The reigning Spanish Open champion Connie Chen is in an upbeat mood as she bids to retain the title she won two years ago in Tenerife.

Chen, crowned as a first-time winner at Golf Costa Adeje in 2014, will start her title defence at 9.03am local time on Thursday, albeit at a different venue in the Andalucía Costa del Sol Open de España Femenino, which starts tomorrow at Aloha Golf Club in Marbella, playing alongside Italian Giulia Sergas and Klara Spilkova of the Czech Republic.

The 23-year-old from Pretoria, who is also based at Imperial Springs near Guangzhou, China, said: “I’ve always liked coming to Spain and I’ve had good memories here with my first professional tournament in La Manga. I won my first event in Spain as well.  It’s my first time playing in this region. The course is great. I came out a few days early to practise and the greens were running really well. I’m looking forward to it.”

Winning won’t be easy, with a high quality field of 126 world class players including past champions Laura Davies, Melissa Reid and Stacey Keating, as well as recent winners Isabelle Boineau, Nanna Koerstz Madsen and Nuria Iturrios and former Solheim Cup players Gwladys Nocera, Trish Johnson and local star Azahara Muñoz.

Chen is resolute and added: “I’m striking it better than I have in the past year and working a lot on my short game. I’m really excited, because I won two years ago in the Spanish Open, so I just want to try my best and whatever happens, happens. If I can successfully defend, then I’ll be really happy.”

It’s been a mixed season so far, with two cuts from seven starts on the LET and a best finish of T49th at the Buick Championship in Shanghai placing her in 117th spot on the Order of Merit. Chen continued: “I moved to China two years ago and I’ve been living there. At the moment I’m between South Africa and China. My parents are from China and it’s going back to my roots, in a way. I grew up in South Africa, so it’s difficult to get used to a lot of things. The lifestyle is very fast paced compared to Pretoria, where it’s really chilled.”

There are four South Africans in total, with Ashleigh Simon, Stacy Lee Bregman and Nicole Garcia, joining the defending champion at one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious championships.

The Open De España Femenino was first part of the Ladies European Tour schedule in 1982, when American Rose Jones triumphed at Las Aves and is being played on the Costa del Sol for the third time, in the world renowned tourist destination of Marbella. A heaven for golfers, millions of visitors flock to Andalucía annually to experience the top-notch golf courses and white-sand beaches in year-round warm weather. This exciting tournament brings together the world’s best golfers so that fans and participants may enjoy the great beauty of the sport in an incomparable setting.

20/09/2016 Ladies European Tour 2016: Andaluc’a Costa del Sol Open de Espa–a Femenino, Aloha Golf Club, Marbella, Spain 22-25 Sept. Defending champion, Connie Chen of South Africa, during a practice round. Credit: Tristan Jones