Everybody’s taking a deep breath and some badly needed time off for a couple of weeks following The Evian Championship, but then the LPGA Tour is traveling to Asia for a series of events in some premier venues. Tournaments in Bejing, China and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia come first. The player fields are star-studded and there’s considerable drama in the making. Inbee Park and Stacy Lewis are defending 2012 championships and Suzann Pettersen is keeping her eye on the top slot in the Rolex Rankings. The Solheim Stars are a constant presence and challenge, and emerging and established Asians are looking for a win.
China, October 8-10
The LPGA Tour, in partnership with the China Golf Association and the China LPGA, is sponsoring a new China tournament. The Reignwood LPGA Classic will be played at the Reignwood Pine Valley Golf Club, Bejing, China. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, the course is generally regarded as one of the most prestigious venues in China and is an ideal venue to host the first LPGA trip to China’s capital. The tournament features a $1.8 million purse and an 81-player field combining LPGA and CLPGA players.
This is no lightweight event. Shanshan Feng, winner of last year’s Wegmans LPGA Championship and the first Chinese golfer, male or female, to win a major championship, will be playing on home ground before a gallery of home-town fans and supporters. Solheim Cup stars Carlota Cignada, Caroline Hedwall, Karine Icher, Christie Kerr, Jessica Korda, and Beatriz Ricari are playing. They’d all like to collect a victory and they’ll all capable of pulling a winning game out of their bag! Aussie Karrie Webb, who always delivers a world-class athletic performance, is in the field, as are Inbee Park, Si Re Pak, and Stacy Lewis. All the ingredients for an exciting event are in play.
The venue is gorgeous, the field promises exciting golf, and the Golf Channel is standing by to take us there, although on Thursday, October 3 and Friday, October 4 you’re going to have to make some adjustments to your sleep schedule or set your recording devices on your televisions: Thursday, October 3 & Friday, October 4, 3-5am, ET; Saturday, October 5 & Sunday, October 6, 3-6pm, ET.
Malaysia, October 10-13
From Beijing the Tour will travel to Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club for the Sime Darby LPGA Malayasia. Inbee Park is the defending champion at this 72-hole invitational event that is played without a cut. Her 2012 win gave Park a boost up from #4 to #2 in the Rolex Rankings and signaled a new level of golfing excellence that would kept us all on the edge of our seats for most of the 2013 season while Park played her way from one victory to the next in pursuit of the Grand Slam. Has Park’s dominance of the playing field begun to soften? The outcome of the Sime Darby may give us some answers to that question.
There will be a deep field playing in the Sime Dabry to test Park’s mettle, beginning with Suzann Pettersen, who edged Stacy Lewis off the #2 slot in the rankings with her win at The Evian Championship last week. Pettersen has her eye on the top of the rankings and she’s playing a game that can get her there.
Park has her work cut out for her if she want to hold on to the #1 player in the world designation. She’s been up there for now for 23 consecutive weeks. In addition to Pettersen’s challenge, Lewis will be looking to get her rank back, so she’s going to bring her best game to Malaysia as well. There could be quite a battle on the putting surface!
Other challengers and hopefuls, in addition to the Solheim stars who are all playing great golf right now, include Sandra Gal, who gave heroic performances at both the Safeway Classic and The Evian, Pomanong Phatlum, who played her heart out at the Safeway Classic in August and was good for a strong top-10 finish, Jiyal Shin, who played a steady sturdy game at both the Safeway and The Evian and could break out of the pack at any point now, and IK Kim, who holds the #9 Rolex rank and also played fine golf at The Evian. Any of them could easily claim the Malayasian championship and unseat Park.
The Golf Channel coverage for the Sime Darby will also require a bit of sleep adjustment or the judicious use of your recording devices: Thursday, October 10-Sunday, October 13, 12:30-4:30am, ET.
Stacy Lewis will defend her 2012 championship at the Mizuno Championship November 7-9 at the Kintetsu Kashikojima Country Club, Shima-Shi, Mie, Japan. Then the LPGA Tour will return to the Western Hemisphere where Christis Kerr will defend her 2012 championship at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational at Guadalajara Country Club in Guadalajara, Mexico. I’ll preview both events as they get closer to tee time.
LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan is making good on his promise to expand media coverage so if you can’t hop on an airplane and travel half-way around the world to follow the Tour and join the traveling gallery, you’ll still be able to watch the drama unfold from your favorite chair in comfort. Most of the top players are making the trip and there’s always the possibility of a new star emerging during the LPGA’s Asia loop. I’ll provide my usual previews and end-of-round wrap-ups as we work our way through the October events.