The remarkable success of last week’s Solheim Cup in Iowa, where sports fans were treated to an astonishingly high level of play by both the United States and Europe, underlined that international women’s team golf is in a very good spot right now.
Record crowds totaling more than 120,000 swarmed across Des Moines Golf and Country Club during a week that ended with the home team emerging triumphant by 16-1/2 points to 11-1/2, and record galleries can be expected in 2018 for the next high-profile international women’s team event – the UL International Crown in Korea.
Despite the decisive margin of victory achieved by the Americans in Des Moines, the brilliant quality of golf and the exemplary sportsmanship shown throughout the three days of competition confirmed that the Solheim Cup has established a wonderful rivalry and a powerful fan base while the event has grown into one of the most exciting in any sport.
Europe captain Annika Sorenstam, an LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame member who has won 10 major championships among her 90 tournament victories worldwide, has seen it all during her stellar career but even she was taken aback by the quality of play produced by both teams last week.
"For women's golf, this was an incredible show ... the birdies, the eagles, just hitting it stiff and then hitting it even stiffer or making it," Sorenstam said after the U.S. had recorded their biggest victory over Europe in two decades.
"The game elevated to a level I've never seen, and I think we all should be very proud of women's golf."
During Saturday afternoon's four-ball matches, Europe racked up a total of 35 birdies and one eagle and yet they lost that session 1-3.
"I just need to congratulate the U.S. on playing some amazing golf," Sorenstam said at the time. "I've never seen anything like it."
AN INSTANT FAN
Six years ago, LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan watched his first Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle Golf Resort in Ireland and he became an instant and very passionate fan of the event.
"I was wearing grays and blacks the first few days in Ireland and then on the Sunday it was full face paint and red, white and blue, and I was screaming 'USA, USA!',” Whan recalled during an interview on Golf Channel's Morning Drive last week. “It just fills your gas tank. If you can't get excited about women's golf (at the Solheim Cup), then we're never going to get you."
It was during 2011 that plans were made to create the first UL International Crown, a team event that showcases the best four female golfers from the top eight countries across the globe.
"Every player on tour wants to do this, they want to play for country, they want to paint their face, they want to sing the anthem," said Whan. "Korea doesn't want to play with Japan, they want to beat Japan. And Japan wants to beat Hong Kong, and Hong Kong wants to beat Australia.
"And so we started building the initial works of the UL International Crown ... let's let the best female golfing countries in the world play, and let's let them play for country, their flag, their anthem, their colors. I really believe in the not-too-distant future UL International Crown will be at the same level as the Solheim Cup in terms of worldwide women's golf being showcased.
"In 2018, we will take the UL International Crown to Seoul and trust me when I say that's going to blow the lid off that event in just its third time that we have played it."
The UL International Crown was first held in 2014 at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Maryland where Spain, represented by Azahara Munoz, Beatriz Recari, Carlota Ciganda and Belen Mozo, won all four singles matches on the final day to become the inaugural champions.
Two years later, a powerful United States lineup of Cristie Kerr, Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson and Gerina Piller came from behind to win the prestigious title at Merit Club in Chicago where Spain surprisingly failed to qualify for the event.
Next year, the event will be staged outside the United States for the first time when it is hosted by Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea in Incheon from October 4-7 - in a country which can proudly boast to have 10 players ranked in the world’s top 20 this week.
"It really is a global event," said Whan. "Players on my tour who come from all over talk about it, they talk about making their team, qualifying their country. And every two years a different set of eight countries could qualify because at the end of every two years we add up the world rankings from the best four players from every country and unless your country qualifies as one of the best eight countries at that time, you don't get in.
"So no selection committee, no bunch of guys going into a back room and saying who's in and who's out. You play your way in, you play your way on that team and then there's four players, no coaches, no captains. It's very different. We wanted to bring something to golf that was different, we wanted to bring something to golf that was truly global and I think that UL International Crown is the best example of true borderless global golf."