Last year, Jee Young Lee got a 2-for-1 deal, as she not only earned her first LPGA win, but also non-exempt status for 2006 and exempt status for 2007. The defending champion was a member of the Korea LPGA (KLPGA) invited to play, and made history as the 14th non-LPGA member to win an LPGA event.
In her last five LPGA events, Lee owns three top-five finishes, including a tie for second in August at the Wendy's Championship for Children. She has earned $509,092 in 22 events and is ranked 20th on the ADT Official Money List. Lee has consistently proven the strength of her all-around game as evident by a eighth-place Tour standing in birdies (294), seventh with 1.76 putts per GIR, and is ranked third on Tour in eagles (eight) and driving average (276.8 yards).
Including Lee, every past champion of the tournament since it was first played in 2002 are in the field: the 2006 McDonald's LPGA Championship winner Se Ri Pak (2002); Shi Hyun Ahn (2003); and Grace Park (2004). Ahn became the youngest international winner in LPGA history at the age of 19 years, 1 month and 18 days when she captured this event in 2003. In 2004, she posted eight top-10 finishes on her way to earning Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year honors. She has played 17 events this year and recorded four top-10 finishes, including a tie for fifth at the McDonald's LPGA Championship. However, her last LPGA Tour event prior to the Honda LPGA Thailand last week was in early August at the Weetabix Women's British Open.
Ahn, though, is not the only player in the field to have held the prestigious Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year title. Six of the last nine Rookies of the Year are playing this week, including this year's recipient Seon-Hwa Lee. Lee led one of the Tour's most talented rookie classes in history on the strength of seven top-10 finishes, which include a victory at the ShopRite LPGA Classic. The other top rookies from their respective classes are: Brandie Burton, 1991; Pak, 1998; Mi Hyun Kim, 1999; Hee-Won Han, 2001; and Paula Creamer, 2005. Pak, Kim and Han have also all picked up a victory this season and eagerly await the chance for a second.
There will be no home-course advantages for players as the Mauna Ocean Golf & Resort in Kyungiu hosts the LPGA Tour for the first time. It is a par-72 course in southeast South Korea that is set to play just under 6,400 yards.
As the second of three Global Group events in the LPGA Playoffs 2006, the top-20 finishers and ties at the KOLON-Hana Bank Championship will earn single ADT Points. The player who earns the most ADT Points in the three tournaments combined will automatically qualify for the season-ending ADT Championship via the LPGA Playoffs 2006. However, all points accumulated during the three-week swing will not count toward overall ADT Points standings.