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Hinako Shibuno embraces swarming attention at Chevron Championship

Hinako Shibuno shot a six-under 66 Friday to take the outright lead at Dinah Shores. (Harry How/Getty Images)

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Hinako Shibuno has gotten used to the outpouring of attention since she won the 2019 AIG Women’s Open for Japan’s first major victory since 1977 less than a year after turning professional. As she walked off the course at Dinah Shores on Friday as the clubhouse leader at nine-under par, it became clear that the media apparatus and fans now gravitate to the bright Japanese star wherever she goes.

“It’s very familiar,” Shibuno said through a translator Friday, “that I can see the Japanese media all the way from Japan.”

After carding a six-under 66 Friday to take the outright lead at the Chevron Championship, the 23-year-old first met with Japanese media, doing an on-camera interview with Mitsuki Katahira. The former No. 1 amateur player in the world and six-year broadcaster was there with WOWOW media, a Japanese television station.

Following her on-camera interview, Shibuno walked over to meet with American media and conducted a press conference with her manager serving as her translator.

After that, the star stepped outside the press conference area and held court with the Japanese print media, conducting a 10-minute Q&A next to the practice green and answering whatever questions the reporters posed to her in the sweltering desert heat.

Regardless of how well or where she plays, the major champion always chats with the Japanese media daily. On Wednesday, Shibuno held a recorded press conference in the shade near the practice chipping area, following the precedent set by Ai Miyazato, the former Japanese World No. 1 who retired from the LPGA in 2017.

Even at the LPGA’s qualifying school, Q-Series, WOWOW broadcast Shibuno’s performances live from Mobile, Ala. last November despite the 19-hour time difference in Japan. It’s a level of coverage not seen from the Japanese media since Miyazato’s retirement.

“Everybody loves her personality and they love to come film her,” Katahira said. “I think it’s kind of difficult for her. There’s so much attention on her in Japan, even off the golf course, too. I know she doesn’t say it, but I know it’s probably pretty stressful for her. I think she handles herself very well.”

While the Japanese golf world knows Japanese LPGA Tour winners Yuka Saso and Nasa Hataoka, Shibuno is a household name largely because of her upbeat personality. The media has nicknamed her the “Smiling Cinderella.”

“She’s always smiling,” Katahira said. “Even under pressure, she was smiling and high-fiving. That makes everybody become a fan instantly, I think.”

That carries over into her media interactions. Shibuno laughed after explaining to reporters that her favorite snacks are Chicken Breast chips that she makes in the microwave. She then waved with two hands at the conclusion, saying “arigato gozaimasu” (meaning “thank you”) to the American media.

The attention follows the star wherever she goes. A fan leaped and fist-pumped in excitement after Shibuno made an uphill eight-foot birdie putt on a par 5. Another fan yelled out “yokatta!” — Japanese for “It was good!”

On the 11th tee, Shibuno acknowledged a fan who told her “nice birdie,” with a smile and a “thank you.”

It’s difficult to see the depths of her fandom from across the Pacific Ocean. If Japan hosted the Chevron Championship, Katahira believes the fans would rival the crowds swarming Augusta National during The Masters, a major on the PGA Tour. As the fervor grows, it becomes more challenging for Shibuno to live up to the demands.

“From 2019, winning British Open,” Shibuno said, “it’s more expectations from fans, so it’s getting easier.”

The fans on-site at the Chevron Championship have been treated to another of Shibuno’s strong major performances this week. Her two best finishes on the LPGA Tour have come at major — the AIG Women’s Open, during her first trip outside of Japan in 2019, and a fourth-place finish at the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open, where she held the lead through 54 holes. Shibuno credits her matured game for the strides she’s made since winning her first major championship.

Now, as she heads into the third round with Jennifer Kupcho and two other golfers just one stroke behind her, she’s embracing the gravity of the moment without getting too ahead of herself.

“It’s very sad to play the final season,” Shibuno said Thursday, “but I wanted to just play well, finish well.”

Kent Paisley is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering golf and the LPGA. He also contributes to Golf Digest. Follow him on Twitter @KentPaisley.

Midge Purce-Backed Docuseries ‘The Offseason’ to Drop This Summer

cast of the offseason nwsl reality series
'The Offseason' follows a group of NWSL stars as they prepare for preseason play. (The Offseason)

The Offseason, a reality series created by Gotham and USWNT star Midge Purce, has officially confirmed its streaming debut, Purce announced in Cannes on Tuesday.

The six-episode, half-hour docuseries will stream this summer on X, though a specific premiere date hasn't yet been set.

The Offseason was filmed in Miami, two weeks before the NWSL preseason. It's a crucial time for athletes, a period where they prepare to join their respective teams and compete for both starting and roster spots. Production designed all the facilities, bringing in top-tier trainers, masseuses, chefs, and gym equipment to create a high-level training environment, ensuring the players were in peak condition, per the show's release. Throughout filming, athletes lived together in one house — a reality TV conceit rife for entertainment.

