It’s back. After a four-year hiatus, the Hanwha LIFEPLUS International Crown will return to the LPGA Tour schedule in 2023. This iteration of the unique match-play event will be held at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, site of the 2009 Presidents Cup and the 2020 PGA Championship.
Much of the formatting for this revised competition remains the same as what fans remember from previous International Crown matches, the last of which was held in 2018 in South Korea and won by the host nation. Eight countries will qualify based on the combined Rolex Rankings of their four best players as of November 21, 2022, right after the conclusion of the CME Group Tour Championship. Once a national team is set, players from each qualifying country have until April 2 of 2023 to make their respective teams. If one player falls in the Rolex Rankings between November and April, the next-highest-ranked player will move up.
If you watched any of the previous matches, this sounds familiar. In 2014, players from Spain, Japan, the United States, Sweden, Korea, Chinese Taipei, Thailand and Australia traveled to Caves Valley in Maryland, not far from Washington, D.C., for the inaugural International Crown. No one knew how the event would be received, but any concerns were laid to rest on opening day when, as the Swedish national anthem played and the blue and white flag was raised, Pernilla Lindberg broke down in tears. The event might have been new, but everyone knew right then and there that it was serious, and meaningful, and compelling.
That is also where many fans got their first glimpse of a 17-year-old Australian amateur named Minjee Lee. Karrie Webb, the leader of Team Aussie, heaped massive praise on the young Lee, who was so shy she could barely complete a sentence.
Team Spain won that first International Crown with Carlota Ciganda, Beatriz Recari, Azahara Munoz and Belen Mozo, who captured the winning point. In hindsight, the inaugural event couldn’t have come off better.
Two years later in suburban Chicago, Cristie Kerr captured the winning point for the Americans, a team that also included Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson and Gerina Mendoza.
In 2018, at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon, I.K. Kim, So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and In Gee Chun captured the Crown in front of the largest crowd in the history of Korean golf at that time.
Next year at TPC Harding Park, one of the most historic public venues in America named after President Warren G. Harding, eight nations will compete for three days in round-robin pool play, with four countries in one pool and four in the other. They will be divided up by their placement in the Rolex Rankings. Countries 1, 4, 5, and 8 will be in Pool A and Countries 2, 3, 6 and 7 in Pool B.
All pool play will consist of fourball contests with each win earning one point and each tie counting as a half point. That will take place Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Sunday is where fans of the Crown are in for a treat. The biggest knock against the format in the past was the difficulty in following Sunday’s singles contests. That’s because the four remaining countries after pool play went against each other in a hodgepodge of pairings. Korean player No.1 played American player No.1, but Korean player No.2 played England player No.2, and on down the line. While the individual matches were fun to watch, keeping up with scoring required an algorithm that few could follow.
That problem has been resolved this time around. The final day of the Hanwha LIFEPLUS International Crown will consist of morning semi-final matches. The first-place country from Pool A will play the second-place country from Pool B and vice versa. Those semi-final contests will include two singles and one foursomes (alternate shot) match per semi.
The teams that capture two of three points will advance to the Sunday afternoon finals, which will be head-to-head singles matches. None of those finals’ matches will end in a tie. Players will play on after 18 holes as needed to determine a winner.
That may still sound complicated. But the revised format will be much simpler to follow and much more compelling in its execution. Not only will fans get more golf, the finals will pit the top two countries against each other in an easy-to-follow match-play contest that will crown a worthy and true champion nation.
Stay tuned for more updates as qualifying countries battle over the final four weeks of the LPGA Tour season. It will be great to see who makes it and who ultimately gets to wear the Hanwha LIFEPLUS International Crown.