BALTIMORE: South Korea and the United States will be the favourites in an eight-nation showdown for global women’s golf supremacy when the inaugural $1.6 million LPGA International Crown team matches begin Thursday (today). Asian and Australian stars have their first chance to compete in a team format against American and European rivals who meet in the biennial Solheim Cup event. “Every time I see Solheim Cup I’m so excited. I wish I were part of it,” said Taiwan’s former world number one Tseng Yani. “I was always hoping I could play in an event like this because golf is very lonely. “To play on this stage, I don’t know how to describe it. I just hope I don’t cry on the first tee when I hear my country’s song.”
The eight top teams based on 2013’s year-end world rankings earned berths in the event, with the actual four women on each team decided by the world rankings at the end of March. The Americans edged South Korea for the overall top seed and the host US women will play in Group A against Taiwan, Spain and Thailand, while Group B sends the Koreans against Australia, Sweden and Japan.
Each team will play two four-ball matches Thursday, Friday and Saturday and the five winningest teams will advance to Sunday’s final 10 singles matches to decide a champion. “We’re here to wear the crown,” world number one Stacy Lewis of the United States said. “It’s something we’ve needed for a long time, getting the Asian players involved. They have more than deserved an event like this, so I’m interested to see how it all plays out.” And when it comes to the Koreans, Lewis says: “They are a great team. I don’t care what the numbers say. They are going to be a hard team to beat.”
Being bumped from the top seed by the Americans eases the pressure and adds some motivation for South Korea, former world number one Choi Na-Yeon said. “When we were number one, all players had a lot of pressure but we also had great pride,” Choi said. “When we moved back to number two we were a little released from the pressure but got some motivation to get back where we were. We will really try our best.” South Korea’s success has also motivated Japan. “That pushes us a lot because as Japanese we like to do the best or as well as other Asian players,” Japan’s Mika Miyazato said.
Aussie star Karrie Webb, a seven-time major champion who has won twice this year at age 39, can finally play for a team crown. “We’re all super excited,” said Aussie Katherine Kirk. “It’s an honour to play on the same team as her considering the career she has had.”
Solheim experience helps: Thai sisters Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn will have the rare chance to play as teammates and see each other, Ariya playing in Europe and Moriya on the US tour. “We haven’t seen each other for a long time so it’s good we can play together and play for Thailand,” Moriya said. “I love to play with her. We played together all the time when we were young so it will be fun.”
Sweden and Spain have Solheim Cup talent as the Americans do, which should give them an edge, especially with Swede Caroline Hedwall going 5-0 last year to lead a record Solheim rout by Europe on US soil. “We’re used to match play where all the Asian players, I’m not sure they have tried this before,” Hedwall said. “It’s a lot of strategy. So that’s definitely an advantage to have played a lot of match play.”
Spain’s Carlota Ciganda says team camaraderie might be more important than all the strategy and individual talent on offer. “I think we’re more used to it than the Asians maybe, but at the same time they are great players, top players in the world, so you can’t really expect they are not going to play good,” Ciganda said. “At the end it’s really important to have a great atmosphere inside the team, be supportive of each other and just go out there and have fun.”
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