LPGA Tour heads to Hawaii for Lotte Championship
The 2021 LPGA Tour heads to Hawaii on Wednesday for the Lotte Championship at its new home at Kapolei Golf Club in Kapolei, Oahu.
As the only Korean to ever win the Lotte Championship, Kim Sei-young will be hoping to build on her 2015 rookie success this season on the new course.
Kim, who is currently No. 2 in the world ranking, isn't the only Korean looking for success in Hawaii. World No. 2 Park In-bee, along with 16 other Korean golfers, is included in the 144-player field.
And there's plenty of fierce competition from outside the Korean contingent.
The last two Lotte Championships — 2018 and 2019, as 2020 was canceled due to Covid-19 — have been won by Brooke Henderson of Canada, who enters the tournament at No. 7 in the world ranking. Henderson's run of wins might be impacted by the course change, but she remains a strong contender this year.
The 2021 Tour has so far been dominated by American golfers, with Jessica Korda, Nelly Korda and Austin Ernst all picking up wins already. Park is the only Korean to have won this year, while Thai rookie Patty Tavatanakit took the trophy at the ANA Inspiration two weeks ago. Kim, as well as other prominent Koreans like Chun In-gee, Kim Hyo-joo and Park Sung-hyun, is still looking for her first win of the season.
Looking back on 2015, Kim Sei-young says this year she just wants to concentrate on having a good time.
“In 2015, I was a rookie ... everything was very new for me,” said Kim at a pre-tournament press conference. “I was young and now feel I like time goes by so fast. Yeah, my mind is the same as at the time, because, yeah, I want to — I don't want to be like cocky. No, I think, yeah, just enjoy.”
Kim, like much of the field with experience at the Lotte Championship, is also concerned about adapting to the new course.
“I think par-5 is a big [difference]," Kim said, "because at the [former home of the tournament] Ko Olina golf course, even if you miss the wrong side you've got the easy chip. But Kapolei, it's not easy. ... You need a lot of skill, especially this course.”
LPGA Hall of Famer Park In-bee has never been in the winner's circle at the Lotte Championship, but with 21 Tour victories under her belt and a win at the Kia Classic just a few weeks ago, this year she's a serious contender.
“I think I'm just really getting close to my 100% and not feeling rusty at all," Park said ahead of the tournament. "I felt great playing the two weeks in California. I played really well. Obviously, the first win was great. I mean, it definitely gave me a lot of confidence going into the season.
"The first major could have been a little bit better, but I feel like I played pretty good. My game is just in a good shape and it's going in a good direction.”
World No. 1 Ko Jin-young will not take part in the Lotte Championship this year.
The Lotte Championship was founded in 2012 and was competed at Ko Olina Golf Club in Kapolei, Hawaii. This year it has moved down the road to a new home at the nearby Kapolei Golf Club. The course has previously hosted other LPGA and PGA events, including the Ladies Hawaiian Open until 2021.
Unlike most LPGA Tournaments, the Lotte Championship runs from Wednesday to Saturday to make it easier for Korean viewers to watch.
Kim Sei-young and Park In-bee will tee off together — as they did when Kim won in 2015 — alongside Katherine Kirk of Australia. The three will tee off on the first hole at 8:06 a.m.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]