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Honda LPGA Thailand Chonburi, Thailand Pre-Tournament Notes February 24, 2016

     As the world’s best female golfers tee it up in Thailand for the 10th edition of the Honda LPGA Thailand, it’s hard to ignore the correlation of the growing interest and support of the annual LPGA Tour stop and the recent surge in Thai presence on Tour.

In 2005, the year before the first staging of the event in Thailand, there were no Thai players on the LPGA Tour. Fast forward to 2016 and there are a record 13 players from Thailand with LPGA status. Ten players from Thailand made it through to the final stage of Q School in December with eight gaining status at the end of the week. Canada tied them with 10 for the most players at final stage for international players, but only three finished within the top 45.

Both Thai players and international players alike have taken notice in the increase of support and interest from the country when they Tour comes to town. Ariya Jutanugarn qualified to play in the event as an 11-year old and said the interest in women’s golf has expanded from following the Thai players to wanting to watch all of the LPGA’s top stars.

“This is my eighth year,” said Jutanugarn. “I feel like you can tell that the next generation of golfers is present. They all come out and not only watch Thai players but they come and watch all the world-class players. We have more young golfers growing up now and you can see every year we have more spectators.”

Pornanong Phatlum, the top-ranked Thai player at No. 28 in the Rolex Rankings said that this event has been the most influential factor in the growth of competitive female golfers.

“I think this tournament made like Thai players, a lot more Thai players,” said Phatlum.Moriya Jutanugarn, who is currently ranked third among Thai players in the Rolex Rankings (No. 105) said that it’s a topic of conversation every time she comes home thanks to local publicity push.

“I feel like they promo it more. More and more people know about it,” said Jutanugarn. “Every time I come home everyone is asking about Honda LPGA and ‘are you playing in Honda? When is that? I want to go.’ We get a lot of good feedback.”

This will be world No. 2 Inbee Park’s ninth time playing in Thailand and the South Korea native has seen firsthand how the event has helped the influx of interest and success among Thai players.

“When I was on the Tour since 2007, I haven’t seen that many Thai players, but this is probably one of the oldest events, international events with the LPGA, and Honda and Thailand has been a really great partner for the LPGA, and obviously they grow the game, as well, and they grow a lot of great players,” said Park. “Now some Thai players can be in the Olympics, as well. It’s great to see that golfing history is going in a good way in Thailand and obviously over in Asia. I think it’s great to see a lot of other countries picking up golf, and golf is getting more popular and getting more exposure for a lot of people.”

Thailand is currently ranked eighth in the UL International Crown standings, trailing Sweden by just six points in the rankings. Three members of the 2014 team are on the current roster (Phatlum and both Jutanugarns) and Thidapa Suwannapura at No. 129 in the Rolex Rankings rounds out the foursome. Phatlum and Ariya Jutanugarn are also cur-rently ranked in the Olympic field at No. 19 and No. 27 respectively in the Olympic Golf Rankings. There are seven Thai players in the field this week.


Amy Yang returns to Thailand this week with a few more eye balls on her than usual. The 26-year old said coming to an event as a defending champion is a change for her, especially when she sees posters and cut outs of herself greeting her at the hotel and course.

“This is my eighth year. I came here eighth times, and this is the first time I see me in the hotel,” said Yang. “It feels a little weird, but I like it.”

The South Korea native has made just one start in 2016 and finished T29 at the Coates Golf Championship.

“I know, it’s a little -- it feels a little different. I’m excited. I took a couple weeks off after Ocala to prepare for this tourna-ment, and I’m always enjoying this place, and it’s good to be back. The course is in great shape. I’m so excited, looking forward to playing here.

Yang picked up her first LPGA title in 2013 in front of her home crowd in Korea at the KEB-HanaBank Championship and said that getting win No. 2 here in Thailand over a year later was important to show that the first time around was not a fluke.

“I mean, I’m trying to do my best every week, just same as each week, try to do my best,” said Yang. “To win the second one was a great feeling, great for my career.”

