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International Crown - Eight qualifyers but only one winner this week
July 22, 2014

Wednesday was pro-am day at Caves Valley Golf Club, as teams geared up for the final day of preparation before the battle to be crowned the best golfing nation in the world begins tomorrow.

Eight countries earned the right to compete. Only one will leave Baltimore with the Crown as the world’s best women’s golfing country. This inaugural event, the International Crown, is the first time many players from outside of Europe and the United States will have the opportunity to represent their country in international competition as a professional. And with nine countries represented in the top-20 in the Rolex Rankings, it was only natural that at some point the score was settled on who the crown belonged to. That will be settled this week when the eight qualifying countries are separated into two pools Thursday and battle it over three days in four-ball matches to see who emerges for the right to compete in a five-team stroke play 18-hole final on Sunday. The winner, for at least two years, will hold the right as the globe’s preeminent nation in women’s golf.

Break it down: The Matchups:
Pool A

Spain (4) vs Thailand (5) – No team in the field should be more comfortable in this format than the Spaniards. Three of the four were on the 2013 European Solheim Cup team that demolished the Americans. Azahara Munoz (4-3-1), Beatriz Racari (3-1-1) and Carloa Ciganda (3-0-0) all have winning records in the Solheim Cup. Combined the trio is 3-1-0 in four-ball matches and should excel the first three days. Even Belen Mozo, the lowest ranked member of the Spain team at No. 112, has been playing the best golf of her career the last two months and is having a career year.

However, what the Spain team can’t match is the chemistry the duo of Moriya and Ariya Jutanugarn have as sisters. The duo are two of the more talented young players in the game and lit up Tuesday at the thought of getting to play together on Thursday. Thailand’s other team – Pornanong Phatlum and Onnarin Sattayabanphot – will face off against Ciganda and Munoz, and Phatlum’s having a great year on the LPGA Tour with four top-10s. Sattayabanphot missed the cut recently at the Ricoh Women’s British Open but is ranked No. 88 in the Rolex Rankings and had a great season on the JLPGA a year ago.

USA (1) vs Chinese Taipei (8) – The United States team has decided to send out their top two players together – Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson – and with as many birdies as those two make, getting even a split will be tough. Although, it’s important to keep in mind that the No. 1 player in the world Lewis is only 2-5-1 in the Solheim Cup and Lexi Thompson was only 1-2, including 0-2 in four-ball, in her only Solheim Cup. In the other match, the United States pitted the two players in the field with the most international experience together – Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr. Kerr’s Solheim Cup experience has been a mixed bag at 12-14-4, but she is 9-5-0 in four-ball matchups. Cremer, though, has been excellent in five Solheim Cups with a 12-6-5 record and a 4-2-2 mark in four-ball. The Americans experience of talent, experience and recent results are unmatched in this field.

Anything can happen in four-ball, though, and Yani Tseng, the former No. 1 in the world, hasn’t been shy with her take that her team can play with anyone. Candie Kung’s won four times on the LPGA, Teresa Lu won the 2013 Mizuno Classic and Phoebe Yao has a win on the JLPGA this season. Chinese Taipei has no pressure here, but they also have no experience in international team competition as professionals and are playing on American soil.

Pool B: Japan (#3) vs. Sweden (#6) – If the seedings had been done heading into this week, Sweden would have actually been the No. 8 seed this week. However, Sweden might have the most dangerous player in this event in Caroline Hedwall. Hedwall comes in as the No. 33 player in the world but with the confidence of knowing she absolutely crushed the last team event she played in, finishing 5-0 at the 2013 Solheim Cup. For her career, she’s 7-1-1 in the Solheim Cup and perhaps even more pertinent to this event, she’s 3-1-0 in four-ball matches. Pair her with the No. 11 player in the world – two-time LPGA winner this season Anna Nordqvist – and there might not be a better four-ball team in the tournament. Mikaela Parmlid had 3 top-5 finishes on the LET in 2013 and Pernilla Lindberg finished in a tie for 7th last week at the Marathon Classic, so it won’t be easy for Japan in the other matchup either.

Japan still remains the favorite, though, entering as the three seed with four players in the top-70 in the world and shouldn’t be an easy out. Ai Miyazato, the former world No. 1, and Sakura Yokomine, the 22-time winner on the JLPGA, is Japan’s top team and Yokomine is fresh off a tied for 7th finish at the U.S. Women’s Open a month ago so she won’t be afraid of the spotlight. Mamiko Higa has two runner-ups in JLPGA events this season and Mika Miyazato has been a proven commodity on the LPGA Tour for years with a win at 11th place finish on the money list in 2012.

Republic of Korea (2) vs Australia (7) – Korea comes into this event looking to cool some of the American momentum and prove Korean golf still reigns supreme in the women’s game. The Americans took the No. 1 seed from the Korean team in the last event factoring into seeding and Stacy Lewis took the No. 1 spot from Inbee Park two months ago in the Rolex Rankings. Korea’s strategy is interesting, trotting out their best two players on one team – Inbee Park and So Yeon Ryu- but those two are extremely close friends and make a ton of birdies. I.K. Kim is the lowest ranked player on the Korean team at No. 23 but enters the event with a recent win at an LET event.

But of all the teams in the field, no one is being slept on more than the Australian team. The Aussies enter the field with a legend in Karrie Webb and the No. 1 amateur in the world, Minjee Lee. Anyone that thinks Lee’s only the 73rd best player in the world hasn’t been watching. She’s got top-25 finishes at two of the season’s first three majors and the 18-year-old will turn pro at the end of this season. The Rolex Rankings of Katherine Kirk (108) and Lindsey Wright (165) brought their seeding down, but are playing as well as anyone after a tied for 4th and tied for 7th finish, respectively, at the Marathon Classic Presented by Owens Corning and O-I.

Neither team has experience in a format like this so it’ll be interesting to see how the duos strategize four ball and whether these teams stay the same after the opening matches. Each team’s strongest duo isn’t facing each other so this match could easily end halved.

Worldwide coverage: With nearly 30 hours of competition and news coverage this week of the International Crown, Golf Channel will be covering every step of the innaugural event. Two-time European Solheim Cup team member Karen Stupples and 2015 U.S. Solheim Cup team captain and Hall of Famer Juli Inkster will be part of the tournament broadcast team. Inkster will have a watchful eye on Team USA.

“As the captain of the U.S. Solheim Cup next year, I want the U.S. to play well this week,” said Inkster. “That could show that they don’t need me as their captain in 2015, they can do it on their own.”

International Crown / Golf Channel Live Competition Airtimes

Thursday, July 24 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. ET (Live)
Friday, July 25 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. ET (Live)
Saturday, July 26 3-7 p.m. ET (Live)
Sunday, July 27 3-7 p.m. ET (Live)

Webb's own turn in the driver's seat: After volunteering as captains’ assistants and driving carts at two Solheim Cup’s, Karrie Webb is more than ready to compete for Australia in international competition. She’s ready to hand in the cart keys and get down to business.

“I drove Meg’s cart when Beth Daniel was captain and I think that’s in 2009, and last year I drove Laura Diaz’s cart... I’ve been a part of a few other Solheim Cups just as a spectator, but the atmosphere is always completely different to any tournament that we play as individuals.”

This week, the tables are turned and instead of fetching Team USA smoothies, she’ll be concerned with playing team leader for her own team this week. She said watching from the sidelines at Rich Harvest Farms and Colorado Golf Club feuled her desire to play on her own team.

“It probably made me want to play more than be a cart driver and look after the Americans and drive and get Dairy Queen smoothies,” said Webb.

Webb, the oldest player in the field and a 41-time winner on the LPGA Tour, pairs with the youngest and top-ranked amateur, Minjee Lee, for Thursday’s first round match-up against Na Yeon Choi and I.K. Kim. She has zero reservations on whether the youngster will rise to the occassion on such a big stage.

“Minjee, she’s ready to play out here full-time. But for me, out of the four of us, Minjee knows me the best,” said Webb. “So I think that I felt that to ease her into the competition, it was probably best that she play with me.”

Back at home: Players have been saying all along leading up to this week how excited they were to finally represent their own countries on the course, but on Wednesday they talked about how much a win would resonate back home.

The Koreans have made it clear how much anticipation there is amongst the fans at home and they know there will be a lot of eyes watching them this week. Rolex Rankings No. 3 Inbee Park said a win this week in Maryland would not only provide a reason to celebrate but to give a glimmer of hope and happiness.

“It’s a tough time back in my country right now. A lot of sad things happened this year, including a ferry disaster and a couple other bad things happened… We really need some kind of hope for my people back in my country, and I think this week could be a big hope for them,” said Park.

Anna Nordqvist has played on three European Solheim Cup teams and knows this week will be different when she will don the Swedish flag on her hat and uniform. Nordqvist said this week will be an opportunity to give back to those who groomed the Swedes for the elite level. She thanked the Swedish Golf Federation for all of their support and would want to honor them with a win.

“We got a lot of support from the Swedish Federation growing up and that really helped us learn a lot about the game and take our games to the next level,” said Nordqvist. “I think that I wouldn’t be here without their support. It would be a huge honor for me to give back to them, back to my country.”

Quotes of the day: “So you got to really watch out. We get really passionate. We feel our flag like, I mean like everything, our blood boils. So when we watch our flag and when we found out that we are first off tomorrow and the National Anthem is going to be played, we were like, Oh, please, let’s not get emotional and start crying.” • Beatriz Racari on Spain’s emotional ties to nationality

“I think over my career I’ve always been asked if I wanted to play in a Presidents Cup or a Solheim Cup format and I think this is a better format, because even speaking to some of the European girls and even though they get to play in the Solheim Cup, they represent their continent, not necessarily their country. If we had a Presidents Cup format it would have been the same sort of thing. For me, to be able to wear our Australian colors and play under the Australian flag is something that’s very special.”
- Karrie Webb on the country versus country format this week

“I love playing team events, because there’s nothing we do in a regular basis. It just brings that excitement and you have fun with your teammates and I just can’t wait to go out there and play best ball for once.”
- Anna Nordqvist on what it’s like to represent Sweden instead of Europe

“Well, I don’t think we’re that scientific about our pairings. I think that for us we’ll play the sneaky underdogs this week and try to have a lot of fun.”
- Karrie Webb on what went into the decisions of day one pairings


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