Embarking on the whirlwind, worldwide trek that is the LPGA Tour schedule requires physical, mental, and emotional preparation. And for some players who spent last season journeying around the globe, with stops in nearly a dozen countries in the span of a year, the two-month off-season just wasn’t enough time to regroup, so they chose to make their 2023 season debut next week.
Nine of the top 10 in the Rolex Rankings are slated to compete at the Honda LPGA Thailand, the second stop on the LPGA’s schedule. The tournament comes four weeks removed from the season opener at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions. Five of the top 10 in the world will make their first starts of the season in Thailand, including Lydia Ko, Minjee Lee, Atthaya Thitikul, Jin Young Ko, and In Gee Chun.
Top-ranked Lydia Ko is coming off a career season in which she won three times in route to capturing the Rolex Player of the Year and Vare Trophy, in addition to returning to the top of the world rankings. Ko capped off that incredible season with a personal highlight as she tied the knot in December and embarked on a honeymoon that kept her from competing at the tour’s season opener. Next week, the world No. 1 will compete in Thailand for the first time since 2019.
Minjee Lee is also preparing to make her season debut after a prolonged off season. Lee, who is currently ranked No. 3 in the world, is coming off a banner season in which she picked up her second career major at the U.S. Women’s Open and was named winner of the season-long AON Risk Reward Challenge. Lee finished T12 in Thailand last year.
Thailand’s own Atthaya Thitikul makes her first start of the year in her home country in an event that holds a special place in her career. It was at the Honda LPGA Thailand where a 14-year-old Thitikul made her LPGA debut in 2017 and finished an impressive T34. The reigning Rolex Player of the Year is coming off a busy off season in which she often posted peeks on Instagram at the sessions she puts in with her coach as well as her intense workouts in the gym.
Current world No. 5 Jin Young Ko, who extended her time off between seasons to continue rehabbing a nagging wrist injury, is poised to compete next week. In Gee Chun, who won her third major championship at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in 2022, will make her season debut in Thailand as the No. 8-ranked player in the world. She spent her time off hard at work, not as much on her game but on an art exhibition she created.
Jessica Korda is another notable player who is making a return to competition. Korda missed the final two events of 2022 due to a back injury and has been working her way back into form over the last six weeks. In Thailand in 2018, Korda made a similar return after a prolonged break in which she underwent extensive jaw surgery and won in her first event back in action.
Stacy Lewis will also make a rare trip to Asia to compete in Thailand as she has limited her playing schedule outside the United States since the birth of her daughter. Lewis, who is both the 2023 and 2024 U.S. Solheim Cup captain, said upon the announcement of her second captaincy that she will play in Asia in order to free herself up later in the season to juggle her Solheim Cup responsibilities.
With all that is required from players week-in and week-out in order to travel the world competing on the LPGA Tour, some players needed a little extra time to prepare for the demands that come with another season. And while fans might have had to wait a little longer to see some of their favorites return to competition, the wait will no doubt be worth it as the best players in the world will soon square off in Thailand.