Rising Japanese star Ai Suzuki wins Toto Japan Classic in front of home crowd
For a second straight year, a Japanese star won on home soil at the Toto Japan Classic. Ai Suzuki, a five-time winner on the Japan LPGA this season, now has the chance to join the LPGA after claiming the first-place check of $225,000.
“It was my dream, so I feel like I want to challenge,” said Suzuki, through a translator, of joining the LPGA. “But I can’t speak English. And I need to talk to my family because I need their support. I am not good in moving around, traveling and food.”
Suzuki has until Nov. 18 to make a decision on LPGA membership. If she decides to pass, she’ll be eligible for six sponsor exemptions in 2020 along with the all five major championships and the HSBC Women’s World Championship. She would not be in the field for the 2020 Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions.
Suzuki, 25, played her last 36 holes without a bogey and finished at 17 under for the tournament, three strokes ahead of Hyo Joo Kim. Rookie Jennifer Kupcho took a share of fourth place. Kupcho ranks 38th on the money list, with $502,123 despite playing only half the 2019 LPGA season.
Kupcho, who chose to defer LPGA membership to finish her degree and eligibility at Wake Forest, birdied five of her first seven holes on Sunday.
“Really cool just to see all the different countries and different cultures,” Kupcho said of her first Asian swing. “It’s definitely something I would’ve never dreamed of.”
Kupcho played alongside Hinako Shibuno, the 2019 AIG Women’s British Open winner, in the final round. She can now vouch for Shibuno’s rising fame.
“She definitely has the Tiger effect on these Japanese fans over here,” said Kupcho. “She holes out or hits a shot and they all start walking. It’s kind of crazy.”
Another fan favorite in Japan, Lexi Thompson, took a share of 24th in her first start since September. Thompson’s Japanese supporters often shower her with gifts. This year even Leo got an outfit.
Morgan Pressel posted her second consecutive top-10 finish, going out in 29 on the front nine Sunday.
Suzuki, a two-time major winner in Japan, is the third Japanese player to win on the LPGA this season, joining Kia Classic winner Nasa Hataoka and Shibuno. She is the ninth different Japanese player to win the Toto Japan Classic.
“It was my 15th (professional) win,” said Suzuki. “This one is special because U.S. LPGA tour event. It’s beyond Japan, an international event.”