LPGA returns with competitive field for Kia Classic
The LPGA Tour returns with the Kia Classic from Thursday, as a competitive field of Korean golfers including world No. 1 Ko Jin-young, No. 2 Kim Sei-young and 2018 tournament winner Ji Eun-hee hope to reach the top of the podium for the first time this season.
The Kia Classic at Aviara Golf Club is the first LPGA event in three weeks and the fourth on this year's Tour. An especially competitive field will descend on Carlsbad, California, including all ten top-ranked golfers in the world and eight of the previous ten winners of the tournament.
Ko, Kim and Ji are joined by world No. 4 Park In-bee and No. 8 Kim Hyo-joo, as well as 2017 Kia Classic winner Lee Mi-rim. A total of 24 Korean golfers will compete at the tournament, competing to be the first to take home a tournament trophy this year, with all three events so far having been won by Americans.
Among the field is two-time major winner Chun In-gee, looking to return to the winner's circle more than two years after she last took home some silverware at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship in October 2018.
Chun hasn't had a terrible time over the last year, picking up two top-10 finishes last season and three already this season, but has struggled both on and off the course with depression and disappointing results.
“I think all athletes work hard, and I did too, but when I tried working hard it gave me more pressure," Chun said ahead of the tournament. "I felt like I had to make the right result but I couldn’t made it, so I couldn’t enjoy the process and couldn’t enjoy golf. Now, I’m trying to make golf more enjoyable and I trust myself. I don’t think about the result, just stay present and it helps me a lot. I have a good balance like in golf and my life."
Chun's success so far this season follows her decision to settle in the United States, buying a house near to close friend Kim Sei-young in Dallas, Texas.
“When I go to practice with [Kim] and friends, [I'm] always happier,” said Chun. “Now I have a home here and it feels more like home for me. I really enjoy my time at the house and when I have an off week then it’s really exciting to be back at my house.”
While Chun is settling back into her groove, 2018 champion Ji is hoping to repeat the success she had at the course three years ago. The 2020 Kia Classic was canceled due to Covid-19, so Ji has only had one chance to return to the tournament since her big win.
“I’m really, really happy to be back here,” said Ji. “I won this tournament and when I come here, I always have good memories, you know, happy things about it. I’m really, really happy about [having the Kia Classic back on the LPGA Tour schedule].”
But despite the excitement, Ji expects a challenge.
“This course is actually really hard for me," said Ji. "Maybe I just focus more and practice harder and practice my putting more. So maybe that’s why I play better when I come here."
Ji walked away from the 2018 Classic with two brand new Kia cars. There are more on the line this week, as well as $1.8 million purse.
Ji will tee off on the tenth hole at 1:17 p.m. with Georgia Hall of England and Minjee Lee of Australia, while Chun will tee off on the first hole at 12:33 p.m. with Michelle Wie West of the United States and Albane Venezuela of Switzerland
World No. 1 Ko will tee off on the tenth hole at 7:44 a.m. with Brooke M. Henderson of Canada and Lydia Ko of Australia. Kim Sei-young will tee of on the first hole at 1:06 p.m. with Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand and Cristie Kerr of the United States.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]