Fielding four of the most talent golfers in the world, the Republic of Korea sends a powerful team to the LPGA International Crown this week. Although the Korean team was edged out of the top seed position by the United States team earlier this season when Stacy Lewis displaced Inbee Park from the top of the world rankings, the difference between the American and Korean players is barely discernible and I’m looking for some hot golf when these two teams meet in the Sunday individual matches.
Meet the Republic of Korea team:
International Crown Format
Within the International Crown format the Republic of Korea team tops the four “Pool B” teams: Republic of Korea, Japan, Sweden, and Chinese Taipei. Thursday-Saturday teams will play two 4-ball matches with each of the other three countries in their pool and the top two teams within each pool plus a wild card team will advance to Sunday’s singles matches. Within “Pool B” only Swedes Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall will bring Solheim Cup experience to the 4-ball matches, although Inbee Park and So Yeon Ryu have played as a team at the 2014 Mission Hills World Ladies Championship. I’m expecting, however, that whatever advantage the Swedes’ Solheim experience brings will be offset by the combined power within the Republic of Korea team.
Republic of Korea Team
As a team the Koreans are bringing 22 LPGA Tour victories to the International Crown, slightly more than half the collective number of American team LPGA wins (41), but the number is deceptive. The Koreans also play with more frequency than the Americans on other tours (Korea & Japan LPGA and Ladies European Tours) but their wins on those tours don’t appear in LPGA stats; and, with 25 collective years’ experience on the LPGA Tour, as a group they’re slightly earlier in their careers than the American team.
Inbee Park tops the Republic of Korea team and she brings an impressive, record-breaking resume to the Crown: twice US Women’s Open champion (2008 & 2013) as well as wins in 2013 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the LPGA Championship. Park has also twice won the LET team event, Mission Hills World Ladies Championship (2-13 & 2014), playing with So Yeon Ryu in 2014.
Park’s entered 14 LPGA events this year and missed only one cut. She won the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic and has eight additional top-10 finishes, five of those within the top-five. Known for her slow, robotic, consistent swing and her laser-like putting, Park rivals Stacy Lewis for putting accuracy, although her performance this season has been a bit inconsistent. Both her best finish — her win at the Manulife — and her worst — T43rd at the US Women’s Open — have come in her last four events.
Although she remain winless this season So Yeon Ryu has been having a very fine season and it seems just a matter of time before she joins the 2014 LPGA champions’ circle. Ryu’s finished in the top-10 in nine of the fifteen events she’s entered this year, she’s missed only one cut, and she showed fans a superb game at last week’s Marathon Classic, where she finished runner-up to Lydia Ko (her best finish of the year to date). She’s a strong competitor, steady in her performance even as the pressure mounts, and she’s an effective team player.
Na Yeon Choi is the most experienced member of the Korean team. She’s been playing on the LPGA Tour for six years, has seven Tour victories, including the US Women’s Open (2012), and seven wins on the KLPGA Tour. Choi’s having a bit of a slow season. She’s entered 16 events, missed two cuts, and finished inside the top-10 twice. In her last four events Choi has missed a cut (US Women’s Open), and finished inside the top-20 twice. It’s difficult to predict whether or not she’ll be able to retrieve a winning game and put it to work at Caves Valley.
The fourth member of the Korean team, IK Kim, previewed the world-class game she’s bringing to the International Crown when she won the LET Ladies European Masters earlier this month, and it was an impressive preview. Aside from that victory, however, Kim’s been playing a middling game this year. She’s finished well down the board in three of her last four Tour events and she missed the cut in the fourth one, the RICOH Women’s British Open. Still, Kim has a strong game in her bag. Perhaps Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu, and Na Yeon Choi have the key that will unlock that game and turn it loose this week.
Play begins Thursday morning, July 24, at the International Crown and Golf Channel will provide daily coverage: Thursday, July 24 and Friday, July 25, 11:30am-3:30pm; Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27, 3-7pm, all times ET.
My colleagues and I at ProGolfNow will also provide ongoing updates and commentary. If you follow me on Twitter @bethbethel I’ll notify you when new posts are published.