KOREA THE CONSENSUS FAVORITE
With all four players being major champions and inside the top 30 in the Rolex Rankings, including three in the top 10, Team Korea are the well-deserved favorites this week as they look to capture their first UL International Crown on home soil.
The Republic of Korea are the top seed in the competition for the second time. In 2016, No. 1 seed Korea finished second just a point behind the victorious Team USA. As the No. 2 seed in 2014, Team Korea finished in a tie for third.
Despite having the most overall points in the competition’s two-year history with 22, Team Korea remain unsatisfied as they hunt for the elusive ULIC title. Their roster includes three players who have previous Crown experience in So Yeon Ryu, In Gee Chun and In-Kyung Kim, with Rolex Rankings No. 1 Sung Hyun Park competing for the first time.
“The fact that we were top seed for the first event and we were picked as most likely to win there was enormous pressure that we put on ourselves,” said Ryu, whose 12 career points (6-2-0) is the most in ULIC history. “I think perhaps we've learned how to deal with that sort of pressure.”
TEAM CHEMISTRY NOT A PROBLEM FOR TEAM USA
From the moment Team USA took the stage for their pre-competition press conference, one thing was certain – these four players really get along. With three-time ULIC veterans Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson joining rookies Jessica Korda and Michelle Wie, the quartet laughed their way through media questions, agreeing that team chemistry is not something they’ve had to work on.
“We're just at this stage trying to learn the golf course and get used to playing together again as a team,” said Kerr, who is 8-0-2 when paired with Thompson at the UL International Crown and Solheim Cup. “It's an individual sport, as we all know, and we've had a lot of fun in the practice rounds. No problem bonding on this side.”
“We just make a great team, just how (Cristie) is on the golf course,” added Thompson of her long-time match-play partner. “She's always there for me. If I hit a bad shot she's there pumping me up and giving me positive thoughts for the next shot. That's what team golf is all about.”
WIE MAKING LONG-AWAITED COMEBACK
This week marks Michelle Wie’s return to competition after nearly two months sidelined with a hand injury that caused her to withdraw during the first round of the Ricoh Women’s British Open. The fan favorite called the break “really hard on me mentally” and was only released to practice less than two weeks ago.
“I feel extremely blessed,” said Wie. “I think you go through something like that and you kind of just realize that you take a lot of things for granted. Just not being able to do what I loved to do, it was very hard. But I'm just so excited to be back here playing golf again.”
ENGLAND LOOK TO EUROPE'S RYDER CUP SUCCESS FOR INSPIRATION IN KOREA
No. 4 seed Team England will head into this week's UL International Crown as one of the prime contenders for glory and they are hoping to find some inspiration from the success achieved by Europe, who on Sunday completed a crushing 17½-10½ victory over the United States in the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National outside Paris.
Five players in that 12-man European team were English and three of them -- Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter -- ended the week with at least two wins apiece.
"It's very inspiring to see these guys playing so well, especially last weekend," said Jodi Ewart Shadoff, who was a member of the England team that tied for third in the second edition of the UL International Crown in 2016. "The strength of English golf is at a high right now, and it's going to be nice to see in 10 or 15 years' time how it inspires the younger generation."
Bronte Law, who is making her UL International Crown debut at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea, agreed. "There were a fair few England faces playing in that team,” said Law, “so it's definitely cool for us to have the chance to carry that (winning form) on this week."
AUSSIES HAVE MOST TO PROVE
Team Australia are one of six nations to compete in the first three editions of the UL International Crown. However, they have yet to take advantage of their time in the biennial competition – the Aussies finished eighth in both 2014 and 2016, with just two wins and two ties in 12 overall matches played.
The 2018 Australian team is primed for a much different result. Three of the team’s four players have previous experience in the competition with 13-year LPGA veteran Sarah Jane Smithjoining the team as a ULIC rookie. The top two players, Minjee Lee and Katherine Kirk, have combined for seven LPGA victories and both have wins since the UL Crown was contested in 2016. Four of Su Oh’s eight career top-10 finishes have come in the 2018 season.
“We're very much looking forward to kind of redeeming ourselves this year,” said Kirk."Obviously the first two we haven't got off to the best of starts. Yeah, got some ground to cover. I think this year though we feel really confident with our team. Feel happy with our preparation. I think it's going to be a good week for us.”
Rolex Rankings No. 6 Lee, who was the youngest player in the history of the competition when she played as an 18-year-old amateur in 2014, anchors Australia as the only player who appeared in both 2014 and 2016.