The IX: Golf Thursday with Carly Grenfell, January 16, 2020

LPGA season opener — Interview with Inbee Park — Must-click links in women's golf

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The 2020 Season is Upon Us

So maybe you were distracted by Brooks Koepka going at Bryson DeChambeau on Twitter this morning (which was amazing), but I’ve got something even better for you today: THE LPGA SEASON IS FINALLY BACK! The first round of the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions presented by IOA is finished and Danielle Kang sits at the top of the leaderboard at 8-under. It’s also worth mentioning that the players are paired up with celebrities for this event, which is perfect to add to the excitement of the season opener and to attract new and different fans.

Kang is paired up with country stars Cole Swindell and Lee Brice. Some other big names are Larry Fitzgerald (playing with Lexi Thompson), Larry the Cable Guy (paired with Jessica Korda), Justin Verlander (paired with Nelly Korda), Ray Allen (paired with Brittany Lincicome), Ben Higgins from the Bachelor (paired with two amateurs), Michael Pena (paired with Marina Alex) and Alfonso Ribeiro (paired with MJ Hur).

Last year was the first year for this event, and Eun-Hee Ji took home the inaugural trophy for her fifth LPGA Tour title. It’s another stacked field this year, which includes only winners from the 2018 and 2019 seasons. The Top 10 on the leaderboard after 18 holes is wild as expected: Gaby Lopez, Angela Stanford, Inbee Park, Lexi Thompson, Celine Boutier, Sei Young Kim, Marina Alex, Nasa Hataoka and Brooke Henderson. The below from about sums up the fun we’re in for this weekend!

Winners from the 2018 and 2019 seasons have gathered at Tranquilo Golf Course at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club, led by 2019 DRTOC winner Eun Hee Ji, 19-time LPGA Tour winner Inbee Park and six players in the top 10 of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings in No. 3 Nelly Korda, No. 4 Danielle Kang, No. 5 Sei Young Kim, No. 6 Nasa Hataoka, No. 8 Brooke Henderson and No. 10 Lexi Thompson.

I really like the concept of this event—making it a field of only past winners and coupling it with a celebrity component. It’s a fun way to start off the year and to see who is picking right up where they left off in 2019. I think the two names that really got my attention on the leaderboard already are Danielle Kang and Inbee Park.

Danielle Kang had an outstanding season last year and is now ranked No. 4 in the world and will vie for a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She’s one of those players who is just really tough on the course. I remember sitting in on one of her press conferences last year during the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and she talked about how much liked the really challenging course set-ups. That’s not overly surprising considering she is a major Champion and finished in the Top 10 last year in Minnesota. She just has that edge that not every player has.

As for Inbee Park, her season doesn’t normally start this early. When you’re a Hall of Famer, you have the luxury of a more flexible schedule and more rest in between events. But with the Olympics on her mind, it makes sense she’s in the field this week. She has already won one gold medal, why not stay sharp and make it two?

As much fun as it is to see who’s shining this early in the season (although it can change on any given week), it’s also worth noting who might be still working off a little rust. Who knows, maybe some of this rust will be gone after one or two rounds, too. That’s the crazy part of golf. It wouldn’t be shocking to see players like Ariya Jutanugarn and Nelly Korda, who are towards the bottom of the leaderboard, make some moves over the weekend. I was actually surprised to see them in that position—but it’s hard to make any judgment calls after one round.

After this weekend, we are back to a normal tournament and full field in Boca Raton. Because both events are in Florida, I would guess the field is going to be really strong as the travel is easy compared to some of the other swings! That’s all from me today. Can’t wait to share more of the excitement in women’s golf with you all this year!

This Week in Women’s Golf

Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me!

Still love this LPGA insight from the Power Plays newsletter. A must-read!

New episode on the pod with Henni Zuel! You’ve seen her interviewing Tiger.

The Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions is underway. See who’s leading.

LPGA stars deserve more attention than they’re getting.

As the LPGA begins, here are some storylines to look out for from ESPN.

Blair O’Neal is 6 months pregnant, but that’s not stopping her from competing.

Trying to improve mental toughness, Angela Stanford is going to run a marathon.

Balancing motherhood and life on tour begins for Brittany Lincicome.

Can you imagine missing out on your tour card by $8? This player did.

Michelle Wie is pregnant!

To no surprise, Inbee Park is the player of the decade as voted by fans.

Aaron Stewart (son of the late Payne Stewart) connecting with golf through the LPGA.

The LPGA just launched an online teacher education program.

The LPGA’s youngest golfer is ready for tee-off.

Se Ri Pak given the 2020 Bob Jones Award by the USGA.

Invitations to the 2020 ANWA are going out! Bring on year two.

Tweets of the Week

Five at The IX: Inbee Park

Currently in contention at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions is seven-time major Champion and 19-time LPGA Tour winner Inbee Park. She’s playing a heavier schedule this year as I referenced above as she seeks another Olympic appearance. She kicked off action in the media center, elaborating on why she’s starting early, why the Olympics means so much to her heading into 2020 and what it’s like to play with celebrities.

I: On starting her season early. I just wanted to have something, a little bit of a change this year, because I always start the season late around February or early March. This year I’m starting early because it’s an important year—an Olympic year. There’s a lot of tournaments before the Olympics and I just wanted to choose something different; I wanted to choose the courses that I haven’t played before which is pretty much the first four events I’m going to play this year. I just wanted a fresh start and to give myself an opportunity with a lot on the line.

II: On getting back to the Olympics. It’s definitely a goal for me and a goal for a lot of my fellow Korean golfers. I think that will motivate a lot of us this year. The rankings cut off in June, so I wanted to play as many events as I can before and give myself some opportunities. I feel like I’m in good shape.

III: If she’s feeling pressure from the media in Korea about the Olympics. When I get an opportunity to see media, usually the first question is Olympics and how much do you want to make the team, what’s your motivation and asking why I’m starting my season so early. I definitely get those questions a lot. No matter how I say it, it’s definitely important for me. Whether I do or don’t make it, I just want to have a season that I won’t regret.

IV: If she’s at all surprised at how much the Olympics is motivating her. Like I said in 2016, before that, I didn’t know what it was going to be like. After I experienced one, I felt like it was something that should take first priority in my golfing career. It was definitely worth it. I wanted to take this Olympic opportunity if I get it again this year, and it will probably be my last one. I’m just happy to be where I’m positioned. Whether I’m in or not, it’s worth having a go.

V: On playing alongside celebrities this week. It’s a little different because I’ve never played in a format like this before. Back in Korea I have played with celebrities but not in a tournament. I’m just trying to rely on those experiences. Like I said, it’s a lot more relaxed atmosphere and I won’t be feeling as much pressure. It’s a good thing to have a little bit more relaxed atmosphere.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon  Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by The IX Team