SINGAPORE – Park In-bee was awake, changed and ready for practice well before the first glimpse of the sun appeared over the Sentosa Golf Club (SGC) on Tuesday (April 27).
It is this work ethic that has made the South Korean one of the best players in the modern era – she is the reigning Olympic champion and her tally of seven Majors makes her the most successful Asian – though her restlessness was also the result of cabin fever.
Park, like most of the elite 69-player field at this week’s HSBC Women’s World Championship, arrived on Monday from the United States after the weekend’s Los Angeles Open.
The 17-hour flight was followed by another 12 to 14 hours spent quarantined in their hotel room at Fairmont Singapore as they waited for confirmation of a negative Covid-19 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test.
There have been no positive cases so far from the overseas players, caddies and officials in town for the US$1.6 million (S$2.1 million) tournament, which was cancelled last year due to the pandemic.
It is the first event on any international golf tour to take place on the continent since the men-only Asian Tour’s Malaysian Open in March last year. The LPGA’s last event on Asian soil – a major market for the circuit given the number of top players from this part of the world – was the Toto Japan Classic in November 2019.
The players here will then head to Chonburi for next week’s LPGA Thailand, part of the Tour’s shortened Asia Swing after the May 13-16 Blue Bay LPGA on Hainan Island in China was dropped earlier this month.
Two separate bubbles have been established as part of safe management measures, with daily attendances this week capped at 250 fans – all corporate guests.
The inner bubble is for all the players, caddies, selected officials and tournament staff. They are shuttled from Fairmont Singapore straight to SGC and not allowed anywhere else in the Republic. The outer bubble is for spectators, local media and SGC staff.
Park, 32, has won the HSBC event twice (2015 and 2017). Despite her familiarity with the par-72, 6,718-yard set-up, she was among the first few out on the New Tanjong Course.
The world No. 2 said: “I came out this morning as early as I could. I just wanted to get out of the room and get some fresh air, see the golf course… Singapore is definitely a special spot for me and I really love being here. Even if we are just stuck in the room all week this week, I am still going to enjoy the very good food with the very good food delivery system.”
She has started the season in blistering form, winning her first event, the Kia Classic in March, and posting tied-seventh, tied-second and tied-15th finishes in April.
The secret to taming the New Tanjong Course was “reading the greens correctly and having good speed around them”, said Park. “I’ve got to hit the second shots close but putting is going to be definitely the big key this week.”
Her compatriots will be her main challengers. World No. 1 Ko Jin-young is seeking her first win of the year and ended tied-third last week in Los Angeles. Fourteenth-ranked Park Sung-hyun may be struggling – with four missed cuts in five starts this term – but is determined to defend her HSBC crown.
Sung-hyun, 27, said of her 2019 victory: “I remember not losing focus until the end and trying to make a lot of birdies. I didn’t know that I was in contention then during the final round, but I was really focused.”
Looking ahead to this edition, she added: “I know I haven’t been playing well the last couple of tournaments, but recalling these memories gives me a lot of confidence going into this week.”
Former world No. 1 Lydia Ko may be feeling the effects of jet lag – she was working out in her hotel room at 6am – but the New Zealand star was confident of being in peak condition when the competition starts on Thursday.
The weight on her shoulders, after all, is considerably lighter after her victory at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii two weeks ago. It ended a winless drought that had stretched 1,084 days and moved her up to world No. 7, the first time she has been in the top 10 since November 2017.
Ko, who turned 24 last Saturday (April 24), said: “In Hawaii, I felt my wedge game was really good, I was setting up a lot of good birdie opportunities for myself. Overall, I was driving it well, so everything was clicking, and sometimes it’s very rare to have moments where everything you feel is going the right way.
“But that’s why you keep training and all week, I thought, okay, just trust my training and that’s it.
“No matter how well you’re playing or no matter what ranked player you are, you can always improve. It’s a constant work to get better little by little.”