Pre-tournament Notes & Interviews
Caves Valley Golf Club
Owings Mills, MD
July 22, 2014
Australia: Minjee Lee & Katherine Kirk
Thailand: Ariya Jutanugarn & Moriya Jutanugarn
Japan: Mika Miyazato & Sakura Yokomine
Chinese Taipei: Yani Tseng & Phoebe Yao
Republic of Korea: So Yeon Ryu & Na Yeon Choi
Spain: Azahara Munoz & Carlota Ciganda
Sweden: Caroline Masson & Pernilla Lindberg
United States: Stacy Lewis & Paula Creamer
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.
THE UNOFFICIAL AUSSIE CAPTAIN
With no captain selected prior for the teams in this event, the Australian team sat down for an Italian dinner at a local restaurant Monday night to figure out the teams, their strategy and ended up unofficially appointing a captain – their youngest teammate, 18-year-old amateur Minjee Lee.
“Minjee has probably played more match play than Karrie Webb, Lindsey Wrigt and I recently. So we jokingly designated her as the captain last night,” Katherine Kirk said.
For years, Kirk had watched as her fellow touring pros from the United States and Europe got to face off every two years in the Solheim Cup, taking a break from the cutthroat nature of individual competition to cheer each other on and play for a cause bigger than themselves. She had wanted that for herself and got that now with the International Crown.
“So far it’s far exceeded my expectations. Walking into the locker room yesterday, I felt like a little kid at Christmas, because we have got golf bags and head covers and towels,” Kirk said. “Everything is all about your country and it makes you really proud and certainly the fact that it’s going on probably to a hundred different countries around the world are going to get to see this, and people are going to cheer on their own country, I think is pretty special.”
Wright, Kirk and Lee had all grown up in Australia idolizing and following Webb. Now, Tuesday, there they all are discussing club choices and strategy with her. It wasn’t all that unfamiliar for Lee, who had played practice round with the No. 2 player in career money on the LPGA for years. Webb, a big proponent of girls junior golf in Australia, had always invited Lee to play practice rounds together when they were in the same tournaments, like the U.S. Women’s Open, British Open and Aussie Open.
“She’s kind of like my mom on Tour – well, not mom, but auntie, I guess. She’s not that old,” Lee said with a chuckle. “She just kind of helps me out whenever I kind of get stuck or whenever I have a question, I ask her and she’s pretty good about it. She just answers whatever she can, so, yeah, just that kind of relationship.”
A BEAUTIFUL SETTING
The highly regarded, Tom Fazio-designed Caves Valley Golf Club just north of Baltimore has hosted the U.S. Senior Open, the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Championships and the Palmer Cup. It welcomes another prestigious international event this week with the arrival of the
International Crown to the beautiful par-71 layout. Throughout this course fans will find elevated greens, rolling fairways, deep greenside bunkers and challenging fairway bunkers that players will have to aggressively challenge.
Representing one’s country is unique. For the first time for many of these players in the field at the International Crown, they’ll get to do so as professionals. No one has a more unique vantage point, though, than Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn, who will do so not only as teammates but sisters.
“It’s very nice to have a chance to play for Thailand and to have my sister on my team,” Ariya said. “I’m very excited.”
Ariya was even more excited because she hasn’t had the chance to see her sister in a couple of weeks. Moriya, the 2013 Rolex Rookie of the Year, plays on the LPGA Tour, while her sister plays on the Ladies European Tour. Ariya injured her shoulder at the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open after rising as high as No. 15 in the Rolex Rankings and was out for six to seven months. She estimates she’s now about 90 percent with her shoulder, and has been gaining her confidence back on the LET after not being able to play in LPGA Qualifying School last fall. So being back with her sister was welcomed for both.
“I was like, ‘Whoa, this is crazy golf. She’s come back [to the United States].’ We just enjoyed practice today,” Moriya said.
The two sisters will be paired together when they tee off Thursday at 9 A.M. EST against the Spanish duo of
Beatriz Recari and Belen Mozo.
