The LPGA Tour makes a stop in paradise this week on Hainan Island for the second staging of the Blue Bay LPGA. Defending champion Lee-Anne Pace will be in the field this week alongside 15 of the top-20 players on the Tour’s Official Money List. The event’s first year was rain-shortened to 54 holes with a Monday finish but the forecast for the week at Jian Lake Blue Bay Golf course looks promising. Nine rookies are in the field alongside 15 members of the CLPGA.
DEFENDING ON A HOLIDAY
Lee-Anne Pace is treating her title defense this week in Sanya as a holiday. The 34-year old from South Africa had won nine times on the Ladies European Tour prior to her maiden LPGA victory and said simply that her best memory from last year was ‘winning.’
“Holding the trophy,” said Pace.
Pace had won on Hainan Island before at an LET event and considers the Chinese province a place she holds dear to her heart. Pace, who invited her sister along to enjoy the resort for the week, said she feels no pressure to defend and will stick to the same game plan that lead her to victory a year ago.
“No, I’m not adjusting. I’m going to go at the golf course the same way that I did last year,” said Pace. “Obviously I think if it’s not raining it’ll play a little bit shorter. But no, no pressure. I love being here. There’s something special about this island for me. I always enjoy it here. I think it’s in my heart. I feel very comfortable, and I’ve got my sister here this week, so it’s really great to have family here.”
Pace, who has one top-10 this year (T6 at Evian Championship) is coming off two top-25 finishes in her last two stops in Asia and feels good about her game coming into this.
“I’d love to defend it. I’m playing well at the moment, striking the ball great,” said Pace. “I think it’s a nice golf course where you have to attack the small parts of the green, so if you’re pretty accurate with your irons, you’re going to score well this week.”
Pace said the biggest difference coming back to an LPGA event as a defending champion is the hotel room upgrade.
“The room, yeah. I’ve got a suite this week, which is just amazing. I’ve never stayed in a room like that, which is really cool,” said Pace. “I woke up with a smile this morning, had coffee in bed and laughed, and it was just so relaxing. I really honestly feel like I’m on holiday, which is cool, when you’re playing golf.”
“And I just want to say, Michelle, I’m really jealous of those shoes you have. I saw Michelle two weeks ago, and she’s got these stunning high tops, and I really wish we wore the same size shoe because I loved them.” –Lee-Anne Pace complimenting Michelle Wie during this week’s press conference on her new Nike Blazer golf shoe
ON THE BRINK OF A BREAKTHROUGH
Shanshan Feng returns home to China this week to play in front of her compatriots at the Blue Bay LPGA and seems to be very close to a winning breakthrough. Feng, who trails only Lydia Ko in top-10 finishes this year on Tour (12 in 19 starts) said a mid-year putting adjustment put her closer and closer to capturing her fifth LPGA Tour title.
She has three top 10’s in her last four starts including a tie for third at the Evian Championship and a runner up at the Tour’s first Asia stop in Malaysia.
“Well, I would say earlier this year, like the first half of the year, my putting wasn’t really good, so even though I was making a lot of top 10s, but I was like seventh, eighth, ninth mainly, but then I think I made a little bit of adjustment, and now I feel more confident in my putting, so I’ve been putting well recently, and that’s why I’ve got like seconds and thirds recently, and then I would say, you know, like I think in Malaysia I played really well this year,” said Feng.
Feng has no problem getting on the green but still has room for improvement in her putting. She ranks fourth on Tour in Greens in Regulation but ranks 38th in Putts per GIR and 83rd in Putting Average.
Feng started three shots off the lead heading into the final round at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia three weeks ago but said eventual champion Jessica Korda was too strong on Sunday. She shot 66 on Sunday but Korda closed with a 65 and finished four shots clear of the field. Feng realizes how hard it is to win week in and week out on Tour but believes she’s ready for another victory and another one in front of Chinese fans. She won the inaugural Reignwood LPGA Classic in 2013 in Beijing. Her last win came last season in the fall Asian swing at the Sime Darby Malaysia.
“I mean, just because Jessica played too well,” said Feng. “It’s like sometimes you’ll bring out your A game but somebody brings out like a super A or A+. That happens because the girls here are just so good, and anyone has a chance to win every week. I would say even though I haven’t won this year, I do feel like my condition is pretty good. I won’t be surprised if I win in the rest of the year.”
SCENES FROM SANYA
The resort of Greentown Blue Bay on Hainan Island gives LPGA players one of the most beautiful settings to share with their followers on social media and as players arrived on Monday, posts of the hotel views and waterfront scenery on the course were abundant. An opening ceremony with Lee-Anne Pace, Inbee Park and Shanshan Feng and a photo call with Michelle Wie, Jessica Korda, Sandra Gal and Xi Yu Lin were held at a lavish villa on property.