Golf: LPGA players learning to live, travel, play in a pandemic world

Kim Hyo-joo at a press conference for the HSBC Women’s World Championship golf tournament at Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore, on March 1, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - After living in fear for almost two years, Kim Hyo-joo is finally coming to terms with Covid-19 and like many players at this week's HSBC Women's World Championship, is hopeful of life returning to some sense of normality.

Kim, the defending champion, said: "We're still very conscious about things like hygiene, keeping our distance. We've been living in fear because of this virus and all of us hope it will end soon."

The tournament was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic while last year's edition was held behind closed doors and under strict protocols, which included players in a bubble that kept them confined mainly to their hotel rooms and the Sentosa Golf Club (SGC).

There are no bubbles this year and the planet's best female golfers are out and about in the Republic. World No. 1 Ko Jin-young treated herself to a huge seafood dinner at a restaurant in town on Tuesday night while besides walking up and down Orchard Road to take in the sights, six-time LPGA Tour winner Danielle Kang went to visit her friend and former national golfer Heng Su-Ann and her baby boy.

There will also be more spectators at the New Tanjong Course. Last year's edition allowed only 250 corporate guests daily.

With SGC members added to this year's tally, organisers are looking at about 400 onsite visitors. It is however, still a far cry from the 32,000 fans that attended across four days in 2019.

Two-time HSBC winner Park In-bee said: "I definitely miss the fans cheering for us. They definitely give us good energy, especially as we're travelling internationally, we see all different parts of the world and we see all different fans of golf."

In response to queries from The Straits Times, tournament director Jeremy Harvey-Samuel said during last year's event held from April 29-May 2, mass vaccination in Singapore and around the world was still in its infancy and without established travel lanes, "quarantine requirements were totally different".

He added: "This year, we are able to leverage existing travel lanes like the VTL scheme into Singapore, which has enabled us to reduce quarantine requirements and the need for a controlled itinerary.

"Every single person travelling in for this event, from players to event staff, is fully vaccinated. This means that everyone is able to enjoy a more familiar experience of Singapore... and there is no need for a controlled itinerary thanks to vaccinations, the testing protocols we have in place, and the use of TraceTogether.

While the US$1.7 million (S$2.3 million) HSBC tournament boasts a world-class field, there are some notable absentees, including Americans Nelly Korda and Lexi Thompson. Korda won last year's Tokyo 2020 gold medal and Thompson is one of the United States' biggest stars.

Their compatriot Austin Ernst, 30, who won last year's LPGA Drive On Championship, also did not make the trip. "Just with all the testing and kind of how Covid-19 is right now, kind of wanted to not travel," she said last month.

Brooke Henderson had skipped last year's edition but is here this week. The world No. 11 Canadian said: "Last year I was still feeling my way through what events I wanted to play and how far I wanted to travel from home. But now I feel a lot more comfortable now and Singapore seems very safe.

"They have a lot of great protocols and measures in place, and the Tour's done a great job in trying to keep us safe. My sister and I, we love Singapore, so we really missed it when we didn't come last year. We wanted to make the trip this year."

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