I've had the chance to spend more time on the LPGA tour here in Japan recently especially when they roll into my area here in Chiba. Last week was The Cyberagent Ladies at Tsurumai and this week the first Major of the year at Ibaraki Country Club. It's always fun to watch the girls play and check out what clubs they use. For the average golfer which makes up the largest portion of golfers here in Japan, the ladies tour is much more reflective of what is mainstream. Sure the guys tour is full of great players and gear but most average golfers don't play blades or compact cavities nor do they tee of with compact deep drivers and X flex shafts.
I was able to get out to Ibaraki on Tuesday for a practice day. Practice days are great days to go as players are more relaxed since scores don't count yet and they pretty much play a practice round and hit the driving ranges and practice putting greens to fine tune their swing and clubs. Its very interesting to see which players practice a lot and which players not so much. Many of the big pro service/tour vans were parked in the woods between the two designated driving ranges. There were trackmans on the ranges and craftsmen getting the girls to try new shafts, prototype clubs and of course brands pushing their clubs on girls who don't already play their brands.
When there is a major in Japan, several top US LPGA pros always make the trip and this time the World Ladies Championship - Salonpas Cup as its called features top pros Ai Miyazato, Mika Miyazato, Momoko Ueda, Morgan Pressel and Michelle Wie all coming across the Pacific to play. Ai-chan (pictured above with her caddie Michael Seaborn gauging distances at the range) is to ladies golf what Ryo Ishikawa is to mens golf in Japan, a star and everywhere she went cameras and event staff followed. I was able to watch her play a few holes, practice on the range and spend time on the practice putting greens. Golf publications were dissecting her bag so I just peeked over their shoulders to see what she had. Many of the top Tourstage pros have begun pushing the ViQ brand more, which everyone knows is the more average golfer model. Ai-chan carries the new ViQ driver as well as not yet released ViQ Forged (yes finally they appear to be coming back!). A few other top Japan based Tourstage pros are also carrying the ViQ Forged but top Japan based Chie Arimura is playing the X-Blade 705 Type M.
Michelle Wie was accompanied to Japan and around practice day by her parents who watched over her on the driving range and walked the course with her. I actually had the pleasure of eating lunch at the table right next to hers in the clubhouse... wow she is tall!!! And boy does she hit it long. While many of the Japanese players barely hit 160cm, Michelle at 185cm towers over them. Many of the tour van staff around the range gawked at her size and distances.
One of my favorite new pros is Ohe Kaori. She is only 153cm tall but has a very dynamic swing. Two weeks ago just after her 22nd birthday she won her for Japan LPGA tournament, the Fujisankei Ladies Classic by simply hitting it straight and putting it in the hole which is what we all want to do. Even at 153cm she drives the ball well over 250y with her new Legacy Black 9.5* and Kai'li Prototype. She is still playing the original Legacy Forged irons which have long been one of the most popular irons geared towards average and improving golfers.
As always Srixon/XXIO is in full force on the ladies tour and there was a very large amount of players gaming the new XXIO 7 woods and irons (especially irons). The Gloire driver was in the bag of Shinobu Moromizato who on this event 3 years ago and the new Titleist VG3 forged also made an appearance in the bag of Erika Kikuchi. Two of the top Korean pros on the ladies tour, SoHee Kim and Eun-a Lim also sport Yururi Tour Wedges which was nice to see. Momoko Ueda who you can see in the picture above I snapped joking with her caddie, is now playing the Legacy Black Forged after years of playing the original Legacy Forged. Finally Ji-Hee Lee who must have been on the range for 3-4 hours straight plays a really awesome bag with ONOFF Type-S Driver, Type-D 3 and 5 woods, Type-S 21* 'UT, ONOFF Forged 4-PW a Beres W103 Wedge and the Shingo Limited W358 wedge. The perfect ONOFF Bag!
All pics taken with my Lumix GF1 and 20mm lens.