There’s no place like home. Ai Suzuki, a standout on Japan’s Ladies Professional Golf Association circuit, didn’t use those exact words at the Toto Japan Classic but the sentiment was there. Suzuki played the final 36 holes bogey-free, including a closing 5-under 67 to win the only LPGA Tour event played in her home nation by three shots ahead of South Korea’s Hyo Joo Kim.
Suzuki made only one bogey for the entire 54 holes, a 5 on the par-4 11th early on Friday. She also posted 18 birdies, which means she played a third of her holes under par.
“I was nervous last night,” Suzuki, speaking through an interpreter, said of playing the final round with the lead. “This is not the Japan tour so I kept thinking if I can only play like I am playing on the JLPGA (things will work out).
“I was surprised that I settled in (so quickly). I played well last week (on the JLPGA and won), and the first two days this week, unbelievably good golf, really. From tee to green I did not feel as though I would ever make a bogey. I just needed to be careful not to miss any short putts. My shots were so good I didn’t have any long par putts.” Kim, who played in Sunday’s last group with Suzuki, made a run, making birdies on her last three holes and five of her last eight for her third runner-up finish of the season and her 12th top-10. “Next week I will practice more and it will work out for another top-10 at the CME Group Tour Championship,” Kim said, also through an interpreter.
A couple of Americans made charges on Sunday as well. Early in the afternoon, Morgan Pressel put everyone on alert when she made five birdies in a row on the front nine and turned with a 29. Pressel cooled off on the back but finished at 8 under, tied for 10th place.
“I really haven't had my ‘A’ game for the whole (Asia) trip, but I’m proud of the way I’ve grinded it out the last two weeks,” Pressel said.
Rookie Jennifer Kupcho was also proud of her performance. Kupcho didn’t start her season until the U.S. Women’s Open in May, deferring LPGA Tour membership until she turned pro after the NCAA Championship. She played well enough throughout the summer to earn starts in Asia and shot 10 under in Japan to tie for fourth.
“I was hitting the ball really well. Gave myself a lot putts. I even missed a couple, left them on the lip,” Kupcho said. “It’s been really cool just to see all the different countries and different cultures. It’s definitely something I would’ve never dreamed of.”
Suzuki is the second Japanese non-LPGA Tour member to win this season, joining AIG Women’s British Open winner Hinako Shibuno. Both players have until next week to decide if they will join the LPGA Tour in 2020. Shibuno is leaning against LPGA Tour membership. The Smiling Cinderella is quite happy in Japan. Suzuki said she is about 70 percent sure she will join.
“It has always been my dream (to join the LPGA Tour),” Suzuki said. “I feel like I want the challenge. But I can’t speak English. And I need to talk to my family because I need their support. I am not good about moving around, traveling and (eating different) foods. First thing I want is to win the (JLPGA) money title and play in the (2020) ANA Inspiration.”
With this win, that last goal will most certainly come true.
RESULTS | RACE TO CME GLOBE
Staff and Wire Reports