LPGA pros excited to play on new course for annual S. Korean stop

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PAJU, South Korea, From a tour rookie to a veteran with nearly 20 years under her belt, LPGA stars teeing off in South Korea this week said Tuesday they were looking forward to the experience for different reasons.

The BMW Ladies Championship, the lone annual stop in South Korea in each LPGA season, will begin Thursday at Seowon Hills at Seowon Valley Country Club in Paju, northwest of Seoul. The first two editions of the event were held in the southeastern city of Busan, before moving to the eastern town of Wonju last year and then near the capital city this year.

Defending champion Lydia Ko, a South Korean-born Kiwi, mentioned "family and food" as the best part of playing in this region of the world during the annual Asian swing. She also reflected on winning an LPGA event for the first time on her native soil in 2022.

"I've always wanted to win in Korea, whether it was an LPGA event or a KLPGA event. Last year was the first time we had fans since COVID-19, so it was really nice to have a lot of my family and friends come out and watch me play," Ko said at the pretournament press conference. "Seeing them all there and being able to celebrate the win with them was super special. Playing in front of the Korean fans is always exciting. They love golf here, especially women's golf."

Nelly Korda, world No. 4 and the lone American player at the press conference, echoed Ko's thoughts about the Korean fan base. She will be playing in Korea for the first time since 2019.

"I enjoy coming here because I see how passionate the people of Korea are for the game. It's just so much fun in front of them," Korda said. "It just makes me as a player have more fun and appreciate the game a little bit more. Definitely very excited to tee it off this week and see all the fans."

A pair of former world No. 1 players from South Korea will be in action this week, with Ko Jin-young checking in at No. 3 and Shin Ji-yai, who now plays full time in Japan, sitting at No. 16.

Ko, the 2021 BMW champion who will play for the first time in nearly two months, said she won't put any extra pressure on herself just because she's playing at home.

"I see this as one of some 30 tournaments on the tour this season," Ko said. "The one major difference is I get to play in front of my parents and friends. But other than that, I didn't change anything about my preparation for this tournament. I think I'll get to have more fun playing in front of familiar faces."

Shin said she had experienced some "nervous excitement" since she decided to commit to this tournament.

"I've been playing for so long that I stopped feeling that kind of energy at some point. And it's been a lot of fun getting ready for this week," said the 35-year-old Shin. "I played a practice round on this course yesterday, and I could tell so much work had gone into getting this place ready for the tournament. I am really looking forward to the tournament."

Two of the past three LPGA winners are riding some positive momentum.

South Korean rookie Ryu Hae-ran, who earned her maiden win in Arkansas on Oct. 2, said she was happy to have come home with a title to her credit.

"People kept telling me for weeks that I was close to winning, and it was really exciting to finally come through and make their words become reality," Ryu said. "Right after the win, I struggled with my shots a bit, but I corrected some issues last week in China. I can't wait to play this week."

Kim Hyo-joo, who immediately followed Ryu's win in Texas for her sixth career title, said it was a relief to get the win out of the way after some close calls earlier in the season.

"I had a few chances to win but couldn't capitalize on them. Honestly, I was stressed out," Kim said. "That week was important for my confidence. When I look back on this season, I will be able to tell myself I had a gratifying year."

The US$2.2 million BMW Ladies Championship offers $330,000 to the champion. There's no cut at this 72-hole tournament, which will feature 78 players.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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