an exciting precedent for the week to come.
The TOTO Japan Classic has rotated through a variety of courses in Japan since its inception in 1973. Since 2016, the event has alternated between the Seta Golf Course in Shiga and the Taiheiyo Club in Ibaraki. First visited by the TOTO Japan Classic in 1989, this week will mark the 14th playing of the event at the Seta Golf Course. The course was designed by Inoue Seiichi in 1967 and plays at just over 6,600 yards to a par 72.
A Slew of Defending Champions
While the event has not been played on the LPGA calendar since 2019, the TOTO Japan Classic was still played as part of the JLPGA regular season. So, there are two defending champions in the field this week: the LPGA defending champion, 2019 winner Ai Suzuki, and the JLPGA defending champion Ayaka Furue, who won in 2021.
Suzuki and Furue will hit the range with three other former champions: Jiyai Shin (2008, 2010, 2020), Nasa Hataoka (2018) and Momoko Ueda (2007, 2011). Suzuki’s 17-under par performance in 2019 was the 17-time JLPGA champion’s first win on the LPGA Tour. Furue, who is in her rookie season on the LPGA and became Rolex First-Time Winner at the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open, shot 16-under par to win in 2021.
A New No. 1
Monday, a new No. 1 was crowned in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. Atthaya Thitikul, the 19-year-old rookie from Thailand, unseated Korea’s Jin Young Ko, who had held her No. 1 spot for 38 weeks. Thitikul’s wins at the JTBC Classic presented by Barbasol and the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, in addition to a dozen more top-10 finishes, boosted the teenage phenom to the top.
At 19 years, 8 months and 11 days, Thitikul became just the second player under 20 to reach world No. 1, joining Lydia Ko who first ascended to world No. 1 at 17 years, 9 months and 9 days. Thitikul will launch her first defense of her No. 1 ranking at the TOTO Japan Classic.
Seven players still have a mathematical chance of winning Rolex Player of the Year honors. With her second win of the season at the BMW Ladies Championship last week, Lydia Ko took a slim one-point lead over Minjee Lee in the race. But Ko is not competing at the TOTO Japan Classic, leaving the door open for Lee or Thitikul, who currently sits in fourth with 129 points, to make a move with guaranteed money on the table.
Lee and Thitikul are also in contention for the Vare Trophy, where they are also playing catch up against Ko, the Aon Risk Reward Challenge, Lee and Thitikul sit at first and second respectively, and the Money Title.