Two years before golf returns to the Olympics, the LPGA Tour is creating a tournament to determine the best in the world.
The International Crown will start in 2014 and be played every other year. It will feature four days of team matches among eight countries that can field the strongest four-player teams based on the world rankings. The inaugural event will be in late July at Caves Valley Golf Club outside Baltimore.
"We have a tour designed to identify the best player in the world. The Olympics will award the best female golfer and country," LPGA Tour Commissioner Mike Whan said today. "But we have nothing that addresses which country is building the best stable of women's golfers."
He announced the new event at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Florida.
As much as the International Crown has an Olympic flavor, it might be more closely related to the Solheim Cup, which for years did not include the best players in women's golf because it was only for Americans and Europeans. Among those who never played were Karrie Webb of Australia, Se Ri Pak of South Korea, Lorena Ochoa of Mexico and Yani Tseng of Taiwan.
Whan said the players would be in uniforms of their country, free of corporate sponsorships. The purse will be US$1.6 million, with US$400,000 going to the winning team. It also will be played in the middle of the LPGA Tour season, when players are in form for the majors and media interest is higher than it would be at the end of the year.
The tournament also brings a new format to golf, breaking away from the routine of 72-hole events.
The eight teams will be divided into two brackets, and every team in each bracket will face each other over three days of fourball matches. Five teams will advance to the final round of singles matches, with the points carrying over.
The fifth team will be determined by a playoff between each of the countries that finish third in their brackets. Each country will be required to submit a name in an envelope of the player who would compete in the playoff - to determine the fifth finalist, and if a playoff is needed to determine the overall winner.
"At the LPGA, we celebrate great players from all over the world on a weekly basis, but this is the first time we'll pit country versus country for global bragging rights," Whan said.
Still, the International Crown inevitable will shut out some of the best players.
Suzann Pettersen is No 6 in the world, but Norway only has two players among the top 500 in the world, and thus would not be eligible if it were held this year. Sheshan Feng, the first Chinese player to win a major last year, also would not have enough teammates to be one of the eight countries.
Based on this week's world ranking, three players from the top 15 would not be eligible - Pettersen, Feng and Catriona Matthew of Scotland.
"I was talking about this last year with Suzann Pettersen and she said, 'I like the idea, but aren't you building something I'm not going to be in?"' Whan said. "It's an interesting situation. But we don't need another event to identify the best in the world. Our tour does that."
The LPGA Tour years ago had the Lexus Cup, which was designed for the players who couldn't compete in the Solheim Cup. It never gained much traction, however, with Asia competing against the rest of the world. Whan found it to be far more compelling to have players competing for their own country.
"I've been asked many times whether we should add other countries or regions to the Solheim Cup," he said. "One thing you learn quickly as commissioner when you go to the Solheim Cup is you're not going to mess with that. ... Korea wants to play Japan, not be teammates. This gives the fans what they want."
While it will be a global competition, it will probably be staged in the United States.
After the inaugural event Caves Valley, it will move to Rich Harvest Farms west of Chicago - site of the 2009 Solheim Cup - for 2016. Whan said it would be played in July, which is the heart of the LPGA Tour's domestic schedule.
"Our tour is so global and we need this type of event," said Stacy Lewis, the LPGA Tour's player of the year. "People always want to know why golfers from Asia are so good. Well, now we can see how all the countries stack up."
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