CHICAGO: South Korea, boasting four of the world’s 12 top-ranked players all bound for the Rio Olympics, will be favored when the LPGA International Crown starts Thursday (Friday in Manila) at Merit Club.
World No.5 Kim Sei-Young, seventh-ranked Amy Yang, ninth-ranked Chun In-Gee and 12th-ranked Ryu So-Yeon will try and hoist the trophy after finishing third in 2014 at Baltimore in the inaugural edition of the biennial team competition.
“We were a little disappointed to finish third,” Ryu said. “We were expecting to hold the beautiful crown, but we couldn’t do it. I’m so excited to get back here and have another opportunity.”
Ryu is the only player back for South Korea, which has a two-time 2016 winner in Kim, a two-time LPGA champion in Yang and last year’s US Women’s Open winner in Chun.
“I feel so honored to represent my country with the world’s best players,” Chun said. “This is my first time to put the Korean national flag on the professional stage.”
Eight national teams of four women each will play four-ball matches on the first three days, with South Korea, China, Taiwan and Australia in Pool A and Thailand, Japan, England and the United States in Pool B.
The two top teams from each pool and one third-place squad will advance to Sunday’s singles matches and the team with the most total points over all four days will capture the Crown.
“We love to have international things like this, like Olympics — it’s like a Ryder Cup for us,” said former world number one and five-time major winner Tseng Ya-Ni of Taiwan.
“It means so much for our Asian countries and to find you can represent your country, that you’re not always alone on the golf course. I hope this event will continue forever.”
China’s 13th-ranked Feng Shanshan expects hearing her nation’s anthem on the opening tee will spark amazing distances with her hitting.
“I’ve never had that experience before, but I’m guessing I might be able to hit it 50 yards longer if I get real excited,” Feng said. “Then maybe they will need to take me to drug testing, but it doesn’t matter.”
The Merit Club, where Australian Karrie Webb won the 2000 US Women’s Open, will see play begin Thursday with Webb and Su Oh facing Tseng and Teresa Lu of Taiwan.
China will face South Korea in the other opening Pool A four-ball matches, with Kim and Ryu facing Feng Simin and Yan Jing.
“She’s a very smart player,” Kim said of Ryu. “We’re both very aggressive players, so yeah, I think we’ll make a good team.”
England ‘dark horse’ team
In Pool B, Japan will open against Thailand and England will meet the host US women.
Thai Ariya Jutanugarn, ranked sixth after a run of three wins in a row earlier this season, will join Porani Chutichai in facing Japan’s Ai Suzuki and Ayaka Watanabe on day one.
“The first match is obviously very important so I’ll really go at it,” Watanabe said. “One of the players has won three consecutive tournaments so I’m just going to have to play my game.”
The Americans, who lost out in a Saturday playoff with South Korea for the last spot in Sunday singles, will be favored in Pool B but England has three Solheim Cup veterans in the lineup.
“We are the dark horses,” said Mel Reid, who plays on the Ladies European Tour. “We understand that we’re not favorites, but hopefully we can, shock a couple of teams.”
Stacy Lewis, Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson are back from the US lineup that exited early in 2014.
Gerina Piller joins fellow Rio Olympians Lewis and Thompson in this year’s US roster.
LPGA to stage 2018 International Crown in South Korea
South Korea will host the 2018 LPGA International Crown, the first time the team event will be staged outside the United States.
The LPGA announced Wednesday that the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea in Incheon — site of the 2015 Presidents Cup between US and non-European International squads — will host the four-day biennial match-play competition.
“We are looking forward to working with the JNGCK staff, which has extensive experience in hosting premier golf competitions, to put on a terrific event,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said.
The announcement came on the eve of this year’s event, in which the South Koreans are the top seeds among eight teams of four women each based upon world rankings.
Spain won the inaugural International Crown title in Baltimore in 2014 but failed to qualify for this year’s event.
The 7,413-yard, par-72 Korean course also will host the 2016 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in which the winner will claim a berth in the 2017 Masters.
It will be the first time in 10 years and third time overall that the LPGA has staged two events in South Korea in one season, the tour’s regular stop in the nation being played at Sky 72 Golf Club, another Nicklaus-designed course in Incheon.