The Xiamen International Ladies Open gets under way at Orient Golf Club for the third straight year from Thursday, sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour and China LPGA Tour.
The tournament has proved a showcase for the strength of Asia’s rise in the women’s game since its inauguration. In the first year in 2014, 17-year-old Ssu-Chia Cheng from Chinese Taipei (below) proved too good to catch, although owing to her amateur status, her first prize money cheque was presented to second placed Frenchwoman Marion Ricordeau.
The following year, South Korean Hye In Yeom (below) took the trophy, with the two runners-up, Kusuma Meechai and Ssu-Chia Cheng once again proving their talents in Xiamen.
The cooperation between the Ladies European Tour and China LPGA Tour began in 2008, when Annika Sorenstam won the LET’s first tournament in China: the Suzhou Taihu Ladies Open.
Initially, the LET players dominated by winning nine of the first 12 tournaments played in China, with Sorenstam followed by Lee-Anne Pace (2010 and 2013 Sanya Ladies Opens and 2010 Suzhou Taihu Ladies Open), Frances Bondad (2011 Sanya Ladies Open), Cassandra Kirkland (2012 Sanya Ladies Open), Carlota Ciganda (2012 Suzhou Taihu Ladies Open), Suzann Pettersen (2013 World Ladies Championship) and Gwladys Nocera (2013 Suzhou Taihu Ladies Open), but since Nocera won in 2013, no western player has captured a title in China and the last nine tournaments played have all been won by Asian players, four of them by the Chinese, showing the development of the China LPGA since the relationship with the LET began.
This is the Ladies European Tour’s 22nd tournament in China inside nine years and the 57 LET players in the field of 126 competitors will all be eager to change the pattern by claiming the Xiamen International Ladies Open crown.
Players who are highly capable include England’s Florentyna Parker, the two-time Ladies European Tour tournament champion who tied for second place in the Lacoste Ladies Open de France on Sunday. Currently ranked fifth on the LET Order of Merit, she will be eager to capitalise on her rich vein of form and capture her first title since the 2014 Ladies Italian Open.
Isabelle Boineau from France, who is ranked fourth on the Order of Merit, is another player to watch and keen to follow up on her maiden win at the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open in July.
Recent winners in the field also include South African Connie Chen, who lives in China and Valentine Derrey, who has experienced strong results in Asia in the past.
The five recent Olympic athletes in the field include Indian rookie Aditi Ashok, who has soared up to 34th on the Order of Merit following a run of three top-10 finishes at the ISPS HANDA Ladies European Masters, Andalucia Costa del Sol Open de España and Lacoste Ladies Open de France, as well as Finland’s Ursula Wikstrom, Moroccan Maha Haddioui, Brazilian Victoria Lovelady and Chloé Leurquin of Belgium, who was in contention in Xiamen and finished 11th two years ago.
The action gets under way from 6.45am local time on Thursday and Wikstrom will have the honour of hitting the first tee shot when she goes out from hole-number one, with So-Young Jang of South Korea and the 2014 champion Ssu-Chia Cheng. The defending champion Hye In Yeom starts in the second group from the 10th tee and will be playing with Florentyna Parker and China’s rising star Yuting Shi.