Huge Korean field assembles as LPGA arrives in Busan
The LPGA Tour arrives in Korea at the BMW Ladies Championship at LPGA International Busan in Busan on Thursday.
The BMW Ladies Championship is the only LPGA tournament held in Korea this season, with 49 of the 84 golfers competing coming from Korea. As a co-sanctioned event between the LPGA and KLPGA Tours, 30 of the 49 Korean golfers come from the KLPGA Tour, including defending champion Jang Ha-na.
This is the second edition of the tournament after Jang won the inaugural 2019 BMW Ladies Championship after a three-hole sudden death playoff against Danielle Kang of the United States. The 2020 tournament was cancelled.
Jang is in the middle of a good season, but was forced to withdraw from the 21st Hite Jinro Championship two weeks ago due to a knee injury.
"There's that weight that the defending champion carries," said Jang at a pre-tournament interview.
"I can't say that my knee has completely recovered, but because the tournament does not have a cut to pass, I will think of my first round as if its moving day and try to play aggressively from the start."
Other KLPGA favorites like Park Min-ji, Lee Jung-min, Lim Hee-jeong, Park Hyun-kyung and Choi Hye-jin will be joining Jang on the course. Lee Jung-min is the most recent KLPGA champion, having won the Dongbu Construction Championship on Sunday at Iksan country club in Iksan, North Jeolla.
"Winning last week took some of the pressure off my shoulders," said Lee. "I will enjoy the company of the LPGA golfers."
Park Min-ji will be hunting for her seventh win of the season at the event.
Park Min-ji has been on spectacular form throughout the season, having won six titles and just narrowly missing out on her seventh trophy on Sunday, finishing tied for third at the Dongbu Construction Championship.
"I am so excited for this week because its a joint tournament with the LPGA Tour," said Park. "I am going to focus on the process of playing more than the score or winning. Finding the fairway, trying not to miss, but even if I do, staying on the safe side of the course is going to be my main focus."
The competition for the trophy is made even more fierce with top LPGA golfers jetting in from the United States.
The highest ranked golfer on the field is world No. 2 Ko Jin-young, with No. 1 Nelly Korda of United States skipping the BMW Championship.
Ko is coming from her third win of the season at the Cognizant Founders Cup on Oct. 10. She won her 10th career title in style, routing the field for a wire-to-wire win and defending her 2019 title. The worlds' top two golfers Ko and Korda are now the only two with three LPGA titles this season. Earlier in the season, Ko won the Volunteers of America Classic and the Cambia Portland Classic.
Ko is also the fifth Korean golfer to reach double-digit wins in LPGA Tour history, joining Pak Se-ri who has 25 titles, Park In-bee who has 21, Kim Sei-young who has 12 and Shin Ji-yai who has 11.
A win at the BMW Championship may even put Ko back at world No. 1. After holding on to the top spot for nearly two years since she won the 2019 Evian Championship, she lost that title this June.
"Though it could be nice to be No.1 again, that's not what's on the top of my list," said Ko. "Rather than thinking about world rankings, I think my job is to keep my good form and try to better it. Of course, if I do get to be back at No. 1, this would be the tournament to do it."
Park Sung-hyun will be extending her stay in Korea for another week for the BMW Championship after playing the KLPGA 21st Hite Jinro Championship at Blue Heron Golf Club in Yeoju, Gyeonggi in the first week of October, when she joined the KLGA Tour.
Park Sung-hyun is in the middle of a rough season, having failed to make the cut in 10 of 18 LPGA events this year. Her last win was in June 2019 at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. Just last week, she finished tied for 27th at the ShopRite LPGA Classic. At the Hite Jinro Championship, Park finished tied for 40th. She will be looking to cut that winless streak in Busan this week.
Lydia Ko of New Zealand, Minjee Lee and Su Oh of Australia have also all jetted in to Korea for the tournament.
Busan happens to be Oh's birthplace and where she spent her childhood before moving to Australia. In 2019, Oh returned to Busan for the first time in over 15 years to play the inaugural BMW Championship where she finished tied for 15th. She is excited to be back at LPGA International Busan, which she remembers visiting with her father way back when it was called the Asiad Country Club.
"The golf course is a really nice course, every hole is quite different. I think my dad has played this golf course way more than I have," said Oh.
"It's just different without the fans. We always get quite a lot, and they're all very passion about golf, especially women's golf more than men, which I really appreciate when coming over here. A different sort of crowd. Sometimes you can hear them from a couple of fairways away."
For Lydia Ko and Minjee Lee, this is their second time in Korea this season, after both competed at the KLPGA Tour's Hana Financial Group Championship at Pocheon Adonis Country Club in Pocheon, Gyeonggi in September. Lee missed out on the title, losing to Song Ga-eun after a three-hole sudden death playoff. Lydia Ko tied for fifth.
If a Korean golfer wins the BMW Championship title this week, it will be Korea's 200th LPGA title since Ku Ok-hee won the Standard Register Turquoise Classic on March 27, 1988.
The BMW Championship will start at 11 a.m. on Thursday and will continue to Sunday.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [email@example.com]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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