The award-winning Nicklaus Design layout of the Ocean Course at Sky 72 Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea, plays host this week to the best women’s players in the world when the LPGA Tour’s KEB-HanaBank Championship gets underway. The second event of the Asian swing has been played on the Nicklaus Design course since 2008, a year after Sky 72 opened and the same year the layout began its streak of four consecutive years of being honored as the “Best Course in Korea” in the annual Asian Golf Monthly Awards.
This week’s event welcomes 69 players who will contend for a $1.8 million purse and a $270,000 first place prize. Included in the field is Yani Tseng, who won the 2011 KEB-HanaBank Championship and her sixth LPGA victory of 2011 season, when she posted a three-day total of 14-under-par 202 for a one-stroke victory over two-time defending champ Na Yeon Choi. Tseng continued the momentum from her impressive 2011 LPGA campaign by starting 2012 off on a hot-streak with eight consecutive top-10 finishes, including three victories. But the No. 1 player in the Rolex Rankings has been in a slump since she tied for 59th at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. The native of Taiwan still holds the top spot in the Rolex Women’s Golf World Rankings but top American Stacy Lewis is slowly closing the gap.
"Last three months I have been learning a lot from everything, so I mean, it’s kind of very tough because when you play best and you kind of struggle for three, four months, it’s very difficult," said Tseng. "But now I kind of feel like I just want to enjoy my life and enjoy every part of my golf because this is a game I love since when I was young."
South Koreans have won the LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship seven times in its 10-year history, and this week’s field is highlighted by four past champions: Se Ri Pak (2002); Suzann Pettersen (2007); Na Yeon Choi (2009, 2010); and Tseng.
Tseng is ready to take on Sky 72.
“I don’t feel any more that it’s tougher, like there are some holes I can try to make birdie,” she said. “I just want to hit on the fairway and give more chances to hit on the green and make some more birdies. I think I can make lots of birdies on this golf course, so I just have to be patient because there seems to be a couple holes that the fairways are narrow and the greens are a little firm, so you just have to be careful.”
Meanwhile, 2009 and 2010 LPGA KEB-HanaBank Champion Na Yeon Choi shared her comments about the Nicklaus Design layout, as she preps to take on Tseng and others.
“All 18 holes on this Ocean Course are difficult, but last year we got the great weather and good weather, so that’s why we could lower the score,” she said. “That’s why we had a good score. And as for the last day in this last event, especially on hole No. 15, we got 260 yards to go to the front, so that was totally unexpected. Actually hole 15 is a par4 hole, but it got shorter, so that’s why Yani made hers in, and I did a bunker shot, so that’s why I lost, because we are just oneshot gap.
“As for the last event, Hole No. 15 was such a determining hole for us. This game has been on for like four years so far, but the 16 yards getting shorter is the first time, so that’s why we didn’t prepare for that and we didn’t know what to do. But as for this year, all the holes will be determining holes, and we need to concentrate more and more. I believe holes 15, 16, 17 and 18 will be the most difficult ones which can determine the winner.”
Na Teon Choi is ranked No. 3 in the Rolex Rankings.