Some of the world’s most popular players have confirmed they’ll be playing the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open at Adelaide’s Kooyonga Golf Club this week.
The strongest and deepest Aussie contingent to ever have played the event will take centre stage; led by five-time national champion Karrie Webb and three-time LPGA Tour winner Minjee Lee, Australia will field a record seven full members of the LPGA Tour in Adelaide.
Joining those two in a full show of green and gold force will be the resurgent Katherine Kirk, Olympian Su Oh, the ultra-consistent Sarah Jane Smith, Rebecca Artis and the new kid on the LPGA block, Hannah Green.
From overseas, long-time world No.1 Lydia Ko and Canadian star Brooke Henderson have both committed to the event, the third year in a row both have played in South Australia for the co-sanctioned LPGA Tour event. The field is further bolstered by a host of superstars including former world No.1 So Yeon Ryu, defending champion Ha Na Jang and American tour legends Cristie Kerr and Paula Creamer.
“It’s just brilliant to have so many Aussie members of the LPGA Tour this year,” said Webb, who for so long was left to fly the flag almost solo on the global tour.
“We’ve all seen what Minjee and Su have done over the past couple of years, and now Sarah has had her best year by far in 2017.
“Then you have Katherine who won last year on tour, Rebecca through with a great effort at Q-school and our latest rising star in Hannah, who played beautifully on the Symetra Tour with three wins in her rookie season.
“I’d say that sounds like a pretty good basis for a hometown win – and when you throw in all the ALPG players, there is real optimism for an Australian to win!”
For Ko, the event brings many positive memories.
“Australia is a place where there’s been a lot of great memories and cool moments in my career,” Ko said.
“It’s that time of year you want to set a good mode and get momentum going into the season … and I feel like the Australian people have taken me in as one of their own, so I really felt huge support there and it’s a tournament where I really want to do well.
“It’s a great golfing community … I love playing in front of the fans in Adelaide.
“The last two events we’ve played (there) have been great – and I heard Kooyonga is a nice track, too.”
Henderson, too, has become a warm favourite among fans in South Australia with her power hitting and engaging nature an equal lure for fans.
The Canadian world No.14, who has reached as high as No.2 in the past two tumultuous seasons on the Rolex rankings, is, like Ko, also a fan of the South Australian leg of the global tour.
“To stay right in Glenelg, we walk the beach a couple of nights, then all the shops and restaurants – it’s really cool to be able to experience that,” the 20-year-old said.
“Most of the time on tour you are just in an isolated hotel and drive to the golf course, whereas here you feel like you are part of Australia and feel like you are part of the atmosphere – I can’t wait to get back down and play in Adelaide again.”
Ko, currently world No.10, concurred on the eve of, remarkably, her eighth ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open appearance at age 20.
“There’s lots of good food and ice cream around Glenelg and it’s a really easy spot for us to walk to the beach and visit restaurants, just for it to all be there, it’s a great spot.”
Tournament director Trevor Herden said Kerr and Creamer were excited to visit South Australia.
The evergreen Kerr will play in Adelaide for the first time, attempting to add to her stunning record of 20 LPGA Tour victories, including two majors.
Kerr, 40, has maintained her passion for the game throughout a couple of generations of challengers and remains ninth in the world rankings after two wins in 2017, including one of the biggest and most recent, the Sime Darby event in Malaysia in October.
“Cristie hasn’t played here since 2012,” Herden said of Kerr, an avid wine enthusiast who has her own label for sale.
“She’s apparently very keen on coming to Adelaide and hopes to get to those magnificent wine regions she’s heard about.”
Creamer, 31, is returning from a wrist injury that spoiled the second half of her 2017 campaign, hoping to recapture the form that once took the Californian to No.2 in the world.
She withdrew during the Evian Championship in agony and has since had wrist surgery in the hope of finding the form that led her to 10 LPGA Tour titles, including the 2010 US Women’s Open.
“Paula’s been such a popular player over the past decade or so and it’s great to see her putting such energy and importance in her trip to Adelaide.”
Herden said it was a tribute to the host Kooyonga that it had been able to lure the American greats back Down Under.
“Make no mistake, these are two of the most magnetic players in any LPGA Tour field and we’re really excited to have them both in Adelaide,” he said.
South Australian Tourism Minister Leon Bignell is delighted with the strength of the field.
“It’s fantastic to see high-ranked players including Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson launching their season here in Adelaide at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open,” he said.
“The State Government is a huge supporter of women’s sport at all levels, from grassroots through to the elite, so it’s really exciting to see some of golf’s top female players here in South Australia.
“Hosting major events such as the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open continues to build our reputation as a leading sporting and tourism destination and I’m sure we’ll see some exceptional results at Kooyonga.”
Herden said the addition of Ko and Henderson was great news on the back of defending champion Ha Na Jang’s return and earlier confirmation of her fellow Korean So Yeon Ryu, who spent much of 2017 as world No.1.
“In those four players, we have arguably the strongest collection of fan favourites anywhere in golf,” he said.
“All four women obviously play great golf, but among their strongest assets is their ability to engage the fans. We saw that in spades with Ha Na last year when she stormed home, and Brooke and Lydia have both thrilled the big Adelaide crowds in the past two years.
“It’s a very exciting field we’re bringing together.”
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