Travelers Championship

TPC River Highlands



lpga tour

Local favorite wins LPGA event in Japan and now has big career decision to make

November 05, 2023
1775778872

Yoshimasa Nakano

The birdies were easy to come by at Taiheiyo Club' Minori Course, and the leaderboard was tight all week at the TOTO Japan Classic. On Sunday, it was 24-year-old Mone Inami who emerged to secure a one-shot victory over Seon Woo Bae and Shiho Kuwaki and in the process leave herself with a career-altering decision. All three players are members of the LPGA Tour of Japan (JLPGA), which co-sanctioned the event with the LPGA and had players make up nearly half the 78-woman field. By winning as a non-member, Inami now has the option to join the LPGA Tour. But will she?

Leaderboard

Mone Inami, -22 (final-round 69)

Seon Woo Bae, -21 (67)

Shiho Kuwaki, -21 (71)

Jiyai Shin, -20 (65)

Xiyu Lin, -20 (67)

Quotable

“I had a good start this year. However, from the middle of the season I was struggling not only with my golf but also with my body condition. It made me unable to play well,” Inami said about her JLPGA season. “Also, I did not feel comfortable with my swing all year long and changed my swing four times. But, I got [a] good feeling with my swing this week, it worked well and I won this tournament.”

What it means

When a non-member wins an LPGA Tour event, she has the option to accept LPGA Tour membership in one of two ways. The first option is to accept LPGA Tour membership immediately, which would make 2023 her rookie year and her points and money from the win would count as official points and money. The second option is to defer acceptance, and make 2024 her rookie year.

This happened earlier in 2023, when Rose Zhang won the Mizuho Americas Open, her first professional event. Zhang immediately accepted membership of the LPGA, becoming a rookie in 2023. Inami, however, did not accept immediate membership.

“I am very happy to get an option that I can play not only on the Japan tour but also on the US tour now. I will discuss with my team to make a final decision whether we will take this option or not,” Inami said.

She has until Nov. 13 at 5 p.m. ET to make her decision.

How it happened

While just 24, Inami had already won a dozen times on the JLPGA Tour before the TOTO Japan Classic, but her last came in August 2022 and her 2023 season had been a struggle. Inami said she's dealt with injuries and been tinkering with her swing all year long . Unsurprisingly, with all of that going on, she hadn’t yet won in 2023.

Though she wasn’t a favorite heading into the week, there were reasons to thing she could play well. Inami went to high school and college in the same prefecture in which the tournament was being played. Additionally, she has proven herself against the best golfers in the world before: She won the silver medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after winning a playoff against Lydia Ko. She showed that level of play again at the Minori Course by being the only player in the field to make just two bogeys during the tournament. Even as the wind picked up on Sunday, Inami turned in a scorecard that had 13 pars, four birdies and one bogey, climbing from one stroke off the lead entering the final round into the winner's circle.

Best of the rest

This tournament has a tough spot on the calendar: It’s the final event of the fall’s four-event Asia Swing, and if you play in it, you’re getting on a plane from Japan back to Florida to play in The Annika at Pelican and then the CME Group Tour Championship—with no weeks off. It’s a lot to ask of your body as an athlete at the end of a long season. And because of that, many LPGA players who played in Asia skipped this event. Just five of the season’s 22 LPGA Tour winners competed in Japan. It’s hard to blame them, but those who did play were rewarded with CME points.

The field had only one of the top 10 players in world (No. 7, Hyo Joo Kim) and the co-sanctioned event included 35 players from the JLPGA, but it was still an LPGA event, so normal CME points applied. This was a big deal for several players who entered the week trying to secure spots in the year-end CME Group Tour Championship. Players need to be in the top 60 on the CME points list to be invited to the tour championship, and Gemma Dryburgh and Jasmine Suwannapura were both on the bubble when the tournament began in Japan. After both finished in the top 10, they have solidified their spots at the tour championship in two weeks in Naples, Fla.