TOUR RETURNS TO SHANGHAI FOR FIRST TIME SINCE 2019

A lot has changed since the Buick LPGA Shanghai was last played on the LPGA Tour in 2019.

In addition to the world being plunged into a global pandemic, which kept professional golf from returning to the People’s Republic of China for the past three years, there’s also quite a bit that’s happened to reshape the women’s game.

Take the top-two ranked players in the field – Lilia Vu and Ruoning Yin – who headline the Tour’s return to Shanghai for the first time in four years. Back then, Vu was in the midst of her first season on the LPGA Tour and wasn’t able to qualify for the event. Yin was the No. 64 ranked amateur in the world and still competing as a junior golfer.

Three years later, Vu is the top-ranked American in women’s golf and is in the midst of a breakout season that has seen her win three times, including two major championships. Yin has enjoyed her own stellar season with two victories, most notably capturing her first major title.

And while there’s plenty that has changed in the world and in the game, some things remain the same.

Like defending champion Danielle Kang, who is still very much one of the top-ranked players in the women’s game, and who, after a three-year wait, will finally get a chance to try and win for a third consecutive time in China.

In 2018, Kang won by two strokes ahead of a pack of players that included Lydia Ko. In 2019, Kang successfully defended her title by holding off Jessica Korda to win by a single stroke on her 27th birthday. That season, the tournament was held a week laterm and Sunday’s final round fell on October 20, Kang’s birthday.

Following her title defense in 2019, Kang had high praise for Qizhong Garden Golf Club, which will host the Buick LPGA Shanghai for the third time this year. It’s a place that Kang says can be challenging from tee to green but shows off the strength of her game – ball striking.

“I like how undulated the greens are. It’s a ball-striker’s golf course. I call that pocket golf. You have to be able to hit it in certain pockets in order to be able to attack certain pins, hit good drives off the tee,” Kang said about relishing the challenge at Qizhong Garden. “I do really, really enjoy this golf course a lot.”

Kang arrives in Shanghai in pursuit of that third straight victory and in search of her first win of the season. The American has three top 10s on the year and will have some tough competition to hold off in not just Vu and Yin but also in top-ranked players like Minjee Lee and Lydia Ko, who also headline the field.

And making their debut in the People’s Republic of China are 14 rookies, including several who have already hoisted trophies in their first season on Tour. And for these first-timers, their lives have also changed quite a bit since the Buick LPGA Shanghai was last staged in China. In 2019, rookie Rose Zhang was then a 16-year-old competing in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, Grace Kim had become Australia’s top-ranked amateur that year and Hae Ran Ryu announced mid-season that she was going to begin her career as a professional. 

The Buick LPGA Shanghai’s limited field of 81 players features 62 from the LPGA Tour, 15 from the China Ladies Professional Golf Association and four sponsor invites. They will compete over 72 holes in the no-cut event for a purse of $2.1 million. It’s a fantastic opportunity for the players who have qualified to pick up much-needed points towards qualifying for the CME Group Tour Championship or keeping their card for next season. It’s also a chance to advance in the season-long standings for Rolex Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Vare Trophy and Money Title.

It’s been three long years since the Buick LPGA Shanghai was first canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And while there’s plenty that’s changed, with a slew of new faces poised to compete for the first time in China, what remains is a Tour chalk full of talented athletes who are ready to make their much-anticipated return to Shanghai.

By Muhammad Hussain