Is this the year the UL International Crown makes a real name for itself?
On the heels of the Ryder Cup, the LPGA hosts a team event of its own: the UL International Crown. In the third edition of the biennial event, four women from the eight top-ranked countries will play four days of team play in Incheon, South Korea—the first time the event is being held outside the United States.
Women’s golf has seen success already in team competitions; the Solheim Cup draws large crowds—more than 120,000 in Des Moines in 2017 and solid TV ratings (2017 numbers in the U.S. surpassed those seen for majors). Add in the fact that it will be held in one of the global hotbeds for women’s golf, and the potential for the International Crown to develop an identity of its own appears high.
"We built this event with one goal, let's build something that's never been done before," LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said in a Golf Channel interview. "We knew when we launched it there'd be some critics along the way, but it's proven it's different and fun."
In the months leading up to competition, being played at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club, site of the 2015 Presidents Cup, anticipation of big crowds has been high. Early bird ticket offerings sold out quickly. Golf Channel reports that sales have exceeded those of any golf event the country has hosted, male or female.
"We rarely use the term sold out," said Whan. "But every time we released a new batch of tickets has sold out almost immediately. The excitement in Korea is high."
On Tuesday, rows of fans followed the Korean team—Sung Hyun Park, I.K. Kim, In Gee Chun and So Yeon Ryu—during a practice round.
During press conferences in the days before the matches start, players were already bracing for the size of the crowds.
“We’re going to be playing against Korea [in the first match], so we're going to have a lot of fans out there," Chinese Taipei's Candie Kung said. Kung is playing in her third UL International Crown. "We don't know how we're going to control the crowds. I'm thinking about getting avhorn to get them out of my way."
The Ryder Cup started in 1927, the Solheim Cup in 1990, the Presidents Cup in 1994. It took time for each of these to find its way. The UL International Crown presents the added hurdle of an unfamiliar format compared to one-on-one team matches.
The eight countries are split into two pools. Over the first three days of competition, each country plays two four-ball matches against the other three in their pool. After that, the two teams with the most points from each pool go into the final day of singles matches, along with one wild-card team.
The matches for the first day of play are set as follows:
England vs. Australia
Japan vs. Thailand
United States vs. Sweden
South Korea vs. Chinese Taipei
The Americans are the defending champions, and are represented by Jessica Korda, Michelle Wie, Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson. Neither Korda nor Wie were part of the victorious team in 2016.
"I'm most excited to see how many people are going to actually show up," said Korda. "I heard they sold out of tickets so quickly, so I think that's going to be really, really cool to play in front of that many people. Other than that, it's a team event. I'm really, really proud and happy to be alongside these girls up here."
Though different, the format still lends itself to the rallying energy that comes from big crowds rooting on small fields who are playing in their country’s colors. And this week could be the one in which the nascent event makes a true global connection.