When was the last time you got really pumped up to pull for your continent? Now, compare that to the pride one feels for their country. That’s the difference the International Crown brought to women’s golf. Playing for the world doesn’t inspire. National pride does. The Solheim Cup is already special, but on a tour where nine of the top-20 in the Rolex Rankings represent a different country, an event was needed where players outside of the United States and Europe had a shot to play a team competition. Even the Olympics will be all individual and won’t have the team format to crown the best nation. But the International Crown does and it sure was neat to see Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Chinese Taipei all tee it up for the first time as a professional under their country’s flag. Golf Channel’s Randall Mell put it best: “The International Crown felt naturally heated, like it was always meant to be.”
So often country’s biggest rivals are your neighbors and it just felt right watching them battle against each other rather than with each other. The only thing missing was history and that will come with time the way the Solheim Cup has. Here’s five other things that made the inaugural event special:
National Anthems – Four players holding their country flag as the national anthem hammered home the moment. It felt just like what it should - an event more about team and national pride than any event on the schedule and a perfect global counter to the Solheim Cup. Some players felt the eyes begin to water. Some sang along. Some felt more nervous than they’d ever felt on a first tee. All felt what the week was truly about – the team and their country.
“I never had that feeling before. I got goose bumps, too,” Yani Tseng said. “And then I just felt amazing.”
Format – Some may not like the idea that every country was still in it to make the final five at the start of play on Saturday. And some may not like the idea that any of the five that advanced could have won it on Sunday. But it was hard to argue with the results it produced. It set the stage for the team match everyone has wanted to see for years – the Korea vs the Americans – where just one hole would decide which team advanced and which team would have to face the humiliation of being one of the top seeds eliminated and forced to watch on the final day. It made for an extremely compelling Saturday and a Sunday where anyone could still win with a clutch performance.
“I think that's really nice because in other formats, it's always a final and you have only two teams, but today there was five teams that could win the tournament,” Carlota Ciganda said. “So every point was really important.”
Belen Mozo – Years down the road Sunday’s International Crown could be the moment everyone knew a star was born. Belen Mozo’s always had the charisma and recently her game’s beginning to match. The 24-year-old’s made seven of her last eight cuts on the LPGA Tour, and her tie for 4th two months ago at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic was the best finish of her young career. But Sunday was clearly Mozo’s seminal moment as a professional, draining a clutch 15-foot birdie on the 16th hole to finish off a 3 & 2 victory over Moriya Jutanugarn and clinch the very first International Crown for Spain.
Despite being the lowest ranked member of the Spanish team heading into the week, she might have left as its biggest star. The title-clinching putt closely resembled the birdie she made on 18 the day before to guarantee Spain entry into the final five. Her passion for her country was on display from the opening tee shot and no one played as fiery as her throughout the week. Now, she’s already got her eyes set on making the European team at the 2015 Solheim Cup and if she does, this was likely the week and the platform that sparked it.
“I just think this is only the beginning,” Mozo said. “I’m young, and I have very many to play. I cannot wait to get up there with Team Europe and be with these girls. It’s going to be a dream.”
Japan vs Korea – The two golf-crazed nations aren’t neighbors but have long considered each other their country’s biggest sports rival. That extends to the golf course where the two squared off in a colossal Saturday match of two titans where only a split in the two matches would give both teams a chance of advancing. That ended up happening, paving the way for Korea to advance in the wildcard playoff against the United States, but it was special watching that rivalry determine the pool standings on Saturday. So Yeon Ryu said she couldn’t even sleep the night before the match with Japan and the pressure and nerves of the Japanese match and playoff with the United States was even more than when she won the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open. That’s how important it is to these players and their countries.
“The golf is just totally different than I’ve ever played. I played golf for 15 years, but this is something very new,” South Korea’s I.K. Kim said. “I think it's a new pressure and I think it's going to make us stronger as a person.”
Sakura Yokomine – Besides major championships, it’s rare for LPGA fans to get a glimpse at Sakura Yokomine’s game. Even at the U.S. Women’s Open where she finished in a tie for 7th, she didn’t get as much TV time as she did at Caves Valley. She usually stays on the JLPGA for much of the year, which is a shame for LPGA fans because her swing might be the most fun in the women’s game – the women’s version of John Daly’s lengthy, way past parallel swing. Her Sunday match with So Yeon Ryu was the best of the day and her eagle on No. 12 was one of the top shots of the week. Even when she hit a bad one, the smile and carefree attitude never left.
“She's tiny, but she can hit it long with the driver and she can putt, and her chipping is amazing,” Ai Miyazato said. “So she's just a great player, I think.”
Topics: International Crown