TSENG LOOKS FOR ANOTHER CHARMED MOMENT
Yani Tseng’s first victory on the LPGA Tour came in 2008 when she broke onto the scene with a win at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship just outside of the Charm City. Now six years later, the 15-time LPGA winner will be looking to help put Chinese-Taipei onto the golfing map with a victory at the inaugural International Crown.
“I am just so glad to be here.” Tseng said. “It’s so exciting, even more exciting when I see this coming out. I just feel so grateful and very honored to be representing my country because we don’t get to have it too much, golf is very lonely, but now we play as a team, and I’m just so glad.”
The former Rolex Rankings No. 1 admits that she will be holding back emotions when she gets to don her countries colors in competition for the first time. Tseng, whose last victory on Tour came at the 2012 Kia Classic, will be putting expecations aside and may have some highlights of the year this week at Caves Valley.
“I just hope I don’t cry on the first tee when I hear my country song or like representing Chinese Taipei or Taiwan,” Tseng confessed. “I just really feel very excited and I’m pumped already.”
While Chinese-Taipei may be the underdogs as the No. 8 seed in the event, Tseng let it be known early that her and her teammates won’t be backing down from the competition.
“I just can’t wait to go on Thursday and then try to kick some butt.”
NO CAPTAINS, NO PROBLEM
For the four American players representing the United States this week, they’re looking at tournament logistics as a walk in the park. In comparison to a Solheim Cup, the players get to make all the pairings, off-course plans and time manage their entire week. Both Stacy Lewis and Paula Creamer agreed that they like to have more control over their decisions heading into matches and think it’s a good change of pace for the veteran players.
“It’s fun. It’s nice to have a say in who you’re going to play with, but we were all really on the same page,” said Lewis. “I think we all played so much golf together just at tournaments every week, we know each other’s games. So it was really pretty easy. It’s been fun, because we’re all making plans to what we’re going to do and talking about dinners and stuff like that. So actually for us I think it’s been more relaxed than say a Solheim Cup has been.”
Cristie Kerr (seven appearances), Creamer (five) and Lewis (two) have plenty of experience at Solheim Cups and will know how decisions will need to be made.
“We can all sit at a table together. Not worry about who is sitting there, who is sitting there,” said Creamer. “There is no captain. We’re all just a team together in that sense. We make our own calls of what we’re going to do. Not saying it’s bad when we do have a captain, but it’s just a little bit different dynamic in that sense.”
WATCH OUT FOR THE SPRINKLERS!
Stacy Lewis will be watching where she walks for the rest of the week after rolling her right ankle on a sprinkler head during Tuesday’s practice round.
“I rolled my ankle pretty good. The sprinkler heads here are pretty deep,” said Lewis. “They’re down in the ground pretty far. If you’re walking around I would be careful. But I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. We got two more days before we play. So it’s all good.”
Lewis said it felt better by the end of the round and will be watching the status throughout the week. The 29-year old said it won’t be an issue but actually might help her with her swing sequence.
“I got it wrapped up just to get a little bit more stable and I’ll get some treatment on it today and tomorrow,” said Lewis. “But it will be fine. It’s not an issue. If anything it’s helping me stay down and not jump in front of the ball, which I’ve been trying to work on for two weeks, so maybe it’s a good thing.”
QUOTES OF THE DAY
“The thing is that one of the Koreans’ standpoint is we’re really good to help each other and we’re really good about encouraging each other. So I really want to see my country’s strength on this stage.”
• Team Korea’s So Yeon Ryu on the advantage of her team’s chemistry
“I just hope I don’t cry on the first tee when I hear my country song or like representing Chinese Taipei or Taiwan. I just I really feel very excited and I’m pumped already, so I don’t care how I play.”
• Team Chinese Taipei’s Yani Tseng on the sense of pride she feels representing her country this week
“Just coming here, the golf course is amazing, already so many people are out watching. Everything of like the team bus, the uniforms, I think all of us are super happy and really impressed with how you guys have put up this for us.”
• Azahara Munoz on her initial reactions to arriving onsite at Caves Valley
“It’s cool to be part of something that’s played for the first time, obviously. Hopefully this will become a tradition playing in this every other year.”
• Caroline Hedwall on what it’s like to be part of the first International Crown