LPGA: 5 things to look for in Thailand, where Lydia Ko, Nelly Korda and Jin Young Ko are primed for battle along with Japanese teen sensation Saki Baba

Nine of the top 10 players in the world are in Asia this week for the 16th staging of the Honda LPGA Thailand. American Lexi Thompson, No. 6, is the only top-10 player not in the field at Siam Country Club’s Pattaya Old Course in Chonburi.

World No. 1 Lydia Ko heads into Thailand hot off a victory at the Aramco Saudi Ladies International, where she won $750,000. It’s the newlywed’s third victory worldwide in her last four starts, earning her more than $3 million in that stretch.

2022 major champions Minjee Lee and In Gee Chun will join Ko in beginning their LPGA seasons this week.

Last year, Denmark’s Nanna Koerstz Madsen notched her first LPGA victory at the Honda LPGA Thailand, defeating Xiyu Lin with an eagle on the second playoff hole.

Here are five things to look for this week in steamy Thailand, where scores are low and the humidity is high:

Dream start

2023 Aramco Saudi Ladies International

2023 Aramco Saudi Ladies International

Lydia Ko poses iwth the trophy after winning the 2023 Aramco Saudi Ladies International.

This is Ko’s seventh appearance in the Honda LPGA Thailand. Her only top-10 finish in the event came in 2017 where she finished in a tie for eighth. Ko teed it up in Saudi Arabia last week fresh off a honeymoon in New Zealand that included eight rounds of golf.

“Yeah, made a hole-in-one I think on the second hole at Tara Iti Golf Club,” said Ko, “and I broke the women’s course record there, so it was a pretty good day at the office.

“We played a lot of golf on our honeymoon. It’s one of the mutual things that we both enjoy doing and can do together, so we played a lot of golf. … I think that might have been my first hole-in-one like outside of a competition, too. So really couldn’t have been my better.”

Jin Young Ko returns

2022 Pelican Women's Championship

2022 Pelican Women’s Championship

Jin Young Ko plays her shot from the 11th tee during the second round of the 2022 Pelican Women’s Championship at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Florida. (Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

After spending a month in Vietnam for winter training, former No. 1 Jin Young Ko begins 2023 in Thailand.

“Like my life balance and golf balance is like getting more flatter right now,” said Ko, “so I’m so happy.”

Ko, who said she began meditating in the morning and at night during the offseason, feels stronger both mentally and physically as she begins her sixth year on the LPGA.

The former No. 1 battled a severe wrist injury last year that resulted in sharp pain every time she hit a shot. When asked about the condition of the wrist in Thailand, the 13-time winner simply said, “It’s feeling better.”

Nelly Korda aims to avoid burnout

2023 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions

2023 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions

Nelly Korda during the second round of the 2023 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in Orlando. (Photo: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

World No. 2 Nelly Korda returns to action after a month-long break from competition. The American star finished fourth at the season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in January.

After having a short offseason the first time around thanks to two tournaments in December, Korda had a second chance to hone her game at home in Florida before resuming her season in Asia. This marks her first time competing in Thailand since 2019.

Korda’s main goal: stay healthy and play the full year.

“Every year is different where I kind of burn myself in the middle of the year or towards the end,” she said, “so making sure that I am taking the year on slowly in a sense and making sure that my body is 100 percent is a big goal of mine.

“Last thing you want is a burnout physically or mentally. Mentally is typically the tougher one to get out of. That’s when you kind of need a little bit more of a break.”

Thai connection

Atthaya Thitikul reacts on the final hole on the last day of the Honda LPGA Thailand at the Siam Country Club in Pattaya on May 9, 2021. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images)

There are 11 players from Thailand in this week’s field, including former No. 1s Ariya Jutanugarn and Atthaya Thitikul. Jutanugarn won this event in 2021, defeating Thitikul by one shot; Thitikul was not an LPGA member at the time. It marked the first time a Thai player had won the tournament.

Four Thai players are competing in the Honda for the first time as LPGA members: Jaravee Boonchant, Arpichaya Yubol, Chanettee Wannasaen and Natthakrita Vongtaveelap.

For Thitikul, it’s an important week to compete in front of family.

“I’m not playing in front of them much,” said Thitikul, “because my grandfather usually travel with me when I was an amateur, but now … I think this is last chance that he can do it because we don’t play in Thailand that much, just once in a year.

“So I think it’s so special for him and for my mom as well. My mom has not come out at all, just Honda. So I think it means a lot to us, and I’m so happy to have them here with me.”

Special invitations

2022 U.S. Women's Amateur

2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur

Saki Baba holds the championship trophy after winning the 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington. (Darren Carroll/USGA)

Saki Baba, the Japanese teen who won the 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur in dominant fashion, defeating Monet Chun 11 and 9 in the final match, will compete as an amateur on a sponsor exemption. In addition, twin sisters Akie and Chisato Iwai of Japan will make their pro debuts.

Other players competing on sponsor exemptions this week include Muni He, Akie Iwai, Chisato Iwai, Frida Kinhult, Meechai, Emily Kristine Pedersen, Yuting Shi, Vongtaveelap, Wannasaen and Yubo.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek



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