|Ariya Jutanugarn returns to Golf de l’Océan after winning the Lalla Meryem Cup last year as a 17-year-old rookie by three shots from Charley Hull and Beth Allen.|
The fifth stop on the Ladies European Tour gets under way in Agadir, Morocco, this week, when the 20th edition of the Lalla Meryem Cup is contested from March 13-16, under the High Patronage of His Majesty King Mohammed VI.
Defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand returns to Golf de l’Océan as the top ranked player in the field of 126 competitors. The 18-year-old World No.34 will be looking to make up for lost time last year, when she was forced to take eight months out from the game through a shoulder injury. She demonstrated plenty of promise at last week’s World Ladies Championship in China, where she finished in a tie for fