By DOUG FERGUSON
2014-04-02 06:01 AM
The International Crown on the LPGA Tour has all the trappings of the best team event in golf until the Olympics in 2016. And considering there will be no team medal awarded in Rio, the LPGA event might be best team format in golf after the Olympics.
The Americans nudged South Korea as the top seed for the International Crown, which features eight teams of four players on July 24-27 at Caves Valley in Maryland.
The combined world ranking of their four players -- Stacy Lewis, Paula Creamer, Lexi Thompson and Cristie Kerr -- added to 32. South Korea's ranking added to 33 with Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu, Na Yeon Choi and I.K. Kim.
Japan is the No. 3 seed with 131 points, illustrating a large gap after the top two countries. The other teams are Thailand, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan and Australia.
A new tournament, which required more planning than usual, means England and teen star Charley Hull will have to sit this one out.
The eight teams were locked in when the International Crown was announced in November. England's four best players amounted to No. 9.
Over the last four months, Hull won her first pro tournament on the Ladies European Tour, and her ranking went from No. 119 to No. 67. Holly Clyburn moved up 23 spots to No. 98 with two good finishes. If the teams were determined Sunday -- the cutoff for players -- England would have been the No. 7 team and Australia would be out.
But there were reasons for teams to be locked in eight months in advance: sponsorship, promotion and television.
"If we waited until later, you can't knock on someone's door and say, 'How would you like to support the International Crown in three weeks?' " LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said Tuesday. "And we wanted to make sure we had quality television deals in the countries that are playing. ... We have good TV deals. But this event is more significant for a lot of countries than a regular tour event."
He plans to start announcing some of the sponsors this week at the LPGA's first major of the year.
As for players who qualify for the teams, Whan said he could see moving the deadline back as the International Crown gets more traction. For the first year, however, he thought it was important for players to have more than enough time to build their schedules around it. These aren't just LPGA players; eight of the 32 players who qualified for the International Crown are not LPGA members.
Three players from the top 10 in the world will not be at Caves Valley because their countries did not have enough highly ranked players: Suzann Pettersen (Norway), Lydia Ko (New Zealand) and Shanshan Feng (China).
Whan expects there to be some flaws, and he would be prepared to identify them after the first year.
"When you bring a brand new idea to the game, be prepared to be critiqued. And on the flip side, reach each one and don't be put off," he said. "'New' doesn't come easily."
BUBBA AND BAY HILL: Bubba Watson was last seen at Bay Hill making an 11 on the par-5 sixth hole, posting an 83 and then withdrawing because of allergies.
That changed Tuesday.
After a brief telephone interview, Watson said he was calling from the sixth hole at Bay Hill.
"I joined Bay Hill yesterday," he said. "The funny thing is I'm in a greenside bunker in two."
Watson lives primarily in Orlando, Fla., and he already is a member at Isleworth and Orange Tree.
"My thing is I love to play golf. I don't like to hit balls on the range," Watson said. "So when I have friends in town, I like to take them different places."
WILLIE MAC: Will MacKenzie felt more nervous than he has in years, the best sign yet of how well he is playing.
MacKenzie tied for second in the Texas Open, extending a superb spring for golf's free spirit. He was finished two shots out of a playoff in the Honda Classic (tie for sixth), three shots out of the lead at the Valspar Championship (tie for fourth), and one shot behind Steven Bowditch on Sunday in San Antonio.
He missed a few reasonable birdie chances that could have made the final few holes far more interesting at the Texas Open. And he felt it.
"I got a little nervous out there," MacKenzie said. "I don't know why. It just the forethought. It's thinking in the future and not taking care of business. But yeah, I got nervous a couple of times when I got to 6 (under). I went, 'Man, here I go, I'm back in this a little bit.' And I got really excited. And it was awesome, it was just a great feeling. ... I don't think I gave shots away because of thinking like that, but it's a wonderful feeling. It means I'm playing really good golf."
Indeed he is.
MacKenzie, a two-time winner who spent the last two years on the Web.com Tour, already has five top 10s this year. He had 10 in his previous seven seasons on tour. He already has a career-best $1.7 million, and is 11th in the FedEx Cup.
KOEPKA FALLS SHORT: Brooks Koepka had a four-shot lead with 11 holes to play in the season-opening Frys.com Open. He made a few mistakes, was chased down by Jimmy Walker and wound up in a tie for third. It looked like he would be a shoo-in to get at least special temporary membership on the PGA Tour.
Now that's on hold.
Koepka used his final sponsor exemption at the Texas Open and came up two strokes short of earning enough points to be at least equal to 150th place on the FedEx Cup last year. That would have given him unlimited sponsor exemptions the rest of the year.
Now, the only chance to add to his total is if he qualifies for majors, or cracks the top 50 in time to get into The Players Championship. Or he could try to Monday qualify on the PGA Tour in a bid to pick up an additional seven more points for special temporary membership.
DIVOTS: Jack Nicklaus found another charitable avenue for his brand of golf balls. In a program announced Monday, Nicklaus Companies is donating at least $1 to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and to the Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation for every dozen Nicklaus Golf Balls that are sold. And if FedEx ships the golf balls, Nicklaus will donate an additional $1 per dozen to St. Jude. ... Richard Sterne is the only player from the Presidents Cup team last October who has not qualified for the Masters. ... Chesson Hadley had a chance to crack the top 50 in the world going into the final round of his last two tournaments. He closed with a 79 at Bay Hill and an 80 in the Texas Open. ... Matt Jones had an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole of the BMW Championship last September. It hit the lip and stayed out, keeping him from advancing to the Tour Championship and earn a spot in the Masters. Now he would have to win the Shell Houston Open to get in.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Only two men under 30 are in the top 10 in the world ranking. Only two women over 30 are in the top 10 in the world ranking.
FINAL WORD: "There's not one guy winning all the time, so more guys get talked about. That's how it is until one guy starts winning as much as Tiger. It's hard to see someone at the moment doing that." -- Retief Goosen.