Bizarrely, the venue for this week’s Lotte Championship was only announced less than a month ago, an odd set of circumstances for a tournament that has been on the LPGA schedule for 10 years.
After eight editions at Hawaii’s Ko Olina Golf Club and one – last year – at the Kapolei Golf Club, the tournament will be staged this year at the Hoakalei Country Club on Oahu.
Something similar happened last year with the tournament’s move to Kapolei and it is to be hoped a more stable home can be found for future stagings.
Like this week’s RBC Heritage on the PGA Tour, this is the first tournament back since the year’s first major though the LPGA took a break last week.
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Lydia Ko’s three-year slump ended in no uncertain terms with a seven-shot victory in this event last year.
Rounds of 63-67-65-65 for a 28-under total gave her the third lowest score to par in LPGA history and left in her wake a slew of impressive names including runners-up Inbee Park, Nelly Korda, Sei Young Kim and Leona Maguire.
RIGHT: Lydia Ko took home the title in Hawaii last year. PHOTO: Christian Petersen/Getty Images.
While she has never returned to the dizzying heights of her first two years on Tour, Ko has been a regular contender again since this win and will be among the favourites this week.
COURSE: The course will be an interesting test for this week’s field as it plays host to a professional tournament for the first time.
Designed by Ernie Els as the centrepiece of a residential estate in 2009, images and the limited reviews available online suggest a resort style at Hoakalei Country Club that should offer little resistance to a field of this calibre.
Built on a former sugar plantation offering little in the way of elevation change, the course features more than 100 bunkers and water hazards to consider on 13 holes though these tend to be more problematic for the handicap player than the Touring Professional.
Strong winds, however, can be a factor and will be of particular concern in the afternoons.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: A near full strength field will make the trip to Hawaii including newly minted major champion Jennifer Kupcho.
A week off between her maiden major win and this week’s tournament will have done her good and it would be no surprise if she were to contend again.
Six of the world’s top-10 are in attendance (World No.2 Nelly Korda is still recovering from recent surgery on a clot in her arm) which should ensure high quality, competitive golf.
Defending champion Lydia Ko was disappointing at the Chevron a fortnight ago but that means little for this week.
Her T25 there was her worst result of the season and she is a threat at every event she plays.
More encouraged by her performance at Mission Hills will be Hannah Green whose T8 finish was, surprisingly, just her second top-10 in a major alongside her 2019 Women’s PGA win.
The West Australian picked up yardage while at home in Perth during lockdown and her win in the mixed TPS Murray River event has given her a confidence boost heading into this season.
Green looks determined to add to her LPGA victory total in 2022 and it would be a surprise if she hasn’t done so by year’s end. It would be no surprise, however, if that next win were to come this week.
Two other Australians who are less likely to contend but for whom the week is an important one are rookies Karis Davidson and Steph Kyriacou.
Davidson is making her first start as a member while Kyriacou is playing her second event.
Early season earnings can take the pressure off later in the year and both will be looking to make the most of every opportunity, this one included.
72-HOLE RECORD: 260 (-28, Lydia Ko 2021)
18-HOLE RECORD: 62 (Lizette Salas, 2013 & Cristie Kerr, 2017)
PAST AUSSIE WINNERS: Minjee Lee (2016)
AUSTRALIANS IN THE FIELD: Hannah Green, Sarah Kemp, Steph Kyriacou, Karis Davidson, Sarah Jane Smith and Su Oh.
Round 1: Thursday (Fox Sports 503 9am –1pm)
Round 2: Friday (Fox Sports 503 9am – 1pm)
Round 3: Saturday (Fox Sports 503 9am – 1pm)
Round 4: Sunday (Fox Sports 503 9am – 1pm)
*AEST, check local guides