Japan's Mone Inami claimed her maiden LPGA Tour victory at the TOTO Japan Classic

JLPGA Tour player Mone Inami won big at the TOTO Japan Classic on Sunday, earning her 13th victory on the LPGA Tour of Japan and first LPGA Tour victory at the co-sanctioned event.

Throughout the week in Ibaraki, Japan, where Inami attended high school, university and was a member of "Team Ibaraki" with LPGA Tour member Nasa Hataoka, the 24-year-old hovered near the top of the leaderboard but didn’t take the lead until the final round.

Inami was tied second on Thursday, tied third on Friday and sat in solo second on Saturday, heading into the final round with a one-stroke deficit on co-leaders Hataoka and Shiho Kuwaki.

“The past couple days I have enjoyed the feeling (of being in contention). It kind of a birdie chasing game so I tried to pour them out. Since I got eagle and birdie on last two holes yesterday, that makes me play in final group for final day so that is lucky for me,” Inami said of being near the top of the leaderboard all week before she was able to take the top spot-on Sunday.  “For today, actually, the first nine holes I actually tried to enjoy them but its going to be big pressure coming down on the back nine. It was a tough game.”

The Taiheiyo Club Minori Course played more difficult on Sunday than it did any other day, thanks to higher winds that had not previously tested the field. With the tricky conditions, what was expected to be a birdie barrage turned into a struggle to stay afloat instead. Inami was able to eke out a one shot victory over Kuwaki and Korean golfer Seon Woo Bae with just four birdies and a bogey, shooting a three-under-par 69 to finish -22 overall.

Watch Final Round Highlights from the 2023 TOTO Japan Classic

While this is Inami’s 13th victory on the LPGA Tour of Japan, it has been over a year since she was last in the winner’s circle. She most recently won the Nitori Ladies Golf Tournament in August of 2022, but has not earned a win this season despite six top-10 finishes. Until now.

“I always aim to win at least one time per year. However, I have struggled this year. I had a good start this year. However, from the middle of the season I am struggling not only with my golf but also with my body condition. It made me unable to play well,” Inami said of her JLPGA Tour season. “Also, I did not feel comfortable with my swing all year long and changed my swing 4 times. But, I got something good feeling with my swing this week, it worked well and I won this tournament.” 

An opportunity to play on the LPGA Tour in 2024

Inami is the second non-member to win on the LPGA Tour this season after Rose Zhang did so in her professional debut at the Mizuho Americas Open. With her win, she had the opportunity to accept immediate LPGA Tour membership and make 2023 her rookie season as Zhang did in June.

However, Inami decided not to accept immediate Tour membership and will have until 5 p.m. ET on November 13 to decide whether she will accept membership for the 2024 season.

“I am very happy to get an option that I can play not only on the Japan tour but also on the US tour now. I will discuss with my team to make a final decision whether we will take this option or not,” Inami said after her round.

Defending champion Dryburgh finishes tied sixth

Second- and third-round co-leader Kuwaki, who was bogey-free through three rounds at the TOTO Japan Classic, shot a one-under-par 71 with three bogeys and four birdies to finish tied second. Meanwhile, Bae made a five-under-par 67 run, tying the lead with a late birdie on 17 before Inami made a birdie there herself.

Eleven-time LPGA Tour winner Jiyai Shin shot one of the low rounds of the day, a seven-under-par 65, to move from tied 19th to a tie for fourth, where she finished alongside LPGA Tour player Xiyu Lin. Lin’s tied fourth finish is her sixth top-four result of the 2023 season, but she still is searching for that elusive first win.

Defending champion Gemma Dryburgh also shot a final-round 65 to land in a tie for sixth with Thai player Jasmine Suwannapura. Both players entered this week in the top-60 bubble (positions 55-65) on the Race to the CME Globe points list, but will move happily into the top-60 in the Race with their top-10 results. Seven players finished tied eighth, including the LPGA Tour’s Yu Liu, Maria Fassi and Hataoka.

There is just one more tournament before the season ending CME Group Tour Championship, with the tour heading back to Florida and The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican, offering one of the largest prize funds outside of the majors.