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2019 Taiwan LPGA Tour | Hitachi Ladies Classic Press Conference Notes

The 2019 Hitachi Ladies Classic starts on Friday this week, with early commitments guaranteeing a superb field.

Four-time winner Pornanong Phatlum, defending champion Supamas Sangchan headline the list of players committed to the season-opening event. The Thai duo is expected to be joined by a host of star players including LPGA major champion Yani Tseng (曾雅妮), who will look to put another disappointing season in 2018, which saw her dropped to no.135 on the LPGA money list, in the rearview mirror with a victory on home turf, and Lee Min (李旻), who is riding a two-victory streak after winning the Taiwan Mobile Ladies Open in November and the China Ladies Open last month, as well as JLPGA Tour no.4 Mamiko Higa, who vows to make a winning start to the year at the Orient Golf & Country Club and to gain her sixth professional victory.

The 2019 edition is the 11th staging of the Hitachi Ladies Classic, presented by Hitachi Ltd., Johnson Controls-Hitachi Air Conditioning Taiwan Co., Ltd., featuring a NT$10 million prize purse. The winner emerging from 108 golfers from seven countries will take away a NT$2.5 million check.

The purse of the tournament has been increased to NT$ 10 million since 2013 from NT$4 million in its inception year, with a growth in the winner’s prize more than double the initial from NT$1 to NT$2.5 million.

“The organization of this event has been incredible. It’s just a great pleasure to be playing here,” said Phatlum, who held a record four titles here at the Hitachi Ladies Classic in the year of 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Phatlum recorded equal-second in 2016, suffered a play-off loss in 2017, and withdrew from the tournament last year. Now, she’s back in hopes of regaining her past glories.

Starting her rookie season on the LPGA Tour in 2009, Phatlum has steadily become one of the steadiest performers on the world’s grandest stage. Her best showing in an official LPGA Tour event has been a solo second, coming at the British Open last year where she was defeated in the sudden-death play-off by Charley Hull. During the 2018 season, the Thailand native boasts an 80% rate of fairways hit, ranked 12th among all members; and 51% sand save success as well as 66% greens in regulation.

Other than Phatlum and 2018 champion Sangchan, who went as high as no.2 on the 2018 China LPGA money list, their compatriots Saranporn Langkulgasettrin, who was T3 in the previous edition and a two-time winner on the 2018 CLPGA Tour, and Kanphanitnan Muangkhumsakul, who won the 2016 edition, are both deemed as heavy title hopefuls.

Four of the top-40 JLPGA Tour campaigners will be teeing off on Friday, led by no.4 Higa, a 5-time JLPGA Tour champion, whose last TLPGA Tour appearance can be dated back to 2016. The other three are no.20 Mami Fukuda, no.32 Azuma Hiroko and no.36 Rumi Yoshiba, each holding at least one JLPGA Tour title to their names.

“I hope I’ll start the year well with a win here. My goal is to reach top 30 in the world and get at least three wins in Japan,” Higa said, who enjoyed her first year on the Tour as a wife of a famed Sumo wrestler in Japan.

Hsu Wei-Ling (徐薇淩) will be the leading the home girls in their pursuit to secure the honor. Hsu gave the local crowd plenty to cheer about as she was in the leading pack in the final round at the LPGA Taiwan Championship three months ago, but ended up only in the sixth place. She’s earned four top-10 finishes in the whole season and made the top-40 for the first time on the money list.

“I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself. But I usually did pretty well in this event,” Hsu said, who finished in the top-7 both in 2017 and 2016.

Still finding to pick up her best game which won her 27 professional titles and 15 LPGA Tour trophies, Yani Tseng used the Hitachi Ladies Classic again this year as the first tune up of the season. She made it as the top 3 at the end of the 2018 edition.

Just concluding a wonderful year in 2018, Phoebe Yao (姚宣瑜) is hoping she could step up a gear this year and starting with some great performance this weekend. “I usually start my season officially in March, so it’s more like some real game practice this week. It’s going to be a test of my fitness level and where my game is at right now,” Yao said. With six top-10 finishes, Yao finished 2018 as no.15 on JLPGA Tour money list, a new high since 2012. “The greens look in amazing shape although the weather has not been kind. I look forward to be back playing at the Orient club.”

Babe Liu (劉依貞/改名劉嬿), runner up in 2017 and third-place finisher in 2018, and Symetra Tour’s Cheng Ssu-Chia (程思嘉), who tied for second with Phatlum in 2016, are both looking to move one step further and take the last laugh. JLPGA Tour’s Tsai Pei-Ying (蔡佩穎) and 2018 TLPGA Tour money winner Chen Yu-Ju (陳宇茹) are also in the field.

There are some talented amateur lurking to snatch the title any time including sister act Hou Yu-Sang (侯羽桑) and Yu-Chiang (侯羽薔), 2018 KENDA TIRES TLPGA Open winner Lu Hsin-Yu (盧昕妤) and last year’s Hitachi Ladies Classic runner-up Chang Ya-Chun (張雅淳).

Annual proceeds from the tournament and an equal bonus from Hitachi will be used to endow local charities. Over the last ten years, the donation amount has exceeded NT$48 million.

The backdrop of this week’s tournament, the Orient Golf & Country Club, is designed by American Ronald Fream. Set at just 6,321 yards long for this year’s Hitachi Ladies Classic, the layout fascinates with its challenging, creative geographic conditions and one of the finest grasses for the greens – Tiffeagle. Book your tickets now at http://www.taiwan-hitachi.com.tw/ladiesclassic2018/page/ticket/ticket.html . A cut will be made before Sunday’s final round to the top 50 and ties.


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