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Roundtable Discussion in Hawaii with LPGA Tour's Top Players
Five of the world's best women golfers sat down together Tuesday afternoon in Hawaii to discuss their seasons and the state of the LPGA Tour. The players are representative of the international flavor of the modern-day LPGA - South Koreans Inbee Park and Na Yeon Choi, Japan's Ai Miyazato, Taiwan's Yani Tseng and American Stacy Lewis.
The quintet is in Hawaii for the playing of the second LPGA Lotte Championship, a $1.7 million event that tees off Wednesday - with a Saturday finish - at the 6,383-yard Ko Olina Golf Club in Kopolei on the island of Oahu.
Miyazato won last year's inaugural tournament with a total of 12-under 276, four strokes lower than Azahara Munoz and Meena Lee.
In addition to the players at the press conference, the 140-woman field includes Hawaii native Michelle Wie, Hall of Fame member Karrie Webb, and 15-year-old New Zealander, Lydia Ko, the top-ranked amateur in the world.
Here's what Park, Choi, Miyazato, Tseng and Lewis had to say during their roundtable session with the media.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you so much for being here on the Island of Oahu. It's a pleasure to welcome you here. We have quite a panel, five LPGA stars representing four countries and they are all great ambassadors for the LPGA brand and we are so thrilled to have them here a part of this week. We'll get comments from them in just a second. First to my immediate left is Inbee Park, winner of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, also winner in Thailand this year, and now the No.1 ranked player in the Rolex Rankings.
To Inbee's left is Stacy Lewis, two wins this year, Singapore and also Phoenix. She is currently No. 2 in the world, unseeded this week, but I'm sure very anxious to get that back, and we'll discuss that in just a moment. Next to Stacy, when it comes to No. 1, I think we all know this name, Yani Tseng, currently No. 3 in the World Rankings, former No. 1 for 109 weeks. Next to Yani, No. 4 in the Rolex Rankings currently, winner last year at the U.S. Women's Open and also the CME Group Title Holders in Naples, Florida, Na Yeon Choi from Korea.
Last but not least, but congratulations, it's been a fantastic year, our defending champion, the best I've seen recently at the hula dance last year on the 18th green, currently the 9th ranked player in the Rolex Rankings, Ai Miyazato from Japan. Just a couple of things this week. We have very big coverage on Golf Channel, the LPGA partner, more than 13 hours in primetime on the East Coast, live coverage in the United States, and then just a couple of things about Lotte, very proud to have them as a title sponsor for the LPGA, one of the LPGA's strongest partners, one of the true ambassadors for the LPGA brand, roots in Japan, roots in Korea, and an emerging company that fits in so nicely with what the LPGA is about currently.
If you look at the Rolex Rankings for the LPGA, top 10 in the world, seven different countries represented, and certainly everyone here fits into that top 10. Highly successful first-year event last year. I think it would be an understatement to say anything else. We credit much of that because of their fantastic partnership, their vision and everything that they accomplished with us last year to stage a first class event. Their leadership, their partnership never goes unnoticed or not talked about at the LPGA. We're very proud to have them aligned with us, a global brand that fits so nicely.
In between Stacy and Inbee, we want to share a few things about this trophy, Ai Miyazato certainly knows a little bit about that, the winner will take this home on Saturday night, a replica of the Lotte World Tower, a skyscraper that Lotte is in the process of building. When completed, the Lotte World will be the tallest building in all of Korea and the second tallest building in the world, 123 stories, 555 meters to be exact. In addition to taking home the trophy, the winner of this week's event will be able to stay for two nights on the 100th floor of Lotte's brand new building, so quite a nice perk, and that trophy will look very, very good in somebody's hands come Saturday evening.
Let's take some questions from the audience, first some comments from the folks that are assembled here at the table, and why not start with Ai Miyazato, the defending champion. Quite a win last year. Everybody talks about the dance. What do you remember about your victory?
AI MIYAZATO: Of course. I just want to thank Lotte. I am honored to be a champion of this tournament because this tournament is such a great tournament. I have great memories from last year, and the people are really nice and the tournament is really organized, and it was such a great time I had. It's so nice to be back here again. I'm so excited right now. The course is in good shape, and it seems like it's going to be windy this weekend, but I'm sure it's going to be a great tournament again, so I can't wait to play tomorrow.
MODERATOR: Trade winds, Kona winds, whenever you come to Hawai'i you hear about the wind. Is that something you like, that appeals to you and your game?
AI MIYAZATO: Well, yeah, I like to play in the wind because I'm from Okinawa Japan which is really similar to Hawaii. I grew up in windy play, so I like to play in the wind. But it's going to be really tough, though, I'm sure it is. Last year it was only a three day event but this year it's going to be four days, so I think it's going to be interesting.
