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Honda LPGA Thailand 2016

by Tim Clute

Lexi Thompson raised the winner’s trophy at the Honda LPGA Thailand 2016 played at the Siam Country Club Old Course from 25 February through 28 February. This marked the 10th anniversary of the event which has been held at the same venue since 2009. The tournament featured some great golf on a great course over the four days. The strong field featured 9 of the top 10 ranked ladies golfers in the world who came from around the globe including South Korea, Japan, Australia, China, Spain, Taipei, Sweden, South Africa, Germany, France and of course Thailand.

The obvious star was Lexi Thompson who set the pace with an opening round of 64 - which ended up being the equal low round of the tournament. In the second round, Lexi could only manage a level par 72 and at the halfway mark she was in a three way tie at the top of the leaderboard alongside Q Baek and Jessica Korda. In the third round however, Lexi decided that she liked carding a round of 64 so much that she did it again and stormed to a 4 shot lead heading into the final round.

Playing in the final grouping alongside Ms Thompson and defending champion Amy Yang, In Gee Chun of South Korea made a valiant attempt to catch Lexi opening her final round with three straight birdies before making bogey on the fourth. She would enter the back 9 trailing by just 2 shots and it looked like we might be in for an exciting finish. Ms Thompson had other ideas and calmly made eagle on the par 5 10’th extending her lead to 3 as In Gee could not keep pace with her birdie.

The par 4 11’th hole was a turning point. I had a great vantage point near the green and unfortunately watched as In Gee scalded her approach shot through the back of the green and was faced with a difficult up and down to save par. She made what looked to be a par saving chip, but missed the short putt to drop a shot and fall back to 4 shots behind.

Over the final 7 holes Lexi did not drop a shot and managed to pick up a further birdie on the par 4 15’th. In Gee had a roller coaster final 7 holes. Her final par of the day came on the par 3 12’th and over her closing 6 holes she turned in 3 birdies, 2 bogeys and one double on the par 4 17’th hole. In the end Lexi Thompson won by 6 strokes over runner up In Ge Chun, and in so doing secured her 7’th career victory on the LPGA tour.

Not to be forgotten, Jessica Korda fired a closing round 64 of her own to move up 8 slots finishing equal third with defending champion Amy Yang, a total of 7 shots off the pace.

Of special note, 2016 featured the first ever winner of a brand new Honda Accord at the LPGA Thailand. Despite the prize being on offer since the inception of the event, this was the first time any player has managed to seal the deal. The honour went to Xi Yu Lin of China. On Friday she celebrated her 20’th birthday and on Saturday she won a car. Her tee shot looked a bit long as it landed some 35 feet past the hole.  However it was perfectly placed and managed to catch the slope just right and rolled its way down and straight in to the cup - never looked like missing. Xi Yu Lin managed a respectable 10’th place finish for the tournament, so all in all not a bad weekend for the young golfer from China.

From the spectator point of view, the tournament could not have been better. In addition to the world class field, every aspect was well thought out and executed. Entrance to the course was simple and efficient. The area near the clubhouse had all the amenities you would expect and then some. Off to one side there were various sponsor booths with the added bonus of fans blowing cool mist for the visitors.

There were golf coaching clinics available for the youngsters, and a giant screen TV showing the action for those that were not wanting to venture out on the course or merely taking a break and enjoying some refreshment.

Both Thai and Western food was available and at a reasonable price. There was a beautifully laid out “Thai Food” stall offering all range of noodle and rice dishes. I particularly liked that everything was one price (90 baht) and you paid in advance to someone whose sole job was to handle the money.  This of course meant that those preparing and serving could provide a high level of hygiene which is a welcome sight. There was also a kindly gentleman helping those unfamiliar with the process to select from the vast array of choices.  I sampled noodle soup with pork and it was delicious with a generous serving and the pork was succulent. Later in the day I chose a chicken and mushroom pie that was served warm and very tasty

Every thirst could be quenched with almost every imaginable beverage available.  And to their credit, even toward the end of the day there was still plenty to choose from. Most importantly

there were adequate toilet facilities not only near the clubhouse but out on the course as well!

The great thing about attending a golf tournament is that you can choose to enjoy it in the manner that best suits you. You can elect to stay near the main clubhouse, where you will also find the 1’st and 10’th tees as well as the 9’th and 18’th greens. Given the split tee format of the Honda LPGA, this ensures there will be live golf to enjoy here for most of the day.

You can also choose to wander on to the course itself with pretty much unrestricted access except to the actual playing area. You might choose to follow a particular group around or find a nice spot in the shade under a tree and watch as the field moves through the course.

I chose one such spot near the 16’th green where I witnessed a terrific display of support for one particular group that featured 2 players from Japan. Initially there were about a dozen spectators who had similar ideas to mine, but as this group approached the green they were accompanied by a gallery of some 50 or more ardent followers providing encouragement and support. On completion of the hole, their entourage followed them to the 17’th tee.  I found this particularly heartwarming as this was during the final round and the grouping was well out of contention.

When watching a tournament live, I like to take the opportunity to see some of the action away from just watching the leaders. I decided to catch a glimpse on the final day of Thailand amateur Paphangkorn Tavatanakit.  I caught up with her on the par 3 8’th hole (her 17’th due to the split tee start)  She attacked the pin and nearly holed out but had to settle for a tap in birdie.  The 11’th grade student from Bangkok finished in a tie for 42’nd place which is an excellent result for any amateur in a field of this strength. She just might become a real star in Ladies Golf for Thailand in the future.

After nearly eight hours of entertainment, great golf and great hospitality it was sadly time to leave.  In a final nod of approval to the overall experience, the police directing traffic did an excellent job of keeping things moving smoothly and helping make sure everyone could exit without any hassle.

I am already looking forward to next year. This is really a “Don’t Miss” event in Pattaya and on my scorecard, I marked it as a hole in one.