Lake Merced Golf Club
Daly City, Calif.
First Round Notes, Stats and Interviews
April 23, 2015
Rolex Rankings No. 1 Lydia Ko (-5)
Rolex Rankings No. 160 Juli Inkster (-4)
Rolex Rankings No. 21 Ha Na Jang (-4)
Rolex Rankings No. 258 P.K. Kongkraphan (-4)
Rolex Rankings No. 33 Morgan Pressel (-3)
Rolex Rankings No. 3 Stacy Lewis (-3)
Rolex Rankings No. 207 Brooke Henderson (-2)
A couple holes into the back nine, Stacy Lewis could only laugh when she shot a glance at the top of the leaderboard. There was Lydia Ko…again! The world No. 1 Ko, who beat Stacy here a year ago by a shot in her win, leads by one shot after the first round of the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic as the 17-year-old vies for her seventh career LPGA victory.
“I mean, it’s not surprising,” Lewis said. “You kind of have to laugh, but then you kind of don’t because you expect her to be there.”
Ko, who will turn 18 on Friday, is seemingly always up there on the leaderboard with seven top-10s in her first eight starts of 2015. She was pleased with the six birdie, one bogey effort Thursday but was more thrilled at the fact that she has a morning tee time on Friday and will be able to have a birthday dinner with friends.
“Holed some good putts and ended up with a 67 today,” Ko said. “It’s a really good start, but I know I’ve got three more long days to go. Hopefully I can continue hitting solid shots.”
It was a case of young and old Thursday. Juli Inkster, who at 54 years old is three times the age of Ko, is tied with P.K. Kongkraphan and Ha Na Jang at 4-under 68.
“I just think it’s really cool. We should take a picture and do a hashtag of a Throwback Thursday with her name out there on that leaderboard up there,” Lewis said of Inkster. “Just shows how good of a player she is. She gets what it takes to win out here and what it takes to play well.”
Lewis herself lit up the crowd on Thursday as well with a 3-under 69 that included a spectacular hole-out from the fairway on the 11th hole. She’s been working on ensuring that her hips don’t slide in the downswing but instead clear, and she felt like she finally got the move she was looking for on that shot.
“I just finally made a really good golf swing there,” Lewis said. “That’s the part I was most excited about is I made a really good swing and hit the shot I was trying to hit. Kind of just got some confidence going after that with that swing.”
NUMBERS TO KNOW
1 – Three players this week have a shot at ending the week ranked the No. 1 player in the world – Lydia Ko, Inbee Park and Stacy Lewis.
7 – Number of amateurs in the field is the most of any event this year.
12 – In her win a year ago, Lydia Ko finished at 12 under for the tournament after an opening-round 4-under 68.
14 – Ha Na Jang hit every fairway
17 – 17 Taiwanese players are in the field this week at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic
24 – Number of putts P.K. Kongkraphan needed in her first round 68.
68 – Inkster’s best round since the first round at the 2014 Portland Classic Presented by Cambia Health Solutions
82 – Highest round in Paula Creamer’s LPGA career
2011 – Last time Juli Inkster held at least a share of the lead after round one was the 2011 Lorena Ochoa Invitational, where she shot a 67 and finished the tournament in a tie for 4th.
HOST WITH THE MOST
Juli Inkster is one of the most popular players on the LPGA Tour and that popularity only rises when she returns to the Bay Area.
“I’ve got a lot, which is nice,” Inkster said of friends and family in attendance. “Good friends come up and support me. So free ticket, everybody wants a free ticket. Yeah, so it’s good.“
Inkster’s galleries figure to continue to grow if she keeps up the play that saw her shoot an opening round 68 to sit in a tie for second.
“It would be amazing,” Inkster said of what her first victory since 2006 would mean to her. “I mean, that would be the feat of the year. But it would be great. Who knows? 54 holes is a lot of golf, especially out here.”
Inkster has been extending the California love to fellow Tour players this week as Kristy McPherson, Kendall Dye, Dori Carter, Gerina Piller, and her husband, Martin, have been staying at Inkster’s house in Los Altos.
“I got a house full of girls staying with me this week. We been having fun and cooking in, and so it’s been very relaxed, very laid back.”
Defending Swinging Skirts champions Lydia Ko once again finds herself at the top of the leaderboard following an opening round 67. The six time LPGA Tour winner will look to add a seventh victory at one of her favorite courses, Lake Merced.
“This is a very tough golf course,” Ko said. “You need to position yourself well, and even if you’re on the fairway sometimes it’s really hard to hold it on the green. It’s really tough in pretty much all aspects. I hit the ball pretty good where I wasn’t in too much trouble. If I did miss it a little bit I kind of got away with it, too.”
Tomorrow is a big day for Ko as it’s her 18th birthday but don’t expect anything to change for the World No. 1.
“I won’t change it just because I’m one year older,” Ko said of her approach. “Really I’m only one day older tomorrow.”
ANOTHER YOUNGSTER MAKING NOISE
Lydia Ko isn’t the only teenager at the top of the leaderboard. 17-year-old Canadian Brooke Henderson, who turned professional to start 2015, fired a 2-under-par 70 to open the first round. Henderson proved her game was professional level a year ago with a 10th place finish at the U.S. Women’s Open as an amateur and has proven Ko’s not the only one with serious game beyond her years.
Henderson, the pride of Canadian women’s golf, has now made the cut in her last seven starts on the LPGA Tour but admits it’s cool to find herself in contention after the first round.
“I hit a lot of great shots out there and was able to make a few putts on the front nine,” Henderson said. “My back nine were all pars, which I can’t complain too much with conditions the way they were today. Would’ve liked to capitalize on a few more birdies. I am hoping I will get the chance the next couple days.”
Henderson’s early pro career has been spent bouncing back and forth between LPGA Monday qualifiers, a Epson Tour – Road to the LPGA event where she finished runner-up, and the Florida mini tours since turning professional but looks at home back on the LPGA Tour this week after getting a sponsor’s exemption into this event. She said the runner-up finish at the Epson Tour’s Florida’s Natural Charity Classic provided confidence that she made the right decision in turning professional. It made it even better who she tied with – her sister, Brittany Henderson, a recent graduate of Coastal Carolina who has just started pursuing her own professional career.
“It was fun and sort of funny, too. 144 players and we both finish second,” Brooke said.
They travel and live together, but Brittany is in Sarasota at the Epson Tour event. Both pursuing the same dream in different ways, and Brooke is enjoying the professional life thus far.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s always been my dream to turn professional and one day to play full time on the LPGA Tour,” Brooke said. “I am working my way towards that by playing a mixture of tours, some mini-tour stuff, Epson and LPGA. So it’s been a mixture of things, but it’s been fun.”
And her goal is simple – the Olympics and avoiding as many stages of LPGA Qualifying School as possible.
“Trying to make as much money out here and move up my world golf ranking so that I either give myself a good chance going into Q School or I can skip Q School altogether,” Brooke said. “That would be awesome!
LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING HELPING PRESSEL
Morgan Pressel’s string of solid golf continued today when she posted a 3-under round of 69 to sit in a tie for fifth at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic Presented by CTBC.
“I mean, everything is really solid, but my driver putting me in play has eased the rest of the game,” Pressel said.
After a slow start to her season, Pressel has been playing some great golf in the past few weeks with three-consecutive top-20 finishes including a solo third at the ANA Inspiration.
“I mean, it’s a little bit of everything,” Pressel said of what’s made the difference this season. “I mean, I’ve kind of definitely noticed a difference since I put the new Chrome Soft Ball in play. I mean, my swing, like I said, I’m swinging more confidently at it, so that combination of a little bit more speed and a different golf ball I think has helped. Just over the last couple years, dog a lot of yoga has helped my strength. Those three things combined have all helped.”
HA NA JANG BACK IN CONTENTION
Ha Na Jang’s not been particularly pleased with her recent form - a tie for 41st and a tie for 46th at the ANA Inspiration and Lotte Championship – but as a whole, her rookie year has been about as smooth of sailing as one could hope for as a rookie with three top-10s. She’s currently 12th in the Race to the CME Globe, 13th in scoring average (70.82), and 14th on the money list.
“I think really worst scores are the last week, Hawaii, and then the other tournament,” Jang said. “But no miss cuts, but scores really bad. So I am practice, practice, focus my iron. So really good this week. I’m changing irons right now, so really good.”
The practice showed on Thursday as Jang fired a first-round 4-under-par 68 that was more reminiscent of the form she showed early in the season when she finished in the top-10 in three of her first five LPGA starts as a rookie.
“It’s pretty good. Better than last week,” Jang said with a laugh.
It’s Jang’s jovial nature that stands out about her even more than her game so far. Everything Jang does, she does with a smile. Although she hasn’t had an English tutor with her, she’s learned the language through Disney movies and YouTube videos. Her caddie, Dave Stone, teaches her English phrases and she teaches him Korean. Four months in Stone jokes that her English is even better than his now.
“I think it’s really, really everything I enjoy,” Jang said. “New world, new tournament, new golf course. Everything is new.”
“She’s funny as hell,” LPGA veteran Christina Kim said, who has gotten to know her through the Rookie Pod System.
“She’s fearless, not just with the way she plays golf but with the way she takes on and tackles life. She’ll go out and do things that are potentially scary. When you go to a new country you don’t speak the language, but she’ll go out around town and immerse herself in the culture, which is something that I really admire.”
On the course, Kim said Jang’s demeanor remains her of Lydia Ko’s the way she never shows whether she’s five over or five under. And although many players on Tour would kill for the form Jang’s shown thus far, she knows it’ll take more to accomplish her ultimate goal – to represent Korea in the 2016 Olympics.
With a Rolex Women’s World Golf Ranking of 21, Jang would be a shoe in in every country except Korea and the United States. But Jang’s from a country that’s currently has eight players in the top 20. And although Korea was comfortable and she was a star on the KLPGA, Jang knew to achieve her goal she’d need to come compete against the world’s best on a weekly basis to have a chance of climbing into the Korean contingent for the Summer Games.
“It’s my big target,” Jang said. “I think in Korea every player is thinking about the Olympics.”
It’s also Sei Young Kim, Hyo Joo Kim, and Q Baek’s target – three other rookies on the LPGA Tour that all rank in the top 20 in the world. Sei Young and Hyo Joo have already won this year on the LPGA Tour, and Sei Young currently leads the Rolex Player of the Year and Rolex Rookie of the Year standings on the LPGA Tour. But she made it clear in her Wednesday press conference that she could care less about those standings.
“You know, I really haven’t thought much about both categories,” Sei Young said through a translator. “My main objective in coming to the LPGA in the States sis to be top in the world rankings. That would get me into playing in the Olympics in 2016.”
Jang’s known Sei Young for years, and the two were rivals on the course in Korea but the best of friends off of it. That’s why Jang knows she’s got her work cut out for her and needs to return to the form she showed by finishing in the top 10 in three of her first five LPGA starts. Although every win by her friends puts her further from her dream, she was still thrilled last Sunday watching as Sei Young issued the most thrilling finish golf’s seen to date in 2015, chipping in for par at the last and holing her eagle from the fairway at the first playoff hole.
“Last week was really awesome. I’m watching TV, so first 18, No. 18, Oh my god!” Jang said. “Really nice chipping. And then really nice eagle, right? Sei Young and I practice round together Monday and I said ‘You really that shot, that playoff?’”
If Jang keeps up this form, she could have her own seminal moment on Sunday.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
”Juli is a legend, a Hall of Famer. It’s so cool that she still plays well at her age. That’s why I think golf is a great sport. It doesn’t matter if you’re 10 or 20 or if you’re 60, everybody can play.” - Lydia Ko on Juli Inkster