OLD HICKORY, Tenn. – The ISPS Handa Cup is one of the premier events on the LPGA’s Legends Tour and its eighth staging at Hermitage Golf Club on the outskirts of Nashville figures to be something special.
In fact, it could result in a breakthrough for the World team. It has never won the Handa Cup, but last year’s match ended in a 24-24 tie at Reunion Resort in Orlando, Fla. Because ties go to the defending champion the U.S. was able to retain the cup for another year. This time the U.S. might not be so fortunate.
Both captains – JoAnne Carner for the U.S. and Sweden’s Pia Nilsson for the World – return from last year but with different approaches for organizing their teams.
Carner paired the same players for both the morning best ball matches on Hermitage’s front nine and the afternoon alternate shot matches on the back side. Nilsson will change up her teams after the morning session.
The U.S. team features a pairing of former champions of the Sara Lee Classic, the LPGA Tour stop at the Hermitage from 1988-2002. Nancy Lopez, who won the Sara Lee title in 1991, will play with Barb Mucha, the winner in 1998.
Most interesting of the matches, though, could involve best friends Cindy Rarick of the U.S. and Jan Stephenson of the World team. They’ll meet in both best ball and alternate shot, though Australian Stephenson will have different partners. She’s paired with Sweden’s Helen Alfredsson in the best ball and with Peru’s Jenny Lidback in alternate shot. Rarick will play both with Nancy Scranton.
The competition concludes with 12 singles matches on Sunday, so Rarick and Stephenson could be matched up a third time.
Hottest Legends’ competitor going into the competition is the World team’s Lorie Kane, the Canadian golfer who won the first Legends Tour Championship two weeks ago at the brutal Pete Dye Course in French Lick, Ind. The U.S. team, however, has the most successful all-time Handa Cup player in Rosie Jones who has a 15-3-2 record in the competition.
For all the Legends’ competitors the return to the General’s Retreat course at Hermitage, a 36-hole facility, is a sentimental homecoming. It was one of the most popular stops for the LPGA players during Sara Lee’s run as sponsor, and Thursday’s kickoff party and Friday’s pro-am reflected their affection for the layout designed by Gary Rogers Baird.
Most notable during the Handa Cup festivities was the arrival of Midori Miyazaki, the executive director for international affairs for sponsor International Sports Promotion Society. She arrived via a flight from London on Thursday afternoon, was a speaker at the kickoff party, played in the pro-am on Friday and then caught an evening flight back to London. Trips to France and Cambodia are on her calendar over the next week.
She maintains a whirlwind schedule, but the ISPS Handa Cup was a must stop.
“We’re happy to be involved in this fantastic event,’’ she declared to loud cheers at the kickoff/pairings party. ISPS also has connections with the PGA of Australia, the European Senior Tour and the Asian Tour.
Miyazaki describes herself as a “terrible’’ golfer. She’s not, but her appearance spoke volumes about the Handa Cup’s importance to both ISPS and the stars of the LPGA’s 45-and-over circuit.
ISPS was created by Dr. Haruhisa Handa, an international businessman and philanthropist. His humanitarian efforts include founding the Japanese Blind Golf Assn., and the Handa Cup is named in his honor.
HERE ARE THE PAIRINGS
MORNING BEST BALL MATCHES
9 a.m. — Pat Bradley-Betsy King, U.S., vs. Laura Davies-Trish Johnson, England.
9:12 — Nancy Lopez-Barb Mucha, U.S., vs. Lorie Kane, Canada, and Alicia Dibos, Peru.
9:24 — Sherri Turner-Laurie Rinker, U.S., vs. Liselotte Neumann, Sweden, and Jane Crafter, Australia.
9:36 — Cindy Figg-Currier-Chris Johnson, U.S., vs. Gail Graham, Canada, and Jenny Lidback, Peru.
9:48 — Nancy Scranton-Cindy Rarick, U.S., vs. Helen Alfredsson, Sweden, and Jan Stephenson, Australia.
10 a.m. — Beth Daniel-Rosie Jones, U.S., vs. Mieko Nomura, Japan, and Alison Nicholas, England.
AFTERNOON ALTERNATE SHOT MATCHES
1 p.m. –Turner-Rinker, U.S., vs. Davies-Trish Johnson.
1:12 — Bradley-King, U.S., vs. Neumann-Dibos.
1:24 — Figg-Currier-Johnson, U.S., vs. Kane-Graham.
1:36 — Lopez-Mucha, U.S., vs. Nicholas-Alfredsson.
1:48 — Daniel-Jones, U.S., vs. Crafter-Nomura.
2 p.m. — Scranton-Rarick, U.S., vs. Lidback-Stephenson.