LPGA Reignwood Classic: Who’s Hot Going In?


China has golf fever!  Chairman Mao banned the game in 1949 and that lasted 35 years.  But the times they are a’changing in China.  Now Zhang Xaioning, the head of the state-run China Golf Association, says that with it’s emphasis on mental strength and technique rather than raw muscle power, golf is “ideally suited” for the Chinese.

China’s serious about golf.  Greg Norman’s been signed up to guide the formation and training of a national golf team that can win Olympic gold.  Tantalized by the sight of a Chinese teenager competing very effectively at the 2013 Masters, status-conscious, newly affluent Chinese parents are sending children to golf schools with price tags running to 5 figures and dreaming about future stardom.  The LPGA Tour is right in the middle of the mix!

The Reignwood LPGA Classic, with a $1.8 million purse kicks off an Asian loop on the LPGA Tour with a field of 81 world-class players.   For Chinese fans, Shenshen Feng, the first Chinese pro, male or female, to win a major professional tournament, is a huge draw.  Feng, ranked #10 by Rolex, will be playing on home ground and cheered by home-town fans.  And Chinese officials point proudly to Feng as the inspiration and role model for young female Chinese golfers.

"We hope to inspire local female golfers to draw motivation from this and pitch themselves against the world’s best in preparation for the 2016 Brazil Olympics.Mr. Gang Zheng, General Manager of Reignwood Golf Club"

With that kind of support, Feng’s mental game should be at a peak.  She could be tough to beat.

Feng will, however, face some serious competition from within the LPGA.  In addition to Feng, the Reignwood has drawn five other top-10 ranked players: Inbee Park, Stacy Lewis, So Yeon Ruy, Na Yeon Choi, and Karrie Webb.  Park, still holding the #1 rank, has been in a 3 month slump.  Since winning the US Open in June she’s not had a top-10 finish.  I don’t think she’s Feng’s competition for this one.

What about Ruy and Choi?  Ruy looks good to me.  Ranked 5th by Roles, she finished 2nd at the Walmart NW Arkansas in June, 3rd at the US Women’s Open in July, and tied for 4th at The Evian Championship in September.  She’s due a victory and she has a winning game in her bag.  Choi, who’s ranked 6th by Rolex, right behind Ruy, also looks good although she doesn’t seem quite as strong as Ryu.  But with top-10 finishes at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic and the Women’s British Open, I won’t count her out of contention.

I never count out Stacy Lewis and Karrie Webb who both consistently deliver world-class athletic performances.  But I’ll tilt my prediction toward Webb for a top-10 finish.  She’s much better than Lewis at managing her emotional responses to the inevitable shots gone wrong and tricky lies.  Lewis too often lets a putt gone wrong or a badly judged chip send her plummeting into golf despair.

There will also be some Solheim alumnae to watch.  My focus will be on Lizette Salas and Beatriz Recari.  Salas is playing strong and she’s ready for a victory. Two top-10s at the Women’s British Open and the Safeway Classic and a strong performance at The Evian put her into contention at the Reignwood.  Like Salas, Recari has a superb game in her bag, but she hasn’t been able to consistently put it to work over the past 3 months.  She won the Marathon Classic, then missed the cut at the Women’s British Open.  She missed the cut again at the Canadian Women’s Open, then finished The Evian in a tie for 9th place.  I think Salas is hotter than Recari and stands a good chance of finishing near the top of the leaderboard at the Reignwood.

The Jack Nicklaus-designed Reignwood Pine Valley Golf Course is one of the most prestigious venues in a country with some impressive new golfing opportunities.  The local weather in Beijing promises to be perfect for golf, sunny light winds, temperatures in the mid-to-high 70s.

The Golf Channel will provide full coverage, although you’ll need to make some sleep adjustments or set your television recording device: Thursday, October 3 & Friday, October 4: 3-5am ET; Saturday, October 5 & Sunday, October 6, 3-6pm, ET.