International Crown needed Webb to play at Merit Club

The UL International Crown, the biggest event on the Chicago golf calendar this season, lucked out when it reached its first qualifying deadline last week in the midst of Masters hoopla world-wide.

In announcing the eight countries to qualify for the July 19-24 global team event at the Merit Club it was significant that Australia was among them. Australia stood eighth among the team contending for places in the tournament and that meant that Karrie Webb would be returning to the Merit Club where she won the U.S. Women’s Open in 2000 – the only big tournament played at the Libertyville private facility.

Webb was also the champion of the Kellogg Keebler Classic at Stonebridge Country Club in Aurora in 2004 – the last LPGA tournament played in the Chicago area. She won both those events by whopping five-stroke margins and has since been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Webb has 57 world-wide tournament wins with 41 of them coming on the LPGA Tour – more than any other active player.

The Crown needs players of that stature in the Crown since its format doesn’t guarantee all the top players will participate. Lydia Ko, the current world’s No. 1 player, for instance, won’t be playing at the Merit Club because her native New Zealand didn’t qualify. Other notables who will miss the Crown for the same reason include seventh-ranked Brooke Henderson (Canada) and veteran star Suzann Pettersen (Norway).

Webb, 41, hasn’t been back to the Merit Club since the day she held off Meg Mallon and Cristy Kerr to win the first of her seven major titles.

“I’m real excited about coming back,’’ she said during a brief Chicago visit last week. “I want to see if my memories are as vivid as I think they are. Most of the other LPGA players were kids at the time I won.’’

She repeated as champion the following year at Pine Needles in North Carolina but isn’t as dominating a player now, owning a No. 36 world ranking and standing 21st on the LPGA season money list

The Crown made its debut in 2014 at Cave’s Valley in Maryland. The second playing will look much different that the first in that the top two teams two years ago – Spain and Sweden – didn’t qualify to play at the Merit Club.

“I feel like I’m the pseudo-defending champion since Spain isn’t coming back,’’ said Webb. “Fortunately (Australia) could sneak in but we’ll be underdogs that week.’’

Each of the eight team qualifiers will have four players, and they’ll be determined off the world rankings on June 13 following the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. The current top four U.S. players are Lexi Thompson, Stacy Lewis, Kerr and Brittany Lincicome. The first three played for the U.S. at Cave’s Valley.

Lincicome, currently ranked 18th, will have to hold off Jessica Korda (ranked 22nd), Gerina Piller (23rd) and Alison Lee (24th) to secure her spot on the team. Paula Creamer, now ranked 41st, was the fourth player for the U.S. at Cave’s Valley.

The last time the LPGA visited Chicago was in 2009 for the Solheim Cup matches at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove. The Crown kicks off a three-year run of big women’s events in the Chicago area. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship will be played at Olympia Fields in 2017 and Kemper Lakes in 2018 and the first U.S. Senior Women’s Open will also come to Chicago Golf Club in 2018.

Here and there

The Golfers on Golf radio show, with its “favorite foursome’’ of Rory Spears, Ed Stevenson, Mike Munro and Bill Berger, kicks off its 22-week season at 9 a.m. Sunday on WSBC (1240-AM) and WCFJ (1470-AM).

Libertyville’s Michael Schachner is the first sponsor’s exemption for the new Rust-Oleum Championship, coming to Ivanhoe Club on June 6-12. A veteran of the mini-tours and perennial contender in the Illinois Open, Schachner developed his game at Ivanhoe.

Arrowhead, in Wheaton, will hold the grand opening of its Pelican Performance Center on Thursday and the first demo day of the season will be conducted there from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday.

The Illinois PGA opened its tournament season on Monday with a three-man scramble at Chicago’s Harborside International with the team of David Hanson of LaGrange Country Club, Alex Mendez of Butterfield and Marty DeAngelo of Medinah winning with a 13-under-par 59.

Mistwood, in Romeoville, will hold the grand opening of its new clubhouse on Monday, kicking off a week-long celebration of special events there.