A very young group of Chinese players will attempt to stop the Korean dominance of the Hyundai China Ladies Open when the 10th edition of the national championship tees off on Friday at Mission Hills Haikou.
With China No. 1 Feng Shanshan playing in a tournament in Dubai this week, the home side will be relying on promising teenagers such as US LPGA Tour regular Yan Jin and top rookie pros Shi Yuting and Ye Ziqi to stop the Koreans who have won the championship for nine consecutive years.
Coming into Hainan Island with a hot hand is 17-year-old Shi. Last week the Beijing teenager overcame wind and cold conditions in Taiwan to finish runner-up at the TLPGA Open, three shots behind winner Phoebe Yao.
Her strong showing earned her a card on next year’s Taiwan LPGA Tour, something she plans to take advantage of as she is not old enough for the US LPGA Tour and Japan LPGA Tour qualifying schools.
“My main goal next year is US LPGA membership or Japan LPGA membership. I need more events to prepare myself, which is why I went to Taiwan to qualify for TLPGA membership,” said Shi, a national team member who has appeared in the US Women’s Open for the past two seasons. “In January, I plan to go there to play the three biggest events on the TLPGA Tour.”
“This is my third time to play Blackstone, so it is kind of a familiar feeling.” said Shi. “The layout is interesting with many hazards around landing areas and greens. It’s a great challenge.”
Citing top young Chinese pros Feng Simin, winner of the recent US LPGA Tour qualifying school, and Japan LPGA Tour regular Lu Wanyao as her inspiration, Shi said she needed to work harder to catch up with them.
“This is my rookie year. I think I can merit a grade of B on my performance. I was consistent and learned a lot. But I had no win so far. The season is not over, yet. This week is another chance. A win will be the icing on the cake especially at your national championship.”
After finishing equal 11th at last year’s Hyundai China Ladies Open, 10 strokes behind winner Kim Hyo-joo in Shenzhen, Shi said she hoped to put up more of a challenge against the top Koreans this year as the tournament shifts to the Mission Hills Haikou Blackstone course under wet conditions. Others in the field include Chun In-gee, the world No. 9 who won the US Women’s Open in July.
Following a year where Chun In-gee has won major tournaments in the US, Japan and Korea, the rising Korean star said Wednesday that it was her aim to finish in the the top-10 of the LPGA Tour money list next season when she will play full-time in America for the first time.
“For past nine years the winner is always from Korea, but Chinese players improved fast,” said Chun. “Babe Liu (Chinese Taipei) played practice rounds with me. We are good friends. She played well and had a nice finish at the Japan LPGA qualifying tournament. Shi Yuting is always there. So anyone can win this week, including Chinese players.”
A tired Yan Jing arrived back in China a few days ago after successfully retaining her playing card in dramatic fashion at the US LPGA Tour qualifying school in Florida. After five rounds and a four-under score, the teenager found herself in a tie for 19th with two other players. With the top-20 players earning their card, she shot par-birdie-birdie in a playoff to earn one of the two cards available. All told, five China LPGA Tour alumni earned their US LPGA Tour playing cards for the 2016 season at this year’s qualifying school.
After playing in the Hyundai China Women’s Open since 2008, the Singapore-based Yan said the tournament had a special place in her heart and she believed it was important to support the national championship and pay back the fans and the China LPGA Tour.
“I’m glad to get my full LPGA Tour card in a playoff. Whatever finish I have this week is not important now,” said Yan, who finished tied for ninth at last year’s championship after a memorable ending where she went birdie-eagle-birdie over the final three holes in Shenzhen.
“I have played this [Blackstone] golf course earlier this year, however, it should be different because of the different set up and the weather.”
The US$550,000 Hyundai China Ladies Open is a co-sponsored event between the China LPGA Tour and the LPGA Tour of Korea (KLPGA). It is the final event of the 2015 China LPGA Tour season and the first tournament of the 2016 KLPGA Tour.