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China set to tee off new LPGA Tour

AS the first event of the China LPGA Tour gets ready to tee off today in Beijing, many of the region's top pros are looking to make history in becoming the first winner on the new circuit.

"I think it's great and very good for China golf," said veteran Yang Hongmei during her practice round today ahead of the US$50,000 Beijing Orient Pearl Championship. "In the past, I maybe lost interest because there were only two or three events a year. Suddenly, there is a tour. We all have hope, so we are encouraged and practice much harder."

Porani Chutichai, who heads a strong group of six Thais competing for the inaugural title and US$7,500 winner's purse, said any tour that provided more opportunity for Asian women professionals was a step in the right direction.

"There needs to be more tournaments, as there are for the men, and more money so we can actually play this game for a living," said the Chiang Rai native.

Other notable players in the 88-player field include China's Yang Taoli, a four time runner-up or equal runner-up last year, Korean LPGA Tour regular Lee Ga-na who is coming back from 1.5 years of injury, and Yue Pei-lin, the top Chinese-Taipei player who is looking to turn her game around since losing her Japan LPGA Tour card last year.

"Winning is my ultimate golf," said Yue who is currently working on her game with US LPGA Tour regular Lin Yu-ping. "This is the first event of the new China LPGA Tour, a historic moment, so to win this week would be sweet."

Yang Hongmei said Beijing brought back good memories for her as it was here where she won last year, marking the start of back-to-back victories on the old Orient Masters Tour.

"My game is similar to last year when I won. My short game is my advantage. The condition of the golf course is perfect with the greens very fast. I'm happy to putt on such greens," said Yang.

The China LPGA Tour will play seven events in its inaugural season. The first six tournaments - Beijing, Yantai, Shanghai, Ningbo, Wenzhou and Xinjiang - each feature a purse of US$50,000. The tour concludes in December with the fourth edition of the US$250,000 Orient China Ladies Open.


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