World No. 4 Park Sung-hyun will headline a contingent of 12 South Korean players at the second major championship of the 2020 LPGA season this week.
Park will make her season debut at the ANA Inspiration at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, starting Thursday. She will tee off with Nasa Hataoka at 1:18 p.m. Thursday local time, or 5:18 a.m. Friday in Seoul.
The 2020 season began in January with two tournaments in Florida. The tour moved to Australia for two more events, but the season came to a screeching halt in mid-February because of the coronavirus outbreak. The play only resumed on the last day of July.
The ANA Inspiration, originally set for April 2-5 as the season's first major, will instead follow the Aug. 20-23 AIG Women's Open as the second major of the year. As has been the case for all events since the resumption, the ANA Inspiration will be played without fans.
Park, former world No. 1, had planned to make her season debut at the Feb. 27-March 1 HSBC Women's World Championship in Singapore, where she was the defending champion.
She had withdrawn from the third round of the 2019 season-ending CME Group Tour Championship last November with a left shoulder injury.
Park spent the hiatus in South Korea, playing at the Korea Ladies Professional Golf Association (KLPGA) Championship in May and appearing in a charity skins game against world No. 1 Ko Jin-young.
Park opened 2020 as world No. 2 but has slipped two spots during her time off.
"It's really been a while since I've been on the LPGA Tour. I think I'm more nervous than excited to be back," Park said through an interpreter at her pretournament press conference Tuesday at Mission Hills Country Club. "It's been a while since I've been in a competitive environment, and I've got to keep that in mind while playing the four rounds this week."
Park said she doesn't have high expectations for herself immediately.
"I just hope to kind of get some momentum and play well in a competitive environment," she said. "There aren't that many tournaments this year, but I do hope to win at some point and finish the year on a high note."
Eight of the world's top-10 players will be in the field, the exceptions being Ko and No. 10 Kim Hyo-joo. They have both chosen to stay home in South Korea instead of traveling during the pandemic, with Ko becoming the first defending champion since 2004 to skip the ANA Inspiration.
Ko sent her best wishes to her fellow players on Wednesday. In a statement posted on LPGA.com, Ko said skipping this year's ANA Inspiration was "one of the most difficult decisions of my entire life."
"The ANA Inspiration will be forever dear to me as my very first LPGA major championship," said Ko, who also won the Evian Championship in 2019 for her second career major. "Although I sadly will not be able to participate this year, I am encouraged by the successful tour restart and all the positive steps the LPGA is taking to make it as safe as possible. I want to thank the LPGA and all our tour sponsors, including ANA, for continuing to provide opportunities for players amidst this unprecedented crisis and look forward to getting back in the fray when international travel is deemed safe once again."
Among 12 South Koreans in action, No. 8 Park In-bee will chase her second career ANA Inspiration title. She has posted two top-10s in two events since the restart.
Park won the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open in February, the last tournament before the pandemic-induced hiatus. Park ranks second in money and Player of the Year points, both behind Korean-American star Danielle Kang.
No. 6 Kim Sei-young will be playing in her first major of 2020 this week. She currently leads the tour in scoring average (68.091) and greens in regulation (81.8 percent). (Yonhap)