She fended off world No. 3 Stacy Lewis on the final day and finished two shots clear of the field. She said overcoming the nerves down the stretch was a huge step in the right direction.

“Yeah, I got a little nervous on the last day, but it was a good experience,” said Yang. “I’d love to do it again. Oh, a lot, better than no experience. Like I know what’s the feeling now, so I can concentrate more on my game.”

Asked what she remembers the most from the victory a year ago? Yang says she’ll never forget the water shower on the 18th green.

“You know, it was just a big win,” said Yang. “My first win was in 2013 in Korea, then since then I haven’t won for over a year. I remember that after my last putt, all my Korean friends, they were celebrating, and it was a great moment I will never forget.”


During her two weeks off, Lexi Thompson hit a milestone – this time celebrating her 21st birthday. Thompson drove south to South Beach in Miami to celebrate with family friends and attended a party thrown by her sponsor, Red Bull.

“Well, 21 in the States is a big birthday,” said Thompson. “You can legally drink in the States. I just had a few days down in South Beach, Miami. First night was with family and friends and then second night was just my friends and I, so it was a good time.”

At the ripe age of 21, Thompson has seamlessly transitioned to Tour veteran after passing the ‘youngest at everything baton’ to the likes of Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. If there’s someone to know what garnering overwhelming success at such a young is like, it’s Thompson. Now in her fifth year on Tour, the six-time winner and major champ has defied burnout or teenage sensation labels and has continued to succeed at the highest level.

“I definitely didn’t think I was going to have those titles forever,” said Thompson. “Records are made to be broken. It’s very cool to see how much the game is getting younger and younger with Lydia and Brooke, and there’s girls behind them I’m sure that have a tremendous amount of talent, as well, and will be out here sooner than later. It’s great to see just the game of golf growing like that.”

Thompson has been off to a good start so far in 2016 and picked up two top-20 finishes in her first two starts: T9 at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic and T17 at the Coates Golf Championship.

“Yeah, so far my first two events I think I got like a ninth and a 17th or something like that, but I was very happy with the way I struck it in those two tournaments, and with my attitude on the golf course, so just needed a few more putts to drop to get my higher finishes, but overall I had a lot of positives to take from those two events, and coming into Thailand this week, this is one of my favorite courses and coming here,” said Thompson. “So I’m excited to get this week started.”

She’s played solidly in her appearances in Thailand and hasn’t finished outside the top-25 in her four previous starts here. She’ll try to improve on her best finish, a tie for fifth in 2014.

“I definitely hit a good amount of drivers on this golf course,” said Thompson. “I think there’s only two holes that I don’t. It’s definitely an advantage to get it as close to the green as possible, but the greens are pretty tricky. They have some ridges in the greens, so I think it’s important to keep it in the fairway because the rough is up pretty thick, but the second shots are also very important, to leave yourself in the right areas on the greens and play the slopes.”


So Yeon Ryu recalled her not-so-normal Sunday last week in Los Angeles during her two weeks off:

“Actually that day was like super, super cool day because it was on Sunday, I went to church, and I met K.J. Choi. I haven’t met K.J. Choi in person, and when I met him in church, I was like so excited. I had like a two-hour conversation with him in church with my pastor, so here it made my day. So I was starting to practice around 2:00 p.m. but I had a long conversation with K.J. Choi, so like I arrived at the golf course like 4:00 p.m., so I was just going to do short practice.

I practice at Los Angeles, and my head pro came to me and said, hey, do you want to meet Rory, and I said, of course. I didn’t know Rory was there, but he said, Rory is here for Nike filming, and I want to take a picture of both of you because you guys were 2011 U.S. Open and U.S. Open champions. It was so special to take a picture with him, so I was so excited. I was like a little girl right there. I had to wait like 30 minutes, 40 minutes, but I was still happy to wait. So we finally took a picture together and then we had a little conversation, and he was like a super, super nice guy.

Yeah, it was a really special day for me. Yeah, it was really great to see like Rory knows about how I play, so we just talked a little golf .”