EUN-HEE JI CRUISES INTO KIA CLASSIC
Defending Kia Classic champion Eun-Hee Ji credits her final-round ace at Aviara Golf Club with helping her earn her fourth LPGA Tour victory in 2018. She took home not only the $270,000 winner’s check but also two sets of keys — one to a 2019 Kia Stinger fastback sports sedan and the other to a 2019 Kia Sorento SXL.
“I think that the hole-in-one really helped toward my win last year. I don't think I could have done that without hitting that hole-in-one,” said Ji, who aced the par-3 No. 14 with her 7-iron from 166 yards. “There were a lot of hard holes out there. Once I hit that it gave me some breathing room, felt more comfortable out there. I was able to breathe a little more. “
The 32-year-old from the Republic of Korea had a hot start to the 2019 season with a win at the inaugural Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions. That said, she still identifies areas to improve in her game and hopes to continue her hot streak.
“I won Diamond Resorts and of course that made me feel a lot more confident about my game,” said Ji, who has two other top-10 finishes so far this year. “Ever since then I'm still working on some things. Of course, being the Kia Classic defending champion, there is some pressure to do well, plus with the win earlier this year. But as long as I just focus on my own game, that's all I really need to do to do well this week.”
Ji will tee off with fellow Kia Classic champions Cristie Kerr (2015) and Lydia Ko (2016) at 12:55 p.m. on No. 1.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT DEFENDING CHAMPION EUN-HEE JI
- Ji shot back-to-back rounds 67s in the third and fourth rounds at the 2018 Kia Classic, and made a hole-in-one in the final round on the par-3 14th en route to her victory
- Ji’s victory at the 2018 Kia Classic was the fourth of her LPGA Tour career; her previous wins were the 2008 Wegmans LPGA, 2009 U.S. Women’s Open and 2017 Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship
- Ji earned two cars in her 2018 victory, a 2019 Kia Sorento SXL from the ace and a 2019 Kia Stinger thanks to the victory
- After her win, Ji jumped 16 spots on the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings from 38th to 22nd
- She won the LPGA Tour’s 2019 season opener, the inaugural Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions presented by Insurance Office of America
- Ji is one of two players with wins in the last three consecutive seasons (2017-2019), joining current World No. 1 Sung Hyun Park
- In 2019, Ji has made four starts; in addition to her win, she finished fifth at the Honda LPGA Thailand and seventh at the HSBC Women’s World Championship
LPGA TOUR ROOKIE ALANA URIELL MAKES DREAM START ON HOME COURSE
Alana Uriell grew up in Carlsbad, Calif., and had to wait until the final cut-off to find out if she would tee it up at the Kia Classic. The day before tournament entries closed, the University of Arkansas alumna was fourth on the alternate list, and when she finally got a call from Tournament Director Lindsay Allen, Uriell couldn’t have been more happy to finally make the tournament field.
“Kia Classic has always been the No. 1. It's at my home course,” said the 2019 LPGA Tour rookie. “I was just so happy to be able to like live out this dream of playing here after I've been watching this tournament for so long. The first person I texted was my coach, Jason Puterbaugh. He is an instructor here that I've been going to since I was a kid. So to live out this moment with my coach on our home course is just amazing.”
Uriell grew up following her LPGA Tour idols Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer, Brittany Lincicome and Natalie Gulbis at Aviara. This year, she will tee off along her favorite players, even announced by the same starter that she’s dreamed of being announced by.
“[Joe Raftery], he’s the starter on No. 1. I've always watched him announce the girls, and he does it in such an amazing way,” said Uriell, who on March 11 won the Symetra Tour’s SKYiGOLF Championship in her professional debut. “I'm always like, ‘Oh, I wish he would announce me.’ So on the first tee when he announces me, that's going to be the moment of like ‘I'm actually here.’ It's going to be so special. And not to mention like little whole crowd of people that I have that are going to be here. It's so amazing. Like just to see all these people that I love and care for all in one place is going to be awesome.”
LOVE ON THE BRAIN FOR ANNA NORDQVIST
Eight-time LPGA Tour winner Anna Nordqvist secured her fourth win at the 2014 Kia Classic and has won every year since. But the veteran player says that since her last win at the 2017 Evian Championship, she had been struggling with her health.
“I think probably last year I was mental and physically exhausted already in April. If you look from a year ago I've come a long way. The results hasn't really been there, but at the same time, you just got to kind of take baby steps,” explained the 31-year-old from Sweden. “It's been a little bit up and down. I’ve just been very tired the last couple years. I'm just finding my health, getting a little bit better. I have a little bit more energy now, which is all I care about. It's nice to see.”
With her recent engagement to LPGA Tour caddie Kevin McAlpine, Nordqvist is looking forward to tying the knot and the distraction afforded by planning their July 2020 wedding.
“We got engaged in December and going to wait until next summer to get married,” said Nordqvist. “I kind of enjoy like planning things, so we're going to plan our own wedding, which is kind of exciting. It's just going to be a fun journey. A lot of friends and family are obviously very excited for us. We're going to do it in Scotland. It's going to be a mixture of Scottish and Swedish culture. It's definitely going to be something I'm going to look forward to. I think the whole process is going to keep my mind a little bit off the game, off the course.”
TIFFANY JOH LOOKING FOR A BREAK IN CARLSBAD
Tiffany Joh is notorious for paddling out to catch waves whenever she can, so there’s no doubt that’s where perhaps the Tour’s most hilarious player will be before competition starts.
“As you know, I try to find a place to paddle out no matter where we go. Arizona was a little hard,” said the native Southern Californian. “Yeah, doing things I love, I try to do them all the time. If there is a surf break nearby, I will probably be at it. I mean, I think I've driven like three hours to go surfing before.”
Joh switched things up to her team late in 2018 and feels like the changes are positive. Her new swing coach, Adam Porzak, and her trainer, Cody Smith, are two new members of Team Joh, but she had connections to them that go back to her junior golf days.
“We played junior golf events together.,” said Joh of Porzak, who she has known since age 12. “His dad was on the board for the First Tee of San Diego. It's been really, really nice. He also introduced me to my fitness coach I started working out with, another guy I've known since second grade.”
Joh made other changes during her offseason to adjust to how she prepared for the 2019 season. She even played in a few Cactus Tour events to get some more competitive rounds in leading up to the LPGA Tour’s West Coast Swing.
“I kind of realized over the offseason I was probably practicing too much and not playing enough. So once I went into a tournament, kind of just went all sideways,” said Joh, who missed the cut at the ISPS Handa Vic Open but bounced back to a T40 finish last week at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. “So when we had that little break after Australia I signed up for a couple Cactus Tour events to get a feel for what I need to do in a tournament situation. I think that actually really helped a lot, because last week I felt really comfortable with them and I hit the ball great. Yeah, I'm feeling pretty good.”
JIM MCCORMICK NOMINATED FOR KIA CLASSIC AXA LPGA VOLUNTEER SERVICE AWARD
Jim McCormick has dedicated his service to the Kia Classic every year the tournament has been in Carlsbad. Serving as the Transportation Chairman, he has gone above and beyond in providing great service for the LPGA Tour. He has even purchased two Kia vehicles after his years of driving Kias from the fleet. The tournament is proud to recognize Jim as an outstanding volunteer from the Kia Classic for the 2019 AXA LPGA Volunteer Service Award.
For more information on the AXA XL LPGA Volunteer Service Award, visit www.lpga.com/tournaments/axa-xl-lpga-volunteer-service-award.