The future of the LPGA's other team event, the International Crown, is murky
South Korea remains the reigning International Crown champion, but it's unclear when, if ever, it will get to defend its title.
Another successful Solheim Cup—Europe pulling off the 15-13 road upset of the Americans at Inverness Club—highlighted once more the intrinsic drama and excitement that comes with team events and playing for one’s country. It’s easy to make the argument that the 31-year-old matches represent the most impactful event on the LPGA calendar, when combining player and fan enthusiasm, in terms of exposure for women’s golf.
Overshadowed in the wake of the competition in Toledo is the fact that the tour runs a second team competition meant to include players not only from the United States and Europe but the rest of the world.
However, the status of the International Crown, after being played three times from 2014 to 2018, is in question, with multiple sources with knowledge of the event’s planning telling Golf Digest it likely has been held for the last time. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the tour to cancel the 2020 edition, which was supposed to be contested at England’s Centurion Club, and no future date for the competition has been set.
Not long after the 2020 cancellation, UL dropped out as the title sponsor of the event. And while tour officials have been trying to find a replacement, their efforts have been unsuccessful. Still, they are holding out hope the event can be revived.
“We are incredibly appreciative of UL and their partnership with the LPGA and the International Crown,” an LPGA spokesperson told Golf Digest. “While the event will not be on the LPGA Tour calendar in 2022, we are dedicated to keeping this opportunity alive for our world-class athletes to represent their countries on the international stage.”
Unlike the other three professional biennial "Cup" events with two teams competing head-to-head, the International Crown included participation from eight countries that qualified based on the World Rankings of its top players. It was a distinction promoted as the event’s signature feature, but it also brought with it a quirk that might have been too much to overcome. While Spain won the inaugural 2014 competition, the country failed to qualify for the 2016 event (won by the U.S.) because it was no longer among the top eight in the world.
Mind you, the chance for players outside Europe and the U.S. to represent their country was hugely appealing when the LPGA unveiled the event in 2013 and continues to be so among players outside Solheim Cup countries who hope the International Crown is not going away for good.
"It's nice to bond with the girls," said So Yeon Ryu, who played for South Korea when it won the last playing of the event in 2018 in Seoul. "Having one more goal, making the teams for UL International Crown, was really motivating for all the players. I'd really like to have that tournament back if we can."
The structure of the International Crown, where the top countries would battle it out, was a point of emphasis from the start. As former LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said in the press release announcing its creation in 2013, "Only countries that have produced the best female teams can compete and only four players from any one country will be invited."
The key, however, was four players. Since the Crown's creation, New Zealand has the fourth-most LPGA wins (14) of any country and Canada has the sixth-most (10), but neither nation appeared in the competition. That's because the talent within the country hasn't trickled down from its top stars, with Kiwi and former World No. 1 Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson, the winningest Canadian golfer in the country's history, responsible for every victory from their homelands over that period. Through no fault of their own, some of the LPGA's top stars still couldn’t participate.
"I love that kind of a team atmosphere," Ko said. "It felt like, 'man, I wish I could be part of that event.' You know, jealous of the other girls playing."
Golf’s inclusion in the Olympics has provided the LPGA’s top pros a new opportunity to play for their country, potentially taking away some of the International Crown's appeal. Ko has taken advantage of the Olympics platform, being the only player to win two medals, with her silver in Rio from 2016 and her bronze in Tokyo last month.
Still, despite the event's flaws, some are still high on the potential for the International Crown to provide a worldwide showcase for the game's rising talent.
"I do feel like we could market and really promote our tour and our players better [with the event]," Ko said. "I feel like there is so much talent and so many amazing players that we can really showcase.”