Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wednesday Preview - LPGA International Crown

Things are a little bit different this week, as the LPGA unveils the first ever International Crown, an 8 team match play event that was designed to show off the international nature of the LPGA and allow countries, such as Korea and Japan, who are not represented in any other team format to show off their skills. For my preview, I will break down each pairing individually, and give the five teams I see moving on to stoke play. It's going to be an interesting event, one that I'm sure will have a few kinks in it (for example, five out of eight teams make it to the finals).

Group A:

Team Thailand (Ariya Jutanugarn, Moriya Jutanugarn, Pornanong Phatlum, Onnarin Sattayabanphot)
Team Spain (Azahara Munoz, Beatriz Recari, Carlota Ciganda, Belen Mozo)

Team USA (Paula Creamer, Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson, Cristie Kerr)
Team Taiwan (Yani Tseng, Teresa Lu, Candie Kung, Phoebe Yao)

Team USA is the number one seed in the whole tournament and are a strong favorite to win the event, and they get drawn into the easier group. They should have no problem sweeping their first opponents, Team Taiwan (or Chinese Taipei, depending on how politically correct you'd like to be). Up until this year, I would have told you that Team Spain was the US's biggest obstacle in the early stage, but all four players in Team Spain have struggled this year, to a point where I don't even like their chances to get out of the early stage. Team Thailand is young and has talent, though the Jutanugarn Sisters have cooled down since the strong 2013 campaign they put on. Team USA may very well sweep each all three teams, but they won't - they'll give a few points away because match play is weird like that. In the end, USA should have no problem moving on, and I think Thailand will be the other team that makes it out of this group. Team Spain and Team Taiwan will be eliminated.

Group B:

Team Japan (Mika Miyazato, Ai Miyazato, Sakura Yokomine, Mamiko Higa)
Team Sweden (Anna Nordqvist, Caroline Hedwall, Pernilla Lindberg, Mikaela Parmlid)

Team Korea (Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu, Na Yeon Choi, IK Kim)
Team Australia (Karrie Webb, Minjee Lee, Katherine Kirk, Lindsey Wright)

Up until this year, Team Korea was above and away the favorites to win this event, but a season where Choi and Kim have struggled, followed by an explosion of American golf has put the Americans in an easy spot to advance and put the Koreans in the much tougher group. Korea has the talent - the question is whether or not they perform at that level. IK Kim struggled mightily all season, then won on the LET Tour, and then missed the cut at the Women's British Open. Na Yeon Choi hasn't recorded a top 10 in seven starts, but has won the US Women's Open and was close to being the number one player in the world. Perhaps the team aspect of this event will cause the Koreans to rally around each other, and if that happens, they could very well be the team to beat again. They'll have to get out of the tough Group B first, though, and may have drawn one of the biggest question mark teams in the tournament for the first day. Team Australia is the seventh ranked team in the tournament, but may also be the dark horse, as Katherine Kirk and Lindsey Wright have shown this season that they can play some great rounds of golf, Webb has won twice, and Minjee Lee is the top amateur in the world. Team Japan, unfortunately, is coming in leaking all kinds of oil, as the only player who has played well on their team is Sakura Yokomine, who spends all her time on the JLPGA Tour. Team Sweden, who has two Solheim Cup heroes in Nordqvist and Hedwall, as well as two fairly decent players in Lindberg and Parmlid, should be the second team coming out of this group, and may sweep Team Japan. At the end of the day, I see Team Korea winning the group, with Team Sweden and Team Australia both making it out, as well. Team Japan will be eliminated.

So, heading into the finals, I have Team USA, Team Korea, Team Thailand, Team Sweden, and Team Australia. After the group stages, all the players from the teams that qualify play a stroke play round, and the winning team will be determined by the best combined score. Teams Thailand, Sweden, and Australia will be happy to be there and won't be much of a concern for the two teams at the top, as they just don't have the depth to rely on all four players to play well in this format. As long as the US makes it out of the group stage, they should have no problem taking home the title once they reach the finals. Match play has been what does the US in - if all four players get to go out there and just play a round of golf, worrying more about posting a score than beating an opponent, then you're in their wheelhouse. There is, however, cause for concern for Team USA supporters - Paula Creamer has not played will since her win in Singapore, and Cristie Kerr, for as consistent as she is on a weekly basis, is also capable of putting up some not so great rounds. Team Korea, on the other hand, has So Yeon Ryu, who seems allergic to championship trophies lately but has the ability to make birdies in bunches. Ryu and Park could easily put up a round of 63 each and put a lot of pressure on Team USA. In the end, however, I think Team USA is way too deep, and will walk away with the championship.

EDIT: I found out today that the finals for this event is NOT a stoke play event, as is listed on the LPGA web site, and rather 10 singles matches, in which members of each team play a member from another team, determined by the outcome of the group stage. This means someone from, say, Team Thailand could be standing over a putt to determine whether Team USA or Team Korea walks away with the Crown. From a personal standpoint, it is completely twisted, and I don't understand that format at all. From an ""expert"" (I can't put enough quotes around that word) standpoint, it completely changes the way I think about the outcome of this event. While Team USA still has the stronger, deeper team, they are staring down the barrel of the very thing they struggled with in recent Solheim Cups, with players who have had varying results. Stacy Lewis hasn't won a singles match in her Solheim Cup career, Paula Creamer, who used to be an anchor for the team, has two blowout losses in a row to her resume, and Cristie Kerr hasn't won a singles match in three events. My prediction here is now simple - Team USA comes into the finals looking like a lock, and then proceed to completely blow it on the final day. There is something about match play that just gets into the heads of these players. They clam up. So, that means that Team Korea walks away with the victory, right? It's not that simple. This format is so screwy that I don't see either of the super heavyweights walking out as the winner because that's what happens in events like these. It should be cut and dry, and yet it is far more complicated then that. My new prediction is that Team Sweden shocks the world. I don't know if you're allowed to choose which players play against each team, but if you are, you can easily match Hedwall and Nordqvist up against the members of Team USA and Team Korea, and allow Parmlid and Lindberg to face off against the remaining teams. Of course, if I'm right, then expect a LOT of people to complain about the format of these event, and a complete overhall in the future.


  1. Let's hope Team USA worry more about playing some good golf rather than the face painting and fingernails....Be interesting to see if any of the non playing USA LPGA players turn up to support their team or any others for that matter. It's not who wins that matters most it's crowd support lots of flag waving supporters will make this a success.

  2. No stroke play on Sunday, man! Singles match play: