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LPGA's International Crown match play event will bring tough competition

Four LPGA professionals came to Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills on Monday to promote the inaugural International Crown match play competition, which will take place next July. But not all four will necessarily be back next summer for the actual competition.

LPGA professionals I.K. Kim (South Korea), Gerina Piller (United States), Pernilla Lindberg (Sweden) and Sarah-Jane Smith (Australia) were among those at Monday's event, a pre-celebration for the competition, the first-of-its-kind biennial, global, team match-play tournament.

The final field of eight competing countries will be determined by the combined Rolex World Rankings of the top four players from each country at the conclusion of the 2013 season. Each qualifying country's top four players will be determined based on the Rolex World Rankings in the week leading up to the LPGA's first major championship in 2014.

Kim is the ninth-ranked women's golfer in the world, but four other Koreans are ahead of her, currently placing her on the outside looking in for International Crown play.

The tournament is a year away, but Kim said Monday that she does occasionally think about where she stands in the rankings.

"As a person it's a tournament, but as a golfer, it means a lot to me," Kim said. "We all grew up together and had this kind of tournament when we were little, so it will bring some good memories back and it will be fun to watch for other people."

Piller — currently 56th in the Rolex Rankings — grew up playing team sports, wanting to be the first woman to play in the MLB. She eventually began playing golf as a teenager, and the potential to once again play on a team excited Piller the most about International Crown.

"It's an individual sport, so in college you get to play as a team, but at the same time you're competing against your teammates as well," Piller said. "To actually be on a team and get to compete together, and for your country, it's an honor in itself.

"To make the Solheim Cup is one thing, but to be crowned an international champion, that's pretty cool."

The Solheim Cup only pits Europe's best female golfers against the United States' best, so International Crown gives more countries a chance to play internationally.

Both Kim and Smith expressed gratitude Monday morning for that opportunity.

"Once you're here it's going to be very competitive," Kim said. "You're not really playing for yourself, so it will be extra pressure in a good way, but at the end of the day we're all going to celebrate for each other. It's a great opportunity for all of us to play for something bigger than ourselves."

Kim hopes the International Crown grows into a tradition passed down through generations, something young golfers aspire to eventually play in. She also sees it as a chance for the sport's popularity to grow.

"It's the same as the Olympics — you cheer for the United States, no matter if you know who they are, because they're playing for your country," Kim said.

That increased sense of national pride is exactly what tournament director Rich Thomas is hoping for.

"Once tournament week arrives and the national anthems are playing, the flags are waving and the competition begins, the world will experience the magnitude of this event," Thomas said.



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