Japan’s Nasa Hataoka wins rain-shortened Marathon LPGA Classic

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Nasa Hataoka hit two shots on Sunday at the Marathon LPGA Classic before play was suspended. She took a 40-minute nap in her car, drank some coffee and listened to music before getting out to stretch.

And then, suddenly, Hataoka was once again a winner on the LPGA without hitting another shot. After rain saturated Highland Meadows Golf Club for hours, the LPGA shortened the event to 54 holes. Hataoka collected her fourth LPGA title and her first since 2019.

“Not being able to win recently I was kind of losing my confidence,” said the Japanese star through an interpreter, “but I guess this win is really giving me confidence.”

Play on Sunday began at 7 a.m. and was suspended at 9:40 a.m. Hataoka, 22, finished at 19 under, six strokes ahead of Americans Elizabeth Szokol and Mina Harigae, who earned the best finish of their LPGA careers.

“Unfortunately, at about 9:40, just with the amount of rain that we had we started losing some greens,” Donna Mummert, LPGA senior manager of rules and competition told Golf Channel. “That’s what took us down this morning and rain just continued and here we are. We went back out a couple times thinking we were going to catch a break. Fairways were ultimately what made the decision for us.”

Due to a Monday forecast that called for more rain and storms in the greater Toledo area, officials determined that Monday was not an option. Next week’s Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational begins on Wednesday in Midland, Michigan.

Hataoka played with a pink ribbon on her hat in support of Jane Park and Pete Godfrey, whose 10-month-old daughter Grace remains in critical condition in Texas. Hataoka donated $1,000 to the GoFundMe account set up by Park’s close friend and fellow tour player Tiffany Joh. So far, $78,445 has been raised in support.

“I know Jane and I also know Pete very well,” said Hataoka, “so it was really, really sad to hear the condition of her little baby.

“I’m just going to wish them best for them and hope that we can meet up again.”

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Gainbridge LPGA - Round One
Gainbridge LPGA - Round One

Hataoka began the Marathon with a blistering 10-under 61 and her 19-under 194 set the tournament’s 54-hole scoring record. The previous mark of 195 was set three times – Se Ri Pak (1998), Paula Creamer (2008) and Eunjung Yi (2009). All three players went on to win the tournament.

Hataoka credited her recent work with Gary Gilchrist on distance control with her irons for carding a career-best 61 Thursday that included six consecutive birdies on Nos. 15-2. (She started on the back nine.)

Hataoka tied Hiromi Kobayashi for the third-most victories by a Japanese player, behind Ayako Okamoto (17) and Ai Miyazato (9). The victory bodes well for Japan’s top-ranked player ahead of the Summer Games in Tokyo.

“I’m really, really going to work hard to represent all the Japanese golfers that couldn’t make it to the tournament and go for the gold,” said Hataoka, who was disappointed to learn that fans will not be allowed at the Olympics after Japan declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19.

Hataoka lost in a playoff to Yuka Saso last month at the U.S. Women’s Open and played with an Olympic Club ball-marker in Toledo.

“I think I’m using it to remind myself that I’m not going to go through that kind of situation and I’m just going to keep going,” she said. “Every time I look at it, it reminds me to just keep going and go for a win. That’s what I use it for.”

Next week, Hataoka will team up with Lexi Thompson at the Dow, but neither will continue on to the Amundi Evian Championship in France. Five top-15 players in the world are skipping the tour’s next major, including Danielle Kang, Hannah Green and Saso.

“It was a really hard decision for me whether to play Evian or not. Because Olympics was my dream to be able to play in it, I decided to go back early and get ready for the Olympics,” Hataoka said.