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World Nos. 1 and 3 staying on sideline - even for a major - as LPGA returns

The LPGA is making its restart amid the coronavirus pandemic this week with two of the top three players in the world uncertain when they will make their return to the American-based tour.

Rolex world No. 1 Jin Young Ko hasn’t teed it up in an LPGA event in eight months, since the CME Group Tour Championship at the end of last season. Rolex world No. 3 Sung Hyun Park also hasn’t played the tour in that same time span.

Neither Ko nor Park will play the next four LPGA events, including the AIG Women’s Open, the year’s first women’s major. Whether they will travel to the United States to play the second major, the ANA Inspiration in September, remains up in the air.

“Due to concerns about the COVID-19 situation in the U.K., Jin Young Ko is not planning to play at the AIG Women’s Open,” Hyomin Han, Ko’s manager, told in an email exchange. “She is hopeful about returning to the U.S. to play in the LPGA but does not have any specific plans or dates in mind yet. We are waiting to see if the COVID-19 situation in the U.S. improves.”

Christina Kim is on her way to Toledo, Ohio, for the first event of the LPGA’s restart, and as she put it, she isn’t taking any chances.

Ko and Park are taking precautions while playing the Korean LPGA Tour and sheltering in their South Korean homeland, where their country has had success containing the virus. The KLPGA has been up and running since mid-May.

Ko made her first start in more than six months at the Lotte Cantata Ladies Open in South Korea in June, shaking off some rust while finishing 45th. She finished sixth at the Korea Women’s Open in her last start.

“She is remaining in Korea at the moment to avoid exposure to the virus,” Han wrote.

Park has played just one KLPGA event amid the pandemic, missing the cut at the KLPGA Championship in May.

After back-to-back events in Ohio beginning this week, and then back-to-back events in Scotland after that, the American-based LPGA is scheduled to return to the United States in late August, for a run of six tournaments. Park’s team is following COVID-19’s developments in the United States.

“We are constantly monitoring the news regarding COVID-19 in the States and should have a better picture of Sung Hyun’s playing schedule for the season by the end of August, latest,” Kyuri Hong, Park’s agent, told in an email.

According to Johns Hopkins University, the United States accounts for about a quarter of the world’s COVID-19 cases and deaths.

The nature of the LPGA’s majors are significantly altered without the best South Koreans. South Koreans have won 19 of the last 39 major championships.

World No. 6 Sei Young Kim and No. 10 Hyo Joo Kim also aren’t playing the next four LPGA events, including the AIG Women’s Open. Two-time major champion So Yeon Ryu isn’t, either.

Hyo Joo Kim won the Evian Championship in 2014.

“She is not planning on going to the British Open for this year because of COVID-19,” Hanjun Kim, Hyo Joo’s agent, told in an email. “Since it’s serious worldwide, it might be best for her not to travel internationally even though it’s a big event.”

Last week, the White House eased restrictions for PGA Tour and LPGA players and caddies entering the United States under established tour protocols. They will no longer be subject to 14-day quarantine periods.

That still wasn’t enough to lure England’s Lee Westwood and Eddie Pepperell back to the United States for the year’s first major, next week’s PGA Championship.

“I’m still not comfortable,” Westwood said last weekend. “I’m concerned that America doesn’t take coronavirus as seriously as the rest of the world.”

A nationally coordinated program of detection/containment/treatment has thrust South Korea among the world leaders in navigating the pandemic, despite a recent uptick that the Korean CDC attributes to people carrying the disease into the country from abroad. Korean “Immediate Response Teams” have succeeded in helping that nation quell the spread of the virus without the lockdowns other countries have endured.

“At a time when cities from Los Angeles to Melbourne to Tokyo are grappling with resurgences, South Korea’s playbook offers one of the most successful blueprints yet for containing a disease that’s killed more than 600,000 worldwide,” Bloomberg News wrote Monday.