Cassandra Kirkland of France is full of confidence ahead of her title defence at this week’s Sanya Ladies Open in China. The 29-year-old Parisian came from a stroke behind to claim her first professional title on a hot and breezy final day 12 months ago at Yalong Bay Golf Club.

She insists that she isn’t feeling any pressure for a repeat performance: “I have more confidence because I know the course suits me and I just want to play and see what’s going to happen. I really don’t put pressure on myself.”

Last year, Kirkland closed with three solid pars to end two strokes clear of fellow Frenchwoman Jade Schaeffer and England’s Holly Aitchison, taking her first title in her sixth year on tour.

Although the win was “totally unexpected,” Kirkland says: “Of course I would love to have the trophy again but I don’t put pressure on myself and I’m just going to see how it’s going to go. Hopefully I’ll do a good score tomorrow and put myself in a good position. I really like the course because it’s long and I hit it quite far. There’s a lot of wind usually and I love to play in the wind so I guess it suits me quite well.”

Ranked 101 on the current LET Order of Merit, Kirkland’s season-best finish is tied 21st at the ISPS HANDA Ladies European Masters, but on her year so far, she says: “I feel really good. I’ve been playing well. My scores have been up and down but I feel really good with my golf swing and hopefully I’ll do well this week.”

One additional benefit of winning the Sanya Ladies Open is that the winner gets a free stay in a luxurious champions’ suite at Yalong Bay Golf Club, just across the road from the golden sands of beautiful Yalong Bay in tropical Hainan.

“I’m staying just on the golf course so it’s really nice and I don’t have to worry about transfers. I can sleep a little bit longer and whenever I want to go and have a nap I can go to my suite and come back and practice so it’s very nice,” said Kirkland, adding: “I was really happy and excited to come here because I have so many great memories here. I really feel good mentally. I feel better mentally than last year before I won so I’m really excited to play.”

Kirkland will play alongside former champions Lee-Anne Pace and Frances Bondad, the winners in 2010 and 2011 respectively, for the first two rounds, teeing off at 07:55 local time Friday and 12:15 Saturday.  Play gets under way at 07:15 local time, with the last matches off at 13:05.