Early in the final round of the TOTO Japan Classic, an astounding number of birdies were appearing on the leader board. The three-shot lead that Japan’s Ai Suzuki had at the beginning of the day began to look a lot less comfortable. Jennifer Kupcho was five under through her first seven holes. Morgan Pressel was seven under through eight. Azahara Munoz made three birdies in a four-hole stretch on her front nine.
In turn, Suzuki went out and made plenty of birdies of her own. She shot a final-round 67 to finish at 17-under 199 for the tournament, having made just one bogey over 54 holes on her way to her first LPGA Tour win.
Suzuki made her birdies early on Sunday, too, at Seta Golf Course in Shiga, Japan, the first coming on the second hole, then three in a row starting at No. 5. Her lead grew large enough to make the rest of the afternoon more about who would finish second. Ultimately it was one of Suzuki’s playing partners, Hyo Joo Kim, who separated herself from a large group lingering between nine under and 11 under. Kim finished with three straight birdies to complete the tournament at 14 under.
Though Suzuki is an unknown on the LPGA Tour, she’s a star on the LPGA of Japan Tour. The 25-year-old has won five times in 2019, including a week earlier, and has 14 career wins. She is the second JLPGA member to win on the LPGA in 2019, and the third woman who isn’t an LPGA member to win an LPGA Tour event this season.
The first was countrywoman Hinako Shibuno, who won the AIG Women’s British Open in August. Then Ha Na Jang, who left the LPGA Tour to play on the Korean LPGA Tour, won the BMW Ladies Championship two weeks before Suzuki’s win.
When a non-member wins an LPGA event, she has the option to join the tour, either immediately or for the following season. The deadline to make the decision, however, is Nov. 18. Both Shibuno and Jang have said they do not plan to join the LPGA Tour in 2020. Jang said she needs to spend more time with her family, and Shibuno, 20, has said she wants to continue to develop her game on the Japanese tour.
Though the choice Suzuki faces is a big one, the smile on her face after holing the final putt on Sunday showed she enjoyed this win for what it is. Career-changing decisions can be saved for later. Right now, she’s a proud winner on the LPGA Tour.