MODERATOR: We also have this battle for No.1 that's going on right now. We've got Inbee, who is the current No. 1 player in the world, and we've got Stacy Lewis to her left. Inbee, let's start with you. This week you're now No. 1 in the world. What does that feel like to you?
INBEE PARK: That's been the place that I always wanted to be. It gives me a bit of a shock. But coming into this week that was one of my goals to reach, but it happened really early. I think it's still - for everybody, it's not just my own spot, there are so many players that's really close, and they have a lot of potential to be there. They're all great players, and it could change every week, so it's just not my own, but I just try to do my best every week.
MODERATOR: Can you share some thoughts what it's been like since you won the Kraft Nabisco? When you jumped into the pond at the Kraft Nabisco, and we all saw that, what was that like for you?
INBEE PARK: That's been a tournament that I always wanted to win. That tournament has great champions, and that tournament has great history. I've played that course about 50 times, and I always wanted to jump into the pond, but I finally did. It felt really good, felt relieved. It was a great moment.
MODERATOR: Stacy Lewis, back in March you became the No.1 ranked player in the Rolex Rankings, and suddenly this week out of nowhere, when some points fall off and some points go up the way the World Rankings work, things change. Were you shocked?
STACY LEWIS: Yeah, I was. I was surprised. I mean, I expected it to probably happen at some point, but I definitely didn't expect it in an off week. It's tough because I don't know, I didn't do anything wrong and I lost it. That's the disappointing part. It is what it is, and I don't understand the rankings, maybe somebody could explain it to me. But it is what it is. My goal was never to stay at the rankings for X number of weeks, it was to get there, and I got there, and now it's - now I just want to win golf tournaments. If I get back there, great, and if not, as long as I have a chance to win on Sunday, I'm happy.
MODERATOR: You've been quite busy. Why don't you share a few things about your schedule over the last two or three weeks. I know it's been quite hectic, and here we are in Hawaii, which is quite a travel over. I'm sure it's nice to relax here. What's it been like for you?
STACY LEWIS: It's been crazy. I left the Kraft and went home for about 30 hours and went to the Masters and got the golf writers Player of the Year award from last year, which was really cool. I met Rory and the dinner was really nice, got to see a lot of people. I tried to travel incognito but it didn't work very well, signed a few autographs and Masters flags, so that was pretty cool. Then I came out here Saturday and tried to get back into practicing and playing again. But I've been actually Tuesday on my way to Augusta I stopped at CNN in Atlanta and did some interviews there. I racked up the miles for sure over the last few weeks, but it's been cool. It's been fun to kind of represent the LPGA and hopefully take it to another level.
MODERATOR: Let's get some thoughts from Yani, speaking of taking it to another level. You were the reigning No.1 for quite a long time and now find yourself a little bit behind No.1. Here we are in Hawaii. How big is this event in your mind to get back on track?
YANI TSENG: Now I just kind of focus on winning the tournament. World No.1 so was my goal, my dream, and I want to come back so bad, but now I focus on what I can do every week, and you have so much things that you have to do outside of the ropes. You still have to focus on the golf. It's very tough. It's not that easy. But now I kind of feel very relaxed and very enjoy - I'm ready to play well again, and I just feel good. I feel this couple of days when I go out to practice, I just feel like I can - I'm ready to win again.
MODERATOR: How is this golf course for you? Do you like it?
YANI TSENG: It's great, I like it. I can just grip it and rip it. It's pretty strong wind out there, and I love to play in wind. The golf course is really soft and I don't know how it's going to go this week, but I just try to focus on every shot and do the best I can.
MODERATOR: Na Yeon Choi, Lotte is a very big global company in Korea, so this is certainly obviously a great thing for you to represent your country in this event. How much would it mean to you to win this week?
NA YEON CHOI: You know, Lotte is very big company and last year I played with the chairman of Lotte and he's really nice, and I think he's really supporting all the LPGA players, so I really appreciate that. I think a lot of Korean fans are going to watch this tournament in Korea, so I'll do my best, and hopefully have good result this week.
MODERATOR: You're normally a little bit more quiet about the World Rankings and don't want to jump up and down on the golf course, but here we've got a new No. 1, we have Stacy Lewis who was No.1, Yani, No.1, Ai Miyazato, world class player. A lot of competition right now. Everybody here got to feel this competition is quite big right now for the LPGA. Can you talk about what it would mean for you?
NA YEON CHOI: I think it's all motivating each other. First of all, I'd like to say congrats to Inbee. Her dreams came true, and that's like a really big thing for all the Korean golfers in Korea right now. I would like to show them that I can reach there, too, just practice hard every day and just try to chase them and just do my best.
