The 2018 UL International Crown is still just under a year away and yet golf fans in the host country of Korea are already excitedly bracing for what LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan predicts will be a team competition “on hyper-speed” in only its third edition.
With the first two UL International Crowns having been played in the United States, it was only a matter of time before the event was moved to Korea, the most dominant nation in the women’s game right now, and the host country is more than likely to go in as the top seed
Amy Yang, a three-times winner on the LPGA Tour, got her first taste of the UL International Crown in 2016 and she is determined to qualify for Team Korea again next year when she expects a “crazy” week of massive fan support at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea in Incheon.
"It's very exciting,” Yang told LPGA.com during the ‘year-out’ media day on Monday at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea where she was joined by fellow players Shanshan Feng, representing Team China, Azahara Munoz (Team Spain) and Danielle Kang (Team USA).
“I had a great time in 2016 at the International Crown and I really want to play again next year, especially with the event being played in Korea. The number of fans who watch golf here is amazing and, oh my God, you can't even count the number of people who will be watching next year!” she said with a broad grin.
"You saw the number of fans last week at Hana Bank. It will be crazy at the International Crown next year."
The 2017 LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship concluded on Sunday at the nearby SKY72 Golf & Resor where KLPGA player Jin Young Ko won the title after a week that drew a tournament record total attendance of 61,996, with more than 31,000 fans swarming across the course during the final round.
VYING FOR CROWN HONOR AND GLORY
You can certainly expect much bigger numbers from October 4-7 next year when the best female golfers from the top eight countries across the globe vie for honor and glory at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea in the third UL International Crown.
"We've been excited about the start of the UL International Crown but by taking it to Korea, we have put this thing on hyper-speed,” Commissioner Whan, who also attended the “year-out” media day, told LPGA.com. “The reaction already about bringing the world's best here to play in a team competition is amazing. We already bring out so many fans when we play LPGA events in Korea but imagine what's going to happen when we have Team Korea competing in Korea.
“If you think about it, this team is as hard to make as the Olympics, so what you're essentially going to get is a glimpse of Team Korea, an Olympic team, competing against seven other Olympic-worthy teams. I know the Olympics will be here in Korea for the 2018 Winter Games. Well, they're going to get a glimpse of the Summer Olympics when we show up for the UL International Crown."
Koreans will have plenty to celebrate and to hope for at next year’s UL International Crown. LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame member Se Ri Pak, the greatest player ever produced by Korea, was officially appointed on Monday as the Honorary Director of the 2018 competition.
Then there is the by-no-means-small matter that Korea has not yet won the UL International Crown title with the first two editions already in the books.
Spain, represented by Carlota Ciganda, Belen Mozo, Azahara Munoz and Beatriz Recari, won all four singles matches on the final day to become the inaugural champions in 2014 at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Maryland.
Two years later, a powerful United States lineup of Cristie Kerr, Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson and Gerina Piller came from behind on the final day to win the second edition at Merit Club on the outskirts of Chicago where defending champions Spain surprisingly failed to qualify for the event.
Next year, Korean fans will be hoping for a home win but they will also come out in droves to watch the cream of women’s golf.
“Korean fans want to follow Korean players but they also love golf,” said Whan. “Team Korea will be in next year’s competition, and that's going to be crazy, but I can tell you from just being out here myself, the galleries that Lexi Thomson gets out here, or the galleries that Carlota Ciganda gets out here, or the galleries that want to follow Shanshan Feng, they love golf, they love great golf and they follow the LPGA well enough to know who's the best of the best.
“These are highly educated, highly knowledgeable women's golf fans so if the 2015 Presidents Cup (played at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea) was an indication of how much they will enjoy team competition, then there had better be plenty of parking available here next October!"