LPGA: Next Stop, Kuala Lumpur


There may be 300,000 or 3 million golfers in China.  It’s hard to get even a ballpark estimate for the nation of 1.35 billions, and Malaysia, the next stop of the LPGA Tour, doesn’t even pretend to keep those kinds of population statistics.  But there are certainly more potential golfers in China this week, particularly girls and young women golfers, there were before Shanshan Feng thrilled the nation with her stunning 18th hole victory at the Reignwood LPGA Classic.  And the China LPGA is ready to take them in and turn them on to the game Chairman Mao banned as bourgeois frippery.  Can we anticipate another weekend of hot golf and high drama at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club as the 72 hole Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia unfolds, beginning Thursday, October 10?   Perhaps. 

How can anything that happens at the Sime Darby beat Shanshan’s 2nd shot on the par-5 that not only made the green but took an unexpected lucky bounce, hit the flagstick, and came to a stop 2 feet from the cup?  How can anything one of the players says or does surpass Stacy Lewis‘s astonishingly poor taste and public meltdown in the aftermath of that lucky shot that won the won the Reignwood?  It’s possible, even probable that a dynamic shootout between Inbee Park, Suzann Pettersen, and Stacy Lewis, the Numbers 1, 2 & 3 ranked players in women’s pro golf, could do set the stage to do just that.

This is a 72-hole, no cut event with a US$2 million purse, the largest on the LPGA Asia loop.  There’s more at stake than bragging rights.

The Battle for Top Gun

Inbee Park, 2012 Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia Champion. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

After a 3 month slump, defending Sime Darby champion and #1 ranked Park seems to have her game working again.  She glided through 72 holes at the Pine Valley Golf Club in Beijing with her smooth, robotic, consistently accurate swing and her laser-sharp putting.  Although it was a case of too little, too late for the Reignwood, if she picks up where she left off at the end of the final round in Beijing Park will be hard to beat at the Sime Darby.  She says she’s ready to take on all challengers.

"I’m having a great year this year, and obviously winning last year in Malaysia really helped me a lot on tour this year, and I am just really looking forward to coming back as defending champion.Inbee Park, Defending Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia Champ"

Suzann Pettersen and Stacy Lewis, however, head the short list of players who most certainly would like to be above Park on the Sime Darby leaderboard next Sunday afternoon.

The Sime Darby is Pettersen’s first tournament since she won The Evian Championship last month.  She’ll be rested and ready, and she’s gunning for the #1 Rolex rank.  I’m expecting Pettersen to play strong, aggressive golf from the first tee to the final putt.

Lewis may still be recovering from her stinging, final putt loss at the Reignwood, but she will also be looking for an opportunity to regain the #2 Rolex rank Pettersen snagged with the Evian win.  Pettersen and Lewis could provide a tournament within the tournament even as they both shoot for the top and Inbee Park.

The Field is Hot

The final field of 62 LPGA players entered in the Sime Darbny is star-studded.   With the exception of Lydia Ko and Catriona Matthew, all the top 10 Rolex ranked players are in the Sime Darby field.

Shanshan Feng has one more LPGA tournament to win in 2013 in order to meet her personal goals.  Feng’s on a victory roll right now and she’ll bear watching.  As she demonstrated last Sunday, Feng’s more than willing to take the risks that will yield big payoffs.  Will she do it again in Malaysia?

In addition to Park, Pettersen, Lewis and Feng, So Yeon Ryu, Na Yeon Choi, Karrie Webb and IK Kim all have their eye on a victory and the game in their bag to deliver it.  Webb, Choi and Ryu are already warmed up.  They all finished in the top 10 at the Reignwood.  None of them are lightweights and all of them are persistent, world-class athletes who play to win.

Also in the Mix

Pornanong Phatlum also bears watching.  Playing close to home, coming off a very fine performance at the Reignwood, the #57th Rolex ranked Phatlum may be ready for a breakthrough.

There are several interesting sponsor invites that I’m also going to watch.

Scot Carly Booth, who plays on the LET, is on the top of my list.  The 2012 Scottish Ladies Open and Deutsche Bank Swiss Ladies Open champion is, like Charley Hull, a golf prodigy who’s claiming her place on the pro golf stage.  Hull, also in the Sime Darby field, is on my watch list as well.  Hull’s brand of fearless competitive aggression is pure pleasure to watch.  Perhaps she’ll provide an encore of her Solheim performance.

At the Sime Darby  LPGA Malaysia, October 10-13, as at the Reignwood LPGA Classic, the LPGA is building relationships with regional and national pro golf associations and opening the door to the pro golf world to promising players.   Malaysians Cindy Lee-Pridgen, Michelle Kho, Ainil Johani, and Aretha Pan, as well as JLPGA player Mamiko Higa,  2013 Yamaha Ladies Open Katsuragi champion are taking that step at the Sime Darby.  Like the 20 young Chinese golfers who played at the Reignwood, on Thursday they will tee off on the global stage and compete with a field of world-class athletes.  Welcome! May you all hit long and straight!

Located on the South China Sea, sharing water boundaries with Singapore, Vietnam and the Phillipines and bordered by Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei, Malaysia is a richly tropical country and a popular tourist destination.  The Kuala Lumpur Golf And Country Club courses are designed to take full advantage of the lush and rugged natural environment in which they’re set.  If you’re thinking of flying in to watch the action and perhaps stay a few more days for some personal recreation, $1700 and 32 hours of travel time will get you there.

If that’s a bit much for your budget or your calendar, the Golf Channel will provide coverage.  You’ll again need to adjust your sleep pattern or set your record button for the daily broadcast: midnight-3am, ET, and I’ll provide daily wrap-ups of each round as well.