Q. Ai, can you give us your sense of what's happening on the LPGA Tour right now? How strong is the LPGA Tour right now?
AI MIYAZATO: Well, I don't have to explain it because you see all the great players here, and of course in the field. There's so many representing their country, the other players, too, so you don't have to explain it. It's just everyone is so motivating right now and it's so competitive, and it's really inspiring. It's just learning something from each other. Having good friends from the other countries, too. Every day is so exciting and it's kind of an adventure for me. It's become a great Tour, I think.
Q. If you could talk about your win last year, you guys were kind of tied making the turn and then you really took off here. Can you talk a little bit about your performance specifically and how it relates to this course?
AI MIYAZATO: Well, I remember it was all about the greens last year because it was - honestly, it was really windy, but then I kept missing the greens, but then I had - I just kept making the putts. Towards the end, still, it was kind of up and down, but I remember I made three or four birdies the last five holes or something. I think that's the point, that was the break point, especially on 15, the par 5, that was huge birdie. I think that I kept my round going until the last, but it was really nice. I didn't know how much of a lead I had on to 17. I watched on the scoreboard and there was only two shot lead or something, but all of a sudden, when I got on 18 it was a four shot lead, so I felt much more relaxed. I remember I felt much more relaxed on the second shot, and it just felt great.
Q. Do you normally watch the board?
AI MIYAZATO: I do, every time. It's just information. I don't feel any pressure from the scoreboard, I'm just watching it, keep watching it. Why not?
Q. In reference to the tragic events in Boston at the marathon yesterday, what are the players' thoughts on security? I know you want to be accessible to the fans and everything, but there's also a question of security. Can any of you address that?
STACY LEWIS: You know, as a Tour we have security out every week, and they come out ahead of time. I don't know, I've never felt unsafe anywhere we've been. Certainly what happened in Boston was sad, and it was on a much bigger scale. There were more people there and on a much bigger scale than what we have going on here. The Tour takes care of us. I've never felt unsafe anywhere we've been. Compared to a lot of other countries where we go, Hawaii is pretty safe. I don't think it's something that we - as a Tour we even have to worry about.
YANI TSENG: I feel good. I feel really safe everywhere we go, and I think the people here are very nice. I heard that news yesterday, and it was very sad, and everybody is praying for Boston and I wish everybody would get well. I mean, on the Tour, everywhere we go, even Asia and everywhere in the States, we always feel good everywhere. It just feels comfortable.
MODERATOR: I think it's important that we get out there that our fan experience is something we're really trying to work on and build and take to a whole 'nother level on the LPGA, accessibility of the players. We certainly don't want to compromise that for security issues, but we do want to give the fans a great experience and we're working toward that, but obviously the seriousness of what happened yesterday is on the minds of everybody at the LPGA, and there is no way that we will not do the right thing and pay tribute tomorrow to those victims and do everything we possibly can to make this the safest environment possible for the players and the spectators who come to our events. That is the prime goal and objective.
INBEE PARK: I definitely agree with Stacy and Yani. I feel very safe playing the LPGA tournaments all over the world, and I think it's one of the most safe, so I'm not really worried. It is sad what happened in Boston, but here I'm sure everybody tries their best to keep us safe, and I really trust them.
Q. Inbee and Ai, what are your strengths and weaknesses in putting?
INBEE PARK: Well, I think I always try to look at Ai's stroke. She has a great stroke. And I always try to look at her stroke and look at her rhythm. Her rhythm is really good on putting, especially -
MODERATOR: The secret is out.
INBEE PARK: I always try to look at Ai's stroke. That's the first thing that I always look at when I'm on the putting green.
MODERATOR: Ai, are you doing a clinic after we get done here?
AI MIYAZATO: Well, I don't know what to say. Thank you, Inbee, you made my day. I don't know, there's no secret about putting. Putter is my favorite club in the golf bag. I think that's the difference maybe. But I'm just very happy that Inbee said that, that she's trying to learn something from my putting. That means a lot to me.
MODERATOR: Let me get a comment from all of you about Inbee because a couple weeks ago at the Kraft everybody was talking about how she's the best putter in the world and she was answering question after question, she was going to make every single putt, she never misses a putt. Stacy, let's get some thoughts from you on what you see.
STACY LEWIS: Well, I think we all agree, Inbee, when she starts making putts, it just feels like everything is going in. Certainly at the Kraft she did that, and I think - the one round that really sticks out to me, though, was the final round of Evian last year. We played together, and I think you had 22 putts or something like that. 22 putts. I mean, that's pretty good. I mean, I don't know. I don't know how she does it, but when she gets on a roll, you're playing with her and you know she's just going to make everything, so it puts pressure on you to play well, too. Putting, that's what wins golf tournaments, and I think when anybody's putter gets hot, that's who's going to win.
MODERATOR: Yani, your thoughts on Inbee?
YANI TSENG: I agree. For me, all the players sitting here are great putters, and I try to tell myself the putter is my perfect club, but it'll never be my perfect club. I always like driving and hitting the shots and trying to make closer. If I can tap in, I'll just tap in and make birdie, and I would love to do that. I'm always working very hard on putting and I learn so much from those players, and it gives me lots of motivation to do better. And sometimes - and I think it's all about confidence. When you have good confidence you're going to make everything. And then when I see Inbee putt, inside 12 feet, I'll give her that. She makes everything.
MODERATOR: NYC, when we have the international crown next year, chances are great you guys will be hanging out a little bit. Why don't you talk about Inbee.
NA YEON CHOI: The good thing is that I use a Srixon ball the same as Inbee, so I can be teamed with Inbee hopefully. She's a really good putter, and every time when I watch her putt, she has the same routine every time. And then I just read some media in Korea, she has like new nicknames, computer putt, like all the media in Korea, they call Inbee like computer putt. I heard before computer shots, but I never heard computer putt. She's like that much good.
MODERATOR: I'll give each and every one of you an opportunity to discuss why the LPGA is different these days. Ai, let's start with you.
STACY LEWIS: I have one. I think you have one, two, three, four and nine in the world sitting here in one press conference. I think that says it right there. I don't think you'd see that on the men's Tour.
YANI TSENG: I think we connect with fans more, much more than the PGA Tour. I mean, all the fans come out here to support us, and we're very close to them. They come back for us every year. We see them every year wherever we go on the Tour. I don't know, I think now the LPGA is getting so strong, you don't know who is going to win next. We are just that strong on the Tour.
MODERATOR: We talk a lot, NYC, inside the Tour about the players and the importance of you all as ambassadors of the LPGA Tour because we are a global tour. Do you feel that responsibility? Seems like that's quite a big thing right now on the LPGA Tour.
NA YEON CHOI: I mean, every time I try my best. I think last year we went to different countries like nine times, Asia or like Europe, a lot of different countries we went. Especially in Asia, golf - especially the LPGA is very famous and very popular right now, and a lot of junior golfers starting golf and watching TV, the LPGA Tour, and trying to have bigger dreams. Sometimes I heard like we were - like Se Ri kids, me and Inbee and all the Korean players, and right now we heard like Inbee kids or Na Yeon kids, and I appreciate that, and I feel really honored.
MODERATOR: Currently 1.5 million plus follow the LPGA on social media platforms via Facebook and Twitter. Inbee Park joined Twitter this past week, correct?
STACY LEWIS: Did you force her to do that?
MODERATOR: I didn't have anything to do with it. Why don't you tell everybody what your Twitter handle is and why you are jumping on.
INBEE PARK: Well, I have a lot of friends and people asking me why I don't have a Twitter, because I'm a little bit lazy. I don't like to do a lot of computer and Tweeting and stuff. I just started two days ago, and I don't even know how to go on other people's page and actually hash tag or something like that. I still need a lesson from somebody.
MODERATOR: Ai Miyazato, what's up?
AI MIYAZATO: I have Instagram. It may be better than Twitter. You can see my picture on Instagram.
MODERATOR: We've actually doubled our social media followers over the last year and a half, so we're pretty proud of that. Thanks for jumping on board. Any other questions from the audience?
Q. I just want to talk a little bit about this tournament. Obviously in Hawaii they have some Hawaiian customs. When you finished last year you kind of got in the Hawaiian custom of the hula dance. Can you talk about how that came about and how good you were?
AI MIYAZATO: Well, after the 18th I didn't know that I have to do the hula dance, and honestly, Sean from the LPGA, he came up to me and said you have to do a hula dance, and I was like, hula dance? The two ladies just came up, and I learned - they teach the hula dance before I go back to the 18th green. But it was a great moment actually. I've never done that before, and it was definitely a good experience. You feel something about Hawaii, actually. You know, I wasn't really good at it, but I definitely had a great time. Hopefully I can do that again this year.
MODERATOR: NYC, are you good at the hula dance and have you rehearsed it?
NA YEON CHOI: I'm not really good with the dance. I'm kind of terrible with the dance.
MODERATOR: Not with the hula dance?
NA YEON CHOI: You never know. After the third round if I'm in contention maybe I need to practice in the room.
MODERATOR: I have a feeling, Yani, you would be just fine.
YANI TSENG: I like to dance but I don't have a good tempo, but I would love to dance.
STACY LEWIS: I didn't realize hula dancing was part of the winner's tradition. I probably wouldn't be very good at it, but I would definitely try.
MODERATOR: Inbee, we already know you're a great putter, but how about hula dancing?
INBEE PARK: That would be a big challenge this week.
MODERATOR: Stacy, the fact that five players in the top 10 in the Rolex Rankings would come in here prior to said a lot about the commitment at that time LPGA, to the folks on the island of Hawaii that support this event, thank you very much. We treat the media like a $5 million sponsor and a partner, so thank you for coming to this event and being part of this week. Enjoy your week here at the tournament.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.
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