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LPGA Tour Ready to Resume after Hiatus


After a three-week break, the LPGA Tour resumes with the 72-hole Lotte Championship, which begins today. The $1.7 million event has an unusual Wednesday start and a Saturday finish.

On Tuesday, various dignitaries and players met with reporters to discuss the tournament, which is being held at Ko Olina Golf Club in Oahu, Hawaii, and will feature 97 of the Tour's top 100 players. Here's what they had to say.

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to the Ko Olina Golf Club. My name's Kraig Kann, I am the chief communications officer here at the LPGA, and on behalf of everybody here, including the commissioner who we'll get to in a moment, could not be more thrilled to be in Hawaii this week once again the LPGA returning to the Ko Olina Golf Club for the Lotte Championship presented by J Golf. It's a $1.7 million purse. Outstanding, expanded TV coverage this week by Golf Channel and all of our worldwide partners, including our presenting sponsor, J Golf.

Thank you all very much for coming this afternoon. We think we have a lot of interesting things to share here today, and certainly it's going to be a terrific week of golf. Albeit though we start a day early and end a day early, which is also unique and primetime coverage on the east coast in the United States which is fantastic. Let me make some introductions and start with the tournament director for the Lotte Championship. To my far right is Mr.Hwan Kim. The commissioner of the LPGA, Mr.Mike Whan. She is No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings, currently No. 1 on the LPGA money list as well, that is Yani Tseng. Next to Yani, No. 2 in the Rolex Rankings, No. 4 on the money list, five career victories, Na Yeon Choi. And I don't know if she really needs an introduction especially given that we are in Hawaii, but I'll roll with this anyway two LPGA victories, a recent graduate of Stanford University, though she hasn't walked yet, No. 1 in the hearts of everybody here in this state, say hello to Michelle Wie.

Let's get some opening comments, and we'll start with Hwan Kim, the tournament director here through the help of a translator, some opening thoughts about the LPGA returning here to Hawaii, and all the great things about this tournament.

HWAN KIM: Aloha. On behalf of Lotte, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the inaugural Lotte Championship here on the beautiful island of Oahu. We are very proud to bring you the championship to Hawaii, especially bringing the world's best female golfers. The Lotte Championship is a testament of Lotte's philosophy. I'd also like to thank our partners, LPGA, J Golf, (Indiscernible). For their generous and steadfast support to bring this tournament back to the island.

We are very grateful to our volunteers who have invested much time in preparing for this tournament. Tomorrow the official tournament tees off on one of the most beautiful golf courses on Oahu with the beautiful views of the Pacific Oceans. I hope all of you will have a wonderful time here at Ko Olina, and watching and writing about the exciting golf action. I wish all of the professionals the best of luck for the tournament tomorrow. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you. And we are thrilled to be here. Mike, great job with the microphone. I'm going to go to you next, commissioner of the LPGA. Lot of people probably don't know that much about Lotte, and among our new sponsors with the LPGA, this is certainly one we're thrilled to welcome.

MIKE WHAN: Yeah, I think there might be more people here aware of Lotte than they ever realized. Lotte is a huge and growing business throughout Asia. You might have run across Lotte in the confectionary and food business. You might have stayed at a Lotte hotel. You might have bought something at a Lotte duty free shop. You might have had a petrol chemical business through Lotte. You might be surprised how many different ways Lotte touches the lives of many consumers throughout Asia, and how they've touched the lives now of the LPGA with this event. Probably also may have heard or you will see when you see the trophy handed to a player on Saturday, you'll see a trophy that is a replica of a skyscraper building. And Lotte is in the process of building the tallest building in Korea, and the second tallest building in the world, 123 stories, 555 meters.

In fact, the winner of this week's event will be able to stay for two nights in the 100th floor of Lotte's new building. Luckily I won't win, because my fear of heights will not be have me on the 10 0th floor of Lotte's building. I've stayed at hotels around the world. I can honestly say I've never stayed in a nicer hotel than the Lotte hotel in downtown Seoul in the course of setting this up. What is exciting for us, Kraig, is Lotte is like a business like the LPGA that touches people all around the world. Like us, it's a growing business excited about getting the brand out. Probably most important for us is Lotte is a company that's been helping women's professional golf for a long time. The LPGA is just their next step in doing that.

You'll find it interesting from a media perspective, if you haven't learned already. Last week, Lotte had an event on the KLPGA, and a 16 year old amateur won that event. Last night it was fun to take pictures of her and Lexi Thompson our recent 16 year old on the LPGA that won. So pretty interesting times for golf, and interesting times for us to have a partner as quality as them and bringing us to a location that, I don't know about you, but every morning when I wake up and somebody says, aloha, I pinch myself and say how lucky we are to be here this week.

MODERATOR: When you come from the east coast over here, you wake up early anyway. But when you're in Hawaii you might as well get up early. We'll have more questions in a moment. I want to swing over and get comments from Michelle, and we'll open it up to questions from the audience. But I want to get a few comments from these players. Michelle, here we are back in the State of Hawaii. I know this has to be a thrill for you. What are your thoughts about the LPGA coming home?

MICHELLE WIE: I was so excited when I heard that Lotte and the LPGA were coming back to Hawaii especially at Ko Olina. This golf course has so many special memories to me. Whether it's playing in the Fields Open or coming here every day to practice. It was so nice. I came here straight after Kraft, so I've been here for two weeks, which has been awesome. Just being here and seeing all the people at Ko Olina again has been really nice. I can't wait to tee up tomorrow and start the tournament.

MODERATOR: Tee it up tomorrow with Lexi and Jess Korda. How about that pairing?

MICHELLE WIE: I figure out I'm four or five years older than both of them. I'm getting old, times are changing. I'm not the young one anymore. But that's exciting too. I'm looking forward to it. I haven't played with Lexi yet, which is surprising, but I'm really looking forward to it.

MODERATOR: Are you the shortest one or the tallest one in that group?

MICHELLE WIE: I still may have that. I may be the tallest one. But Lexi's still growing it seems like every day.

MODERATOR: It's going to be a long drive contest tomorrow too. That will be fun. Yani, what a year you're already having, what a year you had last year. Your thoughts about coming to this event, coming off a major championship that you had an opportunity on the last green. What are your thoughts with your game and being here in Hawaii?

YANI TSENG: I'm always happy to be back here. My parents really wanted to come, but my brother just had a new baby in the last two weeks. Hopefully next year they can be here with me. And I'll have lots of good memories here when I played the first year as a rookie. I was just so happy to be here again playing this golf course. I kind of remember everything from this course, so I'm really looking forward to seeing all the things on the course tomorrow and enjoying this week.

MODERATOR: You've been on a whirlwind Tour yourself. You were in New York City to go to the Knicks Bulls game on Easter Sunday, and the next day you throughout the first pitch at the Mets game against the Washington Nationals, then in between you visited Charlie Rose, one of the top talk shows on television. What was that like for you?

YANI TSENG: It was so much fun to know the different sports and watching the different sports and having the interview with Charlie Rose. It was awesome, especially when you see that 20 year old table. It was so classic. It was my honor to be there and talking with Charlie and to share my stories with everyone around the world.

MODERATOR: I'm going to segue off your trip to New York City by bringing in NYC now. Na Yeon Choi who is here, and right behind Yani in the World Golf rankings right now, the Rolex rankings. Boy, you've got to keep chasing, don't you? She's pretty good?

NA YEON CHOI: Yeah, she's pretty good. Especially last year she was a clear cut No. 1. But everybody's chasing her. We try to work hard, and I think we all motivate each other.

MODERATOR: You had a big win at the end of last year. What did that do for you coming into this year?

NA YEON CHOI: Well, I got a lot of confidence from that win. Then that was like the hundredth win from Korean players' career. So I had a great time after that win, especially in Korea, a lot of people congratulated me. I had a good feeling after that, and I tried to bring this year too.

MODERATOR: One of the best golf swings not only on the LPGA, but in all of golf, Na Yeon Choi. Let's take some questions from the audience.

Q. Why we finish Saturday instead of Sunday here?

MIKE WHAN: Two reasons. First, this tournament probably more than any other tournament we'll play all year is really going to be carried live all around the world. So the interesting thing is for Lotte and its businesses throughout Asia, this will be a Sunday morning live finish. In America, it will be a Saturday night, as Craig said, primetime finish. So we really get interesting live TV all across the world. So it's one of the benefits of playing in Hawaii.

The other thing is one of the things we've been trying to do is find windows where we can have a Tuesday, Wednesday, or even Monday night live golf situation back on the east coast of America. The ratings are pretty good when we get out of that Thursday to Sunday window. First reason was it created a great Sunday morning finish in Asia, and a Saturday night primetime. Second thing is you can see with what's happened to our TV coverage, when we announced this event, we announced a couple of hours a day. That's turned into four and a half a day. So it's going to be a very well received media event literally worldwide on our network.

MODERATOR: The wind is definitely a factor. You're coming to Hawaii, and you hear Kona winds, you hear tradewinds. You need to bring in Mark Rolfing in all the time to find out where the wind is coming from. Michelle, to you first, how much of a factor is that on this golf course? How much will that ultimately determine the winner come Saturday?

MICHELLE WIE: I think the wind has a really big factor to it. When we play Turtle Bay as well too, any golf in Hawaii, the wind is a big factor. All the golf courses are designed for the wind. I think when there is no wind, the course obviously plays a lot easier. So today, when the wind was really blowing, you're going to see a difference in scores.

MODERATOR: You hit it long and so does Yani. Yani, you're No. 1 in driving distance on the Tour. Is that something that will benefit you this week do you feel or maybe not a big factor?

YANI TSENG: I don't think so. I think I just need to keep it on the fairway more. It's going to be windy all week, but at least it's consistently. I've been playing in the wind pretty consistently, like 20 miles. So I'm kind of enjoying playing in like this wind, because you're thinking more on the golf course. You can get a lot of different shots on the golf course, and you just need to be patient all week.

MODERATOR: NYC, you're in the top three on the Tour in putts per round. Is that going to be the biggest thing for you, the putting or is it where you put it off the tee?

NA YEON CHOI: I think the putter is the most important thing. I think the putter makes all the different scores. So I think a lot of people have tried to work hard with their putters.

Q. Two questions to Na Yeon Choi. I've heard about your back pain. What is the status of your back pain? Is it better or worse? The second question is about what she has been doing this year. Do you feel like you're doing better than last year? If so, what is the reason for that?

NA YEON CHOI: Yeah, I had back pain at the RR Donnelly Founders Cup. But after that tournament, I went to San Diego and then I got five times treatment for acupuncture, so after that I felt a lot better. So right now it doesn't bother me anymore. This year, I started very well, especially this decision. So I don't know. I feel great, and I have a lot of confidence with my swing and putter, a lot of my game. So I don't know what I changed last year and this year, but it's something that feels a lot of confidence and comfortable.

MODERATOR: Commissioner, this is one of five new events on the schedule, as you talked about, a new sponsor. Lot of good things are happening. You've got a smile on your face most of the time anyway. About would you like to talk about the stars we have sitting here and see why different things seem to be building?

MIKE WHAN: The most common question I've been asked this week by the local media is how does this tournament rank? How do the players feel the tournament ranks? I always say, it doesn't matter what the commissioner says, look at the facts. We've got 97 of the top 100 LPGA players here. That's major in any other, including LPGA Tour. That's what this tournament means. It means that we've gone from almost doubling our TV coverage than what we originally had when we set out to do this. So you don't have to take my word for the fact that this is a great tournament, and the players are supporting it, and the media's supporting it. Let the facts speak for themselves.

Your specific question, Kraig, 2011 was a good year for us. Our viewership was up 40 percent. We did add five new tournaments. It's been a different kind of world order in the last few years economically in different regions, but I'm excited to see it's coming back. I've said this from the day I took the job. I've been in a lot of businesses growing up, and sometimes I get introduced as a marketing guy. The key thing for marketing guys is to have a product that's great. Because if your product is great, you can't screw it up as a marketing person. If your product's not good, it doesn't matter how good of a marketing person you are.

One of the reasons I wanted to become the commissioner of the LPGA is our product is great. We are different. Saying, See why it's different out here, is one thing, seeing it is another thing. Ask anyone that played in the Pro Am today, ask them if it's different than any other Pro Am you ever played in? And I'll let their answers speak for the LPGA Tour. We're excited to be playing more. We're not playing as much as we will be playing in a long term. But we're excited to be on the upswing, and the reason we're on the upswing because of what's going on inside the ropes. Two years ago we used to sit in these media rooms and they used to say, Commissioner, don't you need one player to be the number one player? Doesn't someone have to breakaway? I remember saying, I don't think anyone's going to breakaway for a long time on the LPGA, it's a tightly bunched pack.

And now a year later people say, don't you need a chase between a bunch of players and we say we don't need anything. The chase pack that's chasing Yani is plenty strong. Yani knows it. What she's doing in setting worldwide records for men or women is spectacular. It doesn't take much, I think, nowadays to be a fan of the LPGA. It just takes either coming out and watching us, and the product and the players and what's happening inside the ropes takes care of itself.

MODERATOR: Since Michelle is so old now and has been out here playing with these ladies for so long, I'm going to let you follow that up and talk about maybe how your game is different and progressed how you feel about it, and how you feel the Tour has changed since you were out here as a young kid?

MICHELLE WIE: It's funny to say I've been through a couple of commissioners. You know, I have to say I've never been more excited about the direction of the LPGA Tour has been going. Especially bringing more tournaments, international and domestic. It's a very exciting time for us. I think there are a lot more players, like you said, at the top that are really good at what they do. It makes it really hard for everyone else to catch up and everything. But I'm really excited. I think golf is one of those sports that you can never get a perfect score in. It can happen, but it's really hard. It's always a game of improvement. I think especially with me, especially this year, and not having the start that I wanted to. It's still fun. You still go out there and work really hard and try to improve your game. That's what it's all about. I'm really excited to see how my hard work is going to pay off. I'm really excited for the Tour.

MODERATOR: Yani, specifically your thoughts on where your game is right now coming off the Kraft Nabisco? And if you would like to share any goals for the rest of the year, maybe share a few secrets?

YANI TSENG: I feel very confident right now, and I feel comfortable. I'm always happy to be on the Tour. I feel like we're all a big family on the Tour, and make some new friends every week. It's always so much fun to be part of this. I think we've got so many great players on the Tour, and we kind of appreciate it and try to get better and better. I feel like I still have a long ways to go. I know everybody's chasing me, but I still have to keep improving myself and keep learning for other players like Annika. It's an awesome experience to be on this. And I think keep learning and keep working hard is my goal and keep smiling. That's one of my big goals this year is to smile more on the course. Because I know if I enjoy playing on the golf course, people are going to enjoy watching too.

MODERATOR: Yeah, but Na Yeon Choi and Michelle don't want to see you smiling too much. That's not good for anybody not named Yani.

Q. This question is directed to Ms.Wie. Since you're officially off of school now and from being a full time pro, I want to know what is your specific goal for this year and what you want to shoot for as a full time pro for this year?

MICHELLE WIE: My goals are always the same. I want to win tournaments and be the best player I can be. But I have to say it's been nice. The last two weeks have been a taste of what it's going to be like, and it just hit me last week. I remember waking up and thinking I'm never going to have homework ever again in my entire life, and I smiled. It was kind of awesome. I never have to write a paper. I never have to study for an exam. But I'm really excited. I'm excited about the fact that I have more time to focus on my game more. I know I've always said that I still have a lot of time to practice when I go to school. And I felt like I've done a really good job of juggling, but it still is juggling. I'm excited for the fact that I don't have to do that anymore. Hopefully this summer I'll improve a lot over where I am now, and start winning a lot of tournaments. That would be awesome.

Q. I just wonder is Lotte Korean company or Japanese company? Lotte is pretty big in Japan, and how big is Lotte in Korea?

HWAN KIM: I am in Korea. I am Korean, so I believe Lotte is Korean company.

Q. We have a big Lotte too.

MIKE WHAN: It's funny last night Chairman Shin, when he dressed the group, he would say most people in Japan say Lotte is a Japanese company, and most people in Korea say Lotte is a Korean company, and they take great pride in that. They want to be local and succeed in both their markets. I think pretty quickly in the not too distant future we'll add more countries to that list, because they're really expanding throughout Asia so quickly. I think they're a significant company that got its start in Japan, and quickly got its start in Korea right after. Today they take pride in the fact that both of them consider themselves hometown success stories.

Q. Michelle, does being at home create any more pressure to play to the home crowd, or are you more relaxed because you are so familiar with the course and surrounding people?

MICHELLE WIE: I think it's a combination of both. I'm so excited to be here as I said before. I feel very relaxed because I know the golf course, and I know the people. But I also kind of feel it's a good opportunity especially because we haven't been here in the last couple of years is to show the hometown crowd a good show. I really want to play well this week, and be in contention just to kind of show what I've got when I go back home. So I'm really excited to see the crowd. I hope everyone comes out and cheers us all on. I'm just excited to see everyone.

MODERATOR: Final thought from you, Mike?

MIKE WHAN: I just want to say, Michelle, I've probably never said this. But in a media interview at Kraft I said, I've never been more jealous of Michelle Wie, and it has nothing to do with your golf game. Everyone in this room would like to consider themselves a Stanford grad. So you talk about golf, but what you've accomplished in the last four years is pretty amazing, and being able to stay in the top 20 in the world. So regardless how you play, you have something the rest of us wish we had as well.

MODERATOR: Thank you to everybody for attending today. We appreciate it. Hope to see you out there golf Wednesday through Saturday here at the Lotte championship.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.