South Korea could feel home pressure at International Crown
INCHEON, South Korea — South Korea is determined to take the UL International Crown from the defending champion United States this week, hoping that a partisan home crowd will be a help and not a hindrance.
American Cristie Kerr feels the pressure will be all on the hosts.
South Korea finished third in the first edition of the LPGA eight-nation event in 2014 when Spain was victorious and then was runner-up to Team USA in 2016.
Now the star-studded hosts are aiming to go one better at the Jack Nicholas Golf Club Korea, 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Seoul, where 32 of the best female golfers in the world will gather to tee off in the first round of foursomes play on Thursday.
To do so it will have to outperform the other seven four-person teams. South Korea is in Pool A along with opening-day opponents Taiwan as well as England and Australia.
The United States, the second-ranked team, tees off in Pool B against Sweden with Japan taking on Thailand.
After three days of fourballs, the top two teams from each pool and one wild-card team progresses to the singles event on Sunday with the team collecting the most points over the four days taking the title.
Teams get two points for a win and one if the match is halved.
World No. 1 Park Sung-hyun is looking forward to showing her home fans what her team can do.
"The more fans on the course, the better I play," said Park, a two-time major winner. "I think other players will feel the same way. Obviously, there's pressure to win this at home, but we're all determined to deliver the title to our fans."
It is Park's first appearance in the tournament.
"I have played for the country before, but this is a much bigger event," she said. "And that makes me so nervous. I started getting nervous two months ago, and I am still worried about how I am going to play."
Such pressure and expectations on the host, which also includes No. 3-ranked Ryu So-yeon and No. 10 Kim In-kyung, could be a major advantage for the United States team, says Kerr, a member of the 2016 title-winning quartet.
"I think all of the pressure is on them this week," Kerr said. "They're playing in front of their home crowd. Korean people can put a lot of expectations on their golfers. We're going to keep it loose and not feel the pressure that they feel this week."
The U.S. team also contains No. 5 Lexi Thompson and No. 11 Jessica Korda. An extra attraction for local fans is that Michelle Wie is part of Team USA. Born in Hawaii, Wie is looking forward to playing in her parents' homeland.
"Making the U.S. team for this event was one of my primary goals this year, because I wanted to play in South Korea," Wie, a well-known athlete in South Korea, said. "It is important for me to be playing here in front of my family. I am very proud of being Korean and very proud of being American."
Fifth-seeded Australia takes on fourth-seeded England in the opening day but knows that the real challenge is going to be competing with the hosts.
"If you look at world rankings, the South Korean team is so far ahead of us, but we know that anything can happen in match play," Australia's Katherine Kirk said. "The pressure is on the South Koreans and the crowds will be pulling for them harder than we've ever seen."
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