How the International Crown could become the No. 1 women's team event
Much like the Presidents Cup in the men’s game, the UL International Crown – while still in its infancy – has taken on the role of being the other team event in the years where there is no Solheim Cup.
This year the eight-country competition moved outside of the United States for the very first time, and in doing so, provided an insight into how big this biennial event can be.
Not just for the LPGA, but for world golf.
Indeed, it is well known that the Crown is set to continue to move around the globe in future years, but South Korea truly bought into the concept and set an example for future hosts.
Fans came out in their thousands to cheer on the home favourites Sung Hyun Park, So Yeon Ryu, In-Kyung Kim and In-Gee Chun. The players enjoyed themselves, but in stark comparison to other new team events like GolfSixes, there was no gimmick here. Every player was truly desperate to win and wanted to put in a performance for their country.
For an event that is only three renewals old, it’s remarkable that the UL International Crown has impacted the players as significantly as it has done.
Exhibit A: Bronte Law. The 23-year-old English star greeted every made putt with a “COME ON!” and a fist pump her compatriot Ian Poulter would have been proud of. Law won her opening two matches against Australia and Chinese Taipei convincingly alongside her team-mate Jodi Ewart Shadoff, and the two took the lead against Ryu and Chun in the final fourball match before the home-side turned it around to win 4&3.
Not to be deterred, Law – the bright spark of the week for England – was sent out last in the Sunday singles to take on Korea in what proved to be a pivotal match. The matchplay expert raced ahead and it was evident that Kim was shaken by Law’s fiery temperament.
The affable Korean was 2-down until a chip-in birdie on the 8th brought her to life. Kim proceeded to stiff it on the very next green to get it back to level as it became clear that this individual match could likely decide the whole competition.
When the Korean tapped in for a birdie on 14 to go 2-up, the usually reserved character turned to the jubilant crowd and let out a shriek of joy. She had turned her match around against the fiercest of competitors, and the finish line was now in sight. Sure enough, needing just two putts to win the Crown on 17, Kim lagged it close to which Law conceded.
Of course, as with any new creation, the UL International Crown does have its problems. Australia picked up the third most points in the group stage yet they failed to advance to Sunday when Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn chipped in for an eagle in the wildcard play-off. Some will argue that it’s purely the nature of a group stage format that some teams will feel hard done by, but it didn’t quite sit right that Australia headed for an early exit when the Thailand team had picked up two fewer points.
Super effort #teamaus at @ULIntlCrown this week. I think this event is really great 4 the @LPGA but like any new event some times things need 2 b tweaked. A team shouldn’t have the 3rd best record & not b playing the last day @minjeegolf @suohgolf @SarahJaneGolf @Katherine_Kirk1
— Karrie Webb (@Karrie_Webb) October 7, 2018
And then there was the anti-climatic nature of the conclusion. Tensions were high among both the players and the Korean fans that had been lining the fairways, yet, when Kim two-putted on 17 to confirm that Korea had mathematically won the Crown, seemingly only Tom Abbott in the commentary booth knew what was going on.
The nature of team matchplay golf means that tournaments are often decided midway through the golf course. As a spectator, it can be confusing to keep track of, but the Ryder Cup didn’t have much trouble a few weeks ago when Francesco Molinari won his match against Phil Mickelson when the American conceded on the 16th. Molinari, and the fans, knew that the cup had been secured and he had just won the winning point for the European team.
It was a shame that Kim didn’t realise her team had won. Of course, she would have still had to have played the 18th hole regardless because Law could have still halved the match given that Kim was 1-up – which wouldn’t have made a difference to the overall outcome – but Kim could have enjoyed a stress-free stroll up the 18th, taking in the adulation from the frenzied crowds.
But the overall take-away from this year’s Crown is an incredibly positive one.
The Solheim Cup is special because players get to feel what Ryder Cups feel like, but the one issue in the women’s game is that the leading players in the world don’t primarily hail from the USA and Europe.
Indeed, the women’s game is much more global. South Korea and Thailand in particular deserve to be a part of the premier team event, and while the UL International Crown still has a way to go to surpass the drama and excitement of the Solheim Cup, this year’s edition in Korea taught us that the switch between the two could happen sooner rather than later.