A sports event like no other will soon be hitting the Chicago area soon.
The UL International Crown is a women’s golf event – nothing so unusual about that – but it’s also a team competition with a global feel. Only the Ryder Cup, for men, and Solheim Cup, for women, fall into that category and the UL International Crown is much different than both of those.
Eight countries will be represented when the UL International Crown comes to the Merit Club from July 19-24. The Ryder and Solheim Cups are both two-team affairs — U.S. vs. Europe. Add six more teams and you’ve got what event director Drew Blass admits is “a different animal.’’
And that’s putting it mildly. You have to be there to fully appreciate how different the UL International Crown is.
“I love the Solheim Cup,’’ said Blass, who worked on that event when it was played to rave reviews at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove in 2009, “but the U.S. was only playing the European Union. Here each of the eight countries get their own national anthems. All the players will be in their team uniforms, with no sponsor logos.’’
The Ladies PGA needed a different event, one that underscored what an international scope its players offer at each and every tournament, and the UL International Crown fits that to a tee. The competition for places at the Merit Club actually began as soon as the first UL International Crown concluded in 2014. All the players on the LPGA Tour – as well as smaller professional circuits world-wide — had a chance to qualify.
Under this unique format all the players are awarded points off their tournament showings as individuals and those are translated into their positions in the Rolex World Rankings. Then the rankings of the top four players in each country are combined and the eight countries with the lowest total receive invitations to the UL International Crown.
That means that the big week at the Merit Club will feature 32 players representing eight countries be battling for one – highly coveted – crown.
The format does keep some top players – like world No. 1-ranked Lydia Ko of New Zealand, No. 2 Brooke Henderson of Canada and popular Norway veteran Suzann Pettersen – out of the finals. Their countries don’t have enough other top players to earn a position in the top eight in the team standings.
Blass doesn’t see the absence of a few top stars as a negative. In fact, it has some long-range benefits.
“It’s a positive, because it grows the game globally,’’ said Blass. “Look at China. I would never have guessed that China would be in this field two years ago but now it has four qualified players.’’
Two years ago it had but one, Shanshan Feng. She made a point of thanking the three young players who improved their rankings to elevate China into the finals of the UL International Crown.
Even without players like Ko, Henderson and Pettersen, the field at Merit Club will be filled with world-class players fighting for a unique honor – that being the world’s best women’s golf-playing nation.
The final eight teams have been divided into two four-team pools. The Republic of Korea had the lowest point total during the qualifying process and was accorded the No. 1 seed in Pool A. The U.S. had the second-lowest point total and received the No. 1 seed in Pool B.
Japan, Chinese Taipei and England are also in Group A and Australia, Thailand and China are in Group B. Each country will play two, four-ball matches between each of the other three countries in their pool in the first three days of competition.
Then, the top two point-earning countries from each pool and one wild card country will advance to Sunday’s series of single matches. The cumulative points from the four days of competition will determine the champion.
When the UL International Crown was played for the first time in 2014 Spain won the title. Spain, however, didn’t survive the qualifying process for this second playing of the UL International Crown.
Unlike the Solheim Cup, there will be four days of matches at the UL International Crown instead of three. There will also be a pro-am event before the matches begin at the UL International Crown. There isn’t one in the Solheim Cup format.
“We couldn’t be more excited,’’ said Kraig Kann. chief communications officer for the LPGA. “It’s an event that will have an Olympic-type field. All that we won’t have is a podium to hand out gold, silver and bronze medals.