The series follows a number of NWSL stars, including Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Maria Sanchez (Houston Dash), Lo’eau LaBonta (Kansas City Current), Michelle Alozie (Houston Dash), Taylor Smith (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Nikki Stanton (OL Reign), Ally Watt (Orlando Pride), Taryn Torres (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Paige Nielsen (Angel City FC), and Ify Onumonu (Utah Royals).

"We wanted to create a series that truly captures the essence of what it means to be a professional athlete," said Purce. "This series has always been about more than just sports — it's about the human experience behind the athlete, as well."

The show promises a behind-the-scenes look at professional women's sports, teasing major life decisions, on-field tensions, and players taking stock of the environments they'll be entering once their preseason trip is over. The series delves into the real-life challenges faced by the athletes, including club trades, contract negotiations, burnout, and the relentless pressure from outsiders commenting on the players' personal lives.

The Offseason's official trailer, released on Tuesday, shows snippets of Hubly contemplating retirement, Sanchez joining the group after signing a high-profile contract, and a healthy amount of banter about on-field achievements.

The spirit of the series is reflected in its producers: Box To Box Films is known for their sports content (Drive to Survive, Break Point, Full Swing), whereas 32 Flavors is the creative force behind Vanderpump Rules and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The series was funded by Seven Seven Six, and executive produced by Purce.

Lilia Vu adds Meijer LPGA Classic to tour wins record

Lilia Vu won in her first tournament in two months. (Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Lilia Vu won her fifth LPGA Tour event on Sunday, taking home the Meijer LPGA Classic title in her first tournament since March. 

The world No. 2 had been sidelined with a back injury, but returned with a vengeance. She began the day eight shots back of leader Grace Kim, and survived a three-hole playoff against Kim and former champion Lexi Thompson to take the title. 

“I think this is the most meaningful win,” said Vu, “because there was a time two months ago where I was just crying on the range not being sure if I would ever play a tournament again without pain.”

A two-time major champion, Vu hadn’t before won the Meijer LPGA Classic, but a birdie on the third playoff hole helped secure it. She’s now 2-for-3 in LPGA Tour playoffs. 

She said on Sunday that being unable to defend her title at the Chevron Championship was the “breaking point” in her season.

“Not being able to compete there really killed me,” she said. “I feel like I thought I was taking the steps in the right direction, but I’m glad that I was able to take a couple months off and reevaluate my body, let it recover, do what I needed to do to get back out here again.

“And we did the right thing and took two months off. I think it hurt me not to play competitive golf because I literally live for competitive golf, but we did the right thing and that’s why I’m here today.”

Top tennis players pull out of Olympics citing health reasons

Aryna Sabalenka will not play in the Olympics. (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images)

Ons Jabeur and Aryna Sabalenka joined a growing list of tennis stars opting out of the Olympics on Monday.

Sabalenka, the reigning Australian Open champion and world No. 3, told reporters in Berlin that she was looking after her health while citing WTA tournament participation requirements. The Belarusian had struggled with a stomach bug during the French Open, where she lost in the semifinals of a major for the first time since 2022. 

“Especially with all the struggles I was having last month, I feel like I need to take care of my health. … It’s too much with the scheduling,” Sabalenka said. “It’s just too much. I made the decision to take care of my health.”

Similarly, Jabeur cited the health risks that come with the change of surface. The world No. 10 has been battling knee injuries this season, and lost in the French Open quarterfinals to Coco Gauff. 

Players will spend the next few weeks playing on grass in the lead-up to Wimbledon, while the Olympics will be played at Roland-Garros and be held on clay. 

“After consulting with my medical team regarding attending the Olympics in Paris, we have decided that the quick change of surface and the body’s adaptation required would put my knee at risk and jeopardize the rest of my season,” Jabeur posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Unfortunately, I will not be able to participate in the 2024 Paris Olympics. I have always loved representing my country in any competition, However, I must listen to my body and follow my medical team’s advice.”

The two join Emma Raducanu in opting out of the Olympics. Raducanu – who has dealt with a number of injuries since her US Open win in 2021 – cited the changing surface as “not worth the risk.”

Jaedyn Shaw Breaks NWSL Record for Most Goals Scored as a Teenager

Jaedyn Shaw of the san diego wave
Jaedyn Shaw is now holds the record for most NWSL goals as a teenager. (Julia Kapros-USA TODAY Sports)

Jaedyn Shaw continues to make NWSL history, surpassing Trinity Rodman for the most NWSL goals by a teenager on Saturday. 

She did it in a game against Rodman's Washington Spirit in the 20th minute of the 1-1 draw. It brings her total to 13 league goals, after making her NWSL debut at 17 years old in July 2022. 

The goal is her third this season. Shaw currently leads Wave alongside Makenzy Doniak. 

Shaw has also been a member of the USWNT, alongside Rodman, netting seven goals over 14 national team appearances. If she gets called up to this summer’s Olympics under Emma Hayes, it will mark her first official tournament with the USWNT.

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