Korean golfers hope to reclaim title at Marathon Classic
The LPGA Tour moves to Highland Meadows Country Club in Sylvania, Ohio on Thursday for the 36th Marathon LPGA Classic, where four Korean former champions — Kim In-kyung, Choi Woon-jung, Ryu So-yeon and Choi Na-yeon — are vying to repeat their former glory.
Despite those success stories, a Korean hasn't won at Highland Meadows since 2017, when Kim came in four strokes ahead of runner-up Lexi Thompson with 21-under-par. Kim won three titles that year, at the ShopRite LPGA Classic and British Women's Open, where she picked up her first major title.
However, Kim hasn't been able to pick up a win this season, her season best so far was tying for 26th at the U.S. Women's Open this June.
In 2015, Choi Woon-jung won the Marathon Classic after a sudden-death playoff against countrywoman Jang Ha-na. Five Koreans finished in the top 10 at the event that year, with a total of nine players in the top 20.
Choi Woon-jung, also known as Chella Choi, is also still waiting for her first win this year, after tying for eighth at the Gainbridge LPGA in February and tying for seventh at the Honda LPGA Thailand in May.
Ryu won the event in 2012, when it was called the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic, just a year after she won her first LPGA tournament at the U.S. Women's Open.
Ryu shot a total of 20-under-par, an unbeatable seven shots ahead of the runner-up Angela Stanford. The seven-shot lead was big enough to win her the LPGA Rookie of the Year award for the season. Alongside Ryu, five other Koreans finished in the top 10.
Ryu is in good form this season, finishing tied for third at the Honda LPGA Thailand on May 9 and also at the LPGA Mediheal Championship on June 13. She is ranked fifth among the Korean women golfers and world No. 17 in the Rolex rankings.
Choi Na-yeon rounds off the four players, as she won the 2010 edition, when it was called the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic, after a four-person playoff between countrywomen Kim Song-hee, Kim In-kyung and Christina Kim of the United States. She won with a birdie on the second extra hole.
Korean golfers dominated the event that season as seven Koreans finished in the top 10. Shin Ji-yai finished fifth, Park In-bee finished sixth, Lee Mee-na and Park Hee-young was tied for seventh.
Choi Na-yeon won another LPGA tournament that October, the LPGA Hana Bank Championship, and became the LPGA Tour money leader and won the Vare Trophy, an award given to the golfer with the lowest scoring average of the season.
Even before the four recent champions, Korean golf legend Pak Se-ri won the event five times, the most anyone has won the Marathon LPGA Classic. She won in 1998, 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2007 and still holds the 72-hole scoring record of 23-under-par, 261 from 1998.
A total of 13 Korean golfers will be on Highland Meadows on Thursday, as world No. 2 Park In-bee tees off at 8:32 a.m. in Group 16 alongside defending champion Danielle Kang from the United States and Ariya Jutanugran from Thailand.
Choi Woon-jung tees off in Group 5 at 7:37 a.m., Kim In-kyung tees off in Group 13 at 8:21 a.m., Ryu tees off in Group 14 at 8:21 a.m. and Choi Na-yeon tees off in Group 34 at 12:59 p.m. alongside countrywoman Amy Yang.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [firstname.lastname@example.org]