LPGA veteran looking to play fearless golf in match-play title defense

May 24, 2023

As the defending champion of this week’s LPGA match-play tournament in Las Vegas, South Korean veteran Ji Eun-hee naturally has fond memories from Sin City.

What makes the Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play more special for Ji is the fact that she can be as aggressive as she wants to be in this particular format.

“In match play, I can play with a little bit more confidence. Even if I make a mistake, I know I can make up for it, considering that I can be more aggressive and I think that led to a good result as well,” Ji said at a pretournament press conference at Shadow Creek Golf Course in Vegas on Tuesday (local time). “I think there is charm of playing match play without much fear that leads to good play.”

Ji, 37, has won six times on the LPGA Tour, and last year’s title was her first at a match-play event.

“I don’t think there is necessarily a different way to prepare. I think it’s the mindset heading into match play,” she said. “In stroke play, when you play rounds one though four, you have to maintain that good score and keep playing better. Of course, in match play, you have to play well, but you have to be mindful of how your opponent is playing, so I think that part in itself of match play is just really fun.”

Ji said she was “a little bit anxious and excited” arriving at Shadow Creek as the defending champion. She recalled how exhausted she had been at the end of the match-play victory over Ayaka Furue of Japan 3 & 2 in the final. Earlier on the same day, Ji knocked off Andrea Lee of the United States 4 & 3 in the semifinals.

That was 31 holes of golf on a windy day, and Ji said she “kind of patted myself on the back” afterward.

“You have to have the physical strength to be able to play the full mach play,” she said. “Definitely excited that I got the win last year, but at the same time, I was very, very tired.”

And the win paid off for Ji in more ways than one, as she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open, the oldest major championship in women’s golf, with that victory in Vegas.

“My win last year got me the ticket to play in the U.S. Women’s Open. Kind of had to put the win and excitement aside and play,” said Ji, the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open champion who tied for 15th at last year’s tournament. “It was a tiring two weeks, but it was worth it.”

Ji has yet to post a top-10 finish in seven tournaments so far this season, but she’s determined to change that this week.

“The course is in very good condition. Setup is great. I think it’s in perfect condition,” she said. “You have to think (about) the setting of each hole, so as I go to each hole, I have to think about how to (hit) approach shots, certain shots in certain ways. That in itself is the fun part of the game, too.”