Eun-Hee Ji Wins Inaugural Tournament of Champions

Eun-Hee Ji became the first LPGA Tour player to have her name etched on the trophy for the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions presented by Insurance Office of America. The 32-year-old from the Republic of Korea, who now makes her home in Southern Florida, shot a final-round 70 to capture the inaugural tournament at 14-under 270, a two-stroke advantage over her countrywoman Mirim Lee (-12). American Nelly Korda (-11) rounded out the top three.

“This is my first event for this kind of event. It was really, really fun,” said Ji, who played the final round alongside Lydia Ko (-7) and eventual celebrity champion John Smoltz. “I love this tournament. Actually, with celebrities, they’re really funny, and they make me laugh every hole. It was just fun. I was just having fun with them. This tournament is great.”

At 32 years, 8 months and 7 days of age, Ji is the oldest winner from the Republic of Korea since Se Ri Pak won the 2010 Bell Micro LPGA Classic at 32 years, 7 months and 18 days of age. This also marks the third consecutive season that Ji has won an LPGA Tour event. Prior to 2017, her last wins came in 2008 and 2009.

Ji is the LPGA Tour’s first Tournament of Champions winner since 2007, when Paula Creamer won The Mitchell Company LPGA Tournament of Champions. This week’s tournament included 26 LPGA Tour winners from the 2017 and 2018 season, along with 49 celebrities and 10 amateurs.

WEATHER DERAILED JI EARLY, BUT CHAMPION QUICK TO REBOUND

With temperatures never getting above the mid-50s and wind gusts up to 35 mph, it was a day to survive at Tranquilo Golf Course. Champion Eun-Hee Ji, who entered the final round tied atop the leaderboard with Lydia Ko, stumbled to opening bogeys at the first two holes.

“It was a little bit chilly for me today,” said Ji. “My body was a little bit tight on the first tee, so I just pulled a little bit, and I made a bogey.”

But ever the seasoned champion, Ji knew that there was more to her round than just two bogeys.

“I made a bogey again on the second hole. I was like, okay, wait a minute. I need to play (through) this,” said Ji. “I have like 16 more holes, and I just trusted my swing actually after that.”

KORDA PICKS UP WHERE SHE LEFT OFF

The Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions featured 26 LPGA champions including eight Americans, but on Sunday it was the youngest American in 20-year old Nelly Korda who challenged Eun-Hee Ji and began her third season on the LPGA with a solo third-place finish.

Korda was one of 10 Rolex First-Time Winner’s during the 2018 LPGA season when she picked up a victory at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship in late October. She then posted a T19 finish at the TOTO Japan Classic and a runner-up finish in the season finale CME Group Tour Championship to head into the offseason on a high note.

Korda said she mainly focused on fitness during the offseason and getting her body ready for a full LPGA slate in 2019. “It’s good to know that what I worked on in the offseason with my coach has kind of paid off this week,” she said. “And still we have the whole year to go. So you never know what’s going to happen, but I’m just going to take it shot by shot and try to work on consistency this year.”

Korda was all smiles as she finished an even par final round on Sunday, and said her smile was due to the unique nature of the event playing alongside celebrities. “I loved it,” she said. “That’s all I have to say. All these people are so down to earth. I had a blast.”

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