By Len Ziehm
There’s a drawback to designating one prime superstar in a sport. That policy can work to the detriment of others, and that’s what happened this week, when Tiger Woods announced he wouldn’t play in this year’s Masters. In this case the victim was the LPGA, which had its own big news to unveil at its first major championship of the season.
Woods’ announcement, while definitely newsworthy, was by no means a surprise. He’s been damaged goods most of this season and his decision to undergo back surgery instead of trying to tough it out at Augusta National simply showed common sense.
The golf media – particularly The Golf Channel – tends to overload on all things Tiger and that wasn’t a good thing this time. Over in Rancho Mirage, Calif., the LPGA made some significant announcements just as Woods revealed his Masters pullout. The result was that the women’s announcements sadly got lost in the shuffle because of this latest example of Tiger-mania.
For one thing, the LPGA also lost one of its top stars for awhile. Suzann Peterssen, the No. 2-ranked player in the world, withdrew from the Kraft Nabisco Championship that begins on Thursday. Like Woods, she has had lingering back problems. Peterssen was also a late withdrawal at last week’s Kia Classic.
Of a more long-term nature, the LPGA also unveiled major particulars on its new International Crown – by far the most significant new event in golf this year. The biennial global team event will make its debut July 24-27 at Cave’s Valley in Owings Mills, Md., and be held for the second time at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, IL., in 2016.
The first International Crown took shape when the stunning 20-pound, 23-inch trophy was unveiled, three Ambassador Sponsors were revealed and ticket sales began on the event’s website – www.LPGAInternationalCrown.com.
Named as Ambassador Sponsors were Hana Financial Group., Pandora Jewelry and Rolex. The trophy was designed and hand-crafted by Tiffany & Co. and required 165 hours of labor during its creation. Grounds tickets were priced at $99 for the week and $25 per day with youngsters under 17 admitted free when accompanied by a paying adult. All that came out in California to start off Kraft Nabisco week.
The latest Crown particulars came after the eight qualifying nations were revealed several months ago and the four players on each team were finalized via the world rankings after the Kia Classic concluded. Pettersen’s absence could well impact this week’s Kraft Nabisco tourney but it will have no bearing on the first International Crown. Even with Pettersen’s lofty ranking Norway didn’t make it into the eight qualifying nations so she has no team to play for in the competition.
Going strictly off the world rankings, the first International Crown figures to be a duel competition between the U.S. and South Korea with the U.S. Definitely going in with more momentum. When the qualifying format was announced in January, 2013, South Korea’s top four players were 44 points better than the U.S. foursome. The final rankings, though, found the U.S. with the 32 points to South Korea’s 33. That means the U.S. will be the top-seeded team at Cave’s Valley.
The U.S. foursome is Stacy Lewis (No. 3 in the world), Paula Creamer (8), Lexi Thompson (9) and Christie Kerr (12). South Korea has world No. 1 Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu (6), Na Yeon Choi (11) and I.K. Kim (15). Japan, the No. 3 seed, is way back with 131 world ranking points. Its top player is Mika Miyazato, at No. 27.
In pool play the U.S. will face Thailand, Spain and Australia while South Korea will battle Japan, Sweden and Chinese Taipei. That will start the unique competition, which will conclude with singles matches on Sunday, so seeding could be important. The South Koreans, though, don’t feel bad about losing the No. 1 spot in the final weeks leading in.
“We finished as the No. 2 seed,’’ said South Korea’s Na Yeon Choi. “We feel a little less pressure than before. The USA has a lot of pressure now, but it’s all fun for each country.’’
Lewis said improved play by the U.S. after the format was announced is encouraging.
“I’ve been beating my head against the wall for the last year and half and nobody would write about it,’’ said Lewis. “I’ve been saying that American golf is in a really good place….It’s nice to get that No. 1 seed to prove to people that we’re here, and we’re competing.’’