A challenging course in superb condition awaits a star-studded line-up at this week’s ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open in Adelaide, South Australia.
The world’s top two ranked players, Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn, will tee it up at the Royal Adelaide Golf Club along with defending champion Haru Nomura and perennial crowd favourites Michelle Wie and Karrie Webb in what is being billed as one of the strongest women’s fields ever assembled Down Under.
Tournament Director Trevor Herden said the Royal Adelaide course, next door to last year’s host The Grange Golf Club in Adelaide’s western suburbs, was looking “fantastic” for the February 16-19 event.
He said it would be a tough test for players and could provide some insights into how the 2017 LPGA season unfolds.
“It will be a great gauge for a lot of players because Royal Adelaide is a great test – long irons, short irons, greens, bunkering complexes, it’s got everything and that’s why it’s rated so highly in Australia and around the world,” Herden said.
“The condition of it is going to be superb, the weather’s good and it will be the first real hit out of some serious golf for some of them.”
The Adelaide forecast is for mild to warm weather with maximum temperatures for the week forecast to be between 21C and 30C. However strong winds off the nearby sea later in the week could make scoring difficult.
The field features four of the top 10 players in the world, including Canada’s Brooke Henderson. Henderson, currently ranked 8th on the world, tied for 9th place in 2016.
While Henderson will certainly fly the flag for her home nation, she will not be the only representative of her country. Alena Sharp, who tied for 38th last year is back, and Maude-Aimee Leblanc and Jennifer Ha round out the Canadians taking part.
The field will also include trailblazing American player Michelle Wie who will play her first ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open since 2013.
Still just 27, Wie has 11 major top 10 finishes to her name and took out the 2014 Women’s US Open before an injury-plagued 2016.
“I’m really excited about what the season ahead will hold for me and I’m hopeful that Adelaide will put me on the right track to a successful year,” Wie said.
“Royal Adelaide is obviously a course known around the world and the girls spoke so highly of South Australia last year that I can’t wait to see not only the club, but everything going on around the state, too.”
Herden said the international players would not have it all their own way with a strong contingent of Australians likely to be in the mix at the LPGA event.
“Karrie Webb has got a phenomenal record – she’s won the Australian Open five times and she’s well rested so she might come out firing,” he said.
“Minjee Lee’s rise to the top 20 in the world has been outstanding in such a short time and Sue Oh is on the brink so we’ve got a lot of potential there that can fire up and be right amongst it on Sunday. “
Last year’s event at The Grange was the first of three consecutive years for the tournament in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia. Next year’s event will be held about 5km to the south at another sandbelt course, Kooyonga.
The Royal Adelaide event will be broadcast on the Golf Channel and across the LPGA’s global platform.
Herden said it would be one of the strongest women’s fields ever assembled in Australia as players competed for a US$1.3 million purse and 500 points in the Race to the CME Globe.
“Our slogan this year has been ‘expect brilliance’ and we’re very confident the tournament will deliver on all levels,” he said.
Herden said the Australian Open had been gaining momentum, particularly since the success of last year’s event.
“As an example, last year there were three people here from Japan to film it, this year there’s 25 coming so it’s growing legs all around the globe,” Herden said.
“Adelaide has certainly been promoted by the players who came last year – they really enjoyed themselves and they like the golf courses.”
South Australia is positioning itself as a hub for international women’s sport. Last month it hosted the UCI Women’s Tour at the Tour Down Under.
/ Andrew Spence & Scott MacLeod