TEAM CHEMISTRY NO PROBLEM FOR ROOKIE-HEAVY JAPAN
With three rookies in their lineup and a 2-2 split of players who compete on either the LPGA Tour or the LPGA of Japan Tour, it would have been entirely reasonable to assume that No. 3 seed Japan might have struggled to build team chemistry heading into this week's UL International Crown. Not at all true, said their players, who were all business and fully focused on the task facing them this week at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea when they spoke to media on Wednesday.
"Even though we are playing on different tours, I know them all," said JLPGA player Misuzu Narita. "We get along and we communicate very well each day. I think the strategy to be playing well this week is that some of us will play aggressive and some of us will play conservative. Hopefully by the end of the week we can get a Crown."
Ayako Uehara, a late replacement on the team last week for the injured Ai Suzuki, is a relatively short hitter but she felt that her accurate and steady game would ideally complement those of her teammates.
"Mamiko (Higa), Misuzu and Nasa (Hataoka), all of them hit the ball really far," said Uehara, a three-time winner on the JLPGA who is playing in her first UL International Crown. "Everybody can play aggressive. I'm going to try to play conservative. From out of the rough and sand, all of them is pretty good, so we all have potential to play well this week."
SISTERS ON DIFFERENT SIDES FOR THAILAND
Team Thailand is loaded with UL International Crown experience, with three of the four players making their third appearance in the event. Perhaps a bit of a surprise when the Thursday pairings at the 2018 ULIC were released was that Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn were not paired together in their opening matchup versus Team Japan.
Moriya and Pornanong Phatlum, who together went 1-0-1 in 2016, will lead things off in Thailand’s first match. Ariya, the Rolex Rankings No. 2 player, will instead partner with Thailand rookie Sherman Santiwiwatthanaphong.
Thailand are hoping to improve their finishing position after taking seventh place in 2016 and fifth place in 2014.
“It's my third time, and such a huge like honor to be representing Thailand,” said the 10-time LPGA champion Ariya Jutanugarn. “Every time I play UL International Crown I feel like I never want to do for myself. I want to do for my country, for my team. It's so much fun every time I play. This time going to be the same.”
SAGSTROM FEELING THE BLUES
Madelene Sagstrom is the sole rookie on a strong Sweden lineup this week, and she stands out even more from her three teammates because of her choice of a blue hairstyle for the UL International Crown.
"I love representing my country and representing Europe in Solheim Cup," said Sagstrom, who carved out a 1-2-0 record for Europe at the 2017 Solheim Cup. "I think it's an honor to be here, and I'm just going to enjoy every minute and spend time with these girls. It's just fun to be here. As for my hair, I think I thought about going to a different level. Just decided to do my hair a little bit blue to represent Sweden more."
Sagstrom will partner ANA Inspiration champion Pernilla Lindberg against powerful USA duo Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson in Thursday's opening fourball matches, but she was unable to persuade her teammate to change her hair color to blue for this week.
"I tried to persuade her a few weeks ago," Sagstrom smiled. "She didn't buy into that one unfortunately. I figured if I can have blue hair, she can have her blonde hair, and we become Sweden anyway. It's going to be an honor playing with Pernilla tomorrow. We're great friends. She's got great energy out here. I just love spending time with her. I think we're a good matchup. It's going to be a lot of fun to go out there and represent our colors tomorrow."
Rounding out the Swedish contingent, Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall will face off with Jessica Korda and Michelle Wie.
TEAM CHINESE TAIPEI VS. HOME-TEAM CROWDS
No. 8 seed Team Chinese Taipei have a tough first-day matchup, pitted against home-crowd favorite and top-seeded Republic of Korea. The team looks to make a strong statement tomorrow but more importantly, these four players have prepared themselves for the massive crowds that are sure to follow.
“Doesn't matter what happens the next few days,” said Candie Kung, who is playing in her third UL International Crown. “We’re just going to make sure that we're having a good time here in Korea. We're going to be playing against Korea tomorrow, so we're going to have a lot of fans out there. We don't know how we're going to control the crowds. I'm thinking about getting horn to get them out of my way.” Kung is partnered with Phoebe Yao for the team’s first match against Team Republic of Korea’s Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.
Teresa Lu, who is also making her third UL International Crown appearance, expects many fans to be cheering in spirit from their homes.
“We may not have people come out here cheering for us but there will definitely be a lot of people from Taiwan cheering for us on TV,” said Lu. “If we can win over Korea, it would definitely very inspiring for all the junior golfers watching. I mean, this could happen, right? I think it’s very exciting. We’re just going to focus on our match against Korea.”