Top Koreans assemble for the LPGA Tour's second major
The long awaited ANA Inspiration, the second major tournament on the LPGA Tour, will finally tee off at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, on Thursday.
The ANA Inspiration is one of five major tournaments on the LPGA Tour and is usually the first one held every season. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the tournament has been delayed to September, rather than April. That makes the ANA Inspiration the second major tournament this year, after the AIG Women’s Open, held from August 20 to 23.
The 49th edition of the tournament will feature a total of 105 players vying for the tournament purse of $3.1 million. Along with the prize money, the champion will be given 625 Race to the CME Globe points. Due to Covid-19, the tournament will be played on an empty course for all four days.
Although the LPGA Tour re-started their season a little over a month ago, this week’s major will still be missing a number of top Korean golfers, including current world No. 1 Ko Jin-young. Ko, along with 2019 rookie of the year Lee Jeong-eun and world No. 10 Kim Hyo-joo, among others, is expected to stay in Korea and play on the KLPGA Tour for the rest of the season.
Ko’s absence is doubly disappointing as she is both world No. 1 and the defending champion.
“Choosing to skip this year’s ANA was one of the most difficult decisions of my entire life,” Ko was quoted as saying on the LPGA Tour website. “Although I sadly will not be able to participate this year, I am encouraged by the successful tour restart and all the positive steps the LPGA is taking to make it as safe as possible.”
With the absence of Ko, world No. 4 Park Sung-hyun will enter this week’s major as the highest ranked Korean golfer. Park will be playing her very first LPGA Tour event this year. Park’s most recent appearance on the LPGA Tour was back at the CME Group Tour Championship in November 2019, where she withdrew on the final round.
“It’s really been a while since I’ve been on the LPGA Tour,” Park was quoted as saying. “I think I’m more nervous than excited to be back. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a competitive environment, and I’ve got to keep that in mind playing while the four rounds this week.”
During her absence on the LPGA Tour, Park competed in only one KLPGA Tour event, at the 42nd KLPGA Championship. Park didn’t live up to expectations and missed the cut, finishing the tournament at a shocking 118th.
Along with her poor performance in Korea, it has been a while since Park has picked up a trophy anywhere in the world.
Since her victory at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in June 2019, Park hasn’t won anything. As she also didn’t compete in that many tournaments, she slipped down to fourth despite finishing 2017, 2018 and 2019 as world No. 2.
Park will play her first round along with Nasa Hataoka of Japan, starting at 1:18 p.m. on Thursday or at 5:18 a.m. on Friday morning in Korea.
Following Park, world No. 6 Kim Sei-young will continue her season on the LPGA Tour. Kim was one of the few active Korean players to continue her season on the KLPGA Tour while the LPGA Tour was halted earlier this season.
During the time, Kim competed in five KLPGA Tour events and managed to record top-five finishes in four of the tournaments. After about two months playing in Korea, Kim was one of the first Korean golfers to head back to the United States in August.
Kim skipped the AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon Golf Club in Britain, making her return at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G. Kim finished the tournament tied for fifth.
Although Kim has only competed in three tournaments on the LPGA Tour this season, she had been very consistent on both the LPGA and the KLPGA. On the LPGA Tour, Kim recorded top-10 finishes in all three tournaments she competed in this season.
Kim will start her first round at 1:27 p.m., or 5:27 a.m. on Thursday in Korea, playing with Nelly Korda of the United States.
Along with the two, former world No. 1 and hall of famer Park In-bee will continue her season on the LPGA Tour. Having competed at the AIG Women’s Open, this will be Park's second major of the season.
Rather than heading to the United States, Park went straight from Korea to Britain. At the AIG Women’s Open, Park finished fourth, six shots behind the winner Sophia Popov of Germany. The ANA Inspiration will be Park's second tournament in the United States this season, after the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at the end of August.
Park will play her first round with Brittany Lincicome of the United States, starting from the 10th hole at 8 a.m., or midnight in Korea.
A total of 12 Korean golfers will be competing at the ANA Inspiration this week.
BY KANG YOO-RIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]