Chinese players will face their first big test of the year against a world-class field when the SGF67 World Ladies Championship with SBS tees off Friday in Hainan Island.
With only 12 mainland players entered in the field at Mission Hills Haikou, the fact that China No.1 Feng Shanshan won the inaugural tournament in 2012 has provided inspiration this week for her compatriots that have emerged in her wake.
Hainan-based pro Zhang Weiwei remembers coming to the first tournament at Mission Hills Haikou as a spectator and witnessing Shanshan’s historic victory. She called the event, which is now in its sixth year, special to her.
“Feng Shanshan won that year. It was a proud time for every Chinese player. I had my dream. I thought that I could play this event against the elite players across the world one day. I did it in 2015, but I am really happy that it comes back this year,” said the 26-year-old on Wednesday following her practice round.
With the event returning to the Mission Hills Haikou Blackstone Course where it was played the first four years after being played at Mission Hills Dongguan last year when Korean Lee Jung-min won by a stroke, Zhang said she had played the 6,362-yard, par-73 Blackstone course countless times in practice.
The Schmidt-Curley design is unique in that it is built over a lava field where any miss-hit shot can disappear into the abundance of rocks that cover the layout.
Zhang, who played on the Ladies European Tour (LET) as a rookie in 2015 and on the China LPGA Tour last year, said her familiarity with the course put her in good standing.
“I have finished top-25 in two tournaments I have played here, so I feel a low score is out there. There are five par-5 holes, and four of them are reachable, and you should seize the scoring opportunities. The rest is all about limiting your mistakes. You must avoid sloppy bogeys. I like my chance this week,” she said.
“During the off-season, I worked hard on my game. I spent a lot of time on my short game. I believe my long game is always good, but short game is my soft spot. It kept me away from a higher level.”
With the US$700,000 event tri-sanctioned between the China LPGA Tour, LET and the LPGA Tour of Korea (KLPGA), the 126-player field includes 40 players from each Tour plus six sponsor invites.
Korean players, who have won the past three years, will be strong again as they include eight of the top-10 KLPGA players on the Order of Merit, among them Ko Jin-young, Kim Min-sun, Jang Su-yeon and Lee Seung-hyun, as well as defending champion Lee (below).
Europe’s top hopes include England’s Florentyna Parker and Georgia Hall, France’s Isabelle Boineau and Gwladys Nocera, Holland’s Anne Van Dam, Spaniard Nuria Iturrios and Danish trio Nanna Koerstz Madsen, Emily Kristine Pedersen and Nicole Broch Larsen. Also in the field is Thai Supamas Sangchan, Australian Rebecca Artis.
Van Dam is relishing her first visit to the World Ladies Championship, following her maiden LET win at the Xiamen International Ladies Open in China in October.
She said: “It felt really good to get the win and to have the confidence that I am able to win on tour. The Blackstone Course is a great test and I’m really excited to be here. I hope to play well and of course I would love to win again.”
Despite the star-power on display in Haikou, Chinese veteran Li Jiayun said she was looking forward to competing against the top players to see where her game was at after practicing in Florida for the past month.
“Gary Gilchrist (Shanshan’s coach) worked with us and he made things simple. He didn’t try to reshape your swing wholly, just a little so you would see the pay-off. He is good at the mental game. He always gives you positive opinions and encourages you to love this game. I learned a lot,” said the 28-year-old Guangzhou native who last year won the Le Coq Sportif Beijing Ladies Classic for her second China LPGA Tour win.
“The Blackstone is familiar. I had two starts here. This set-up seemed not long, but it played not short. I don’t know why. The reason might be wet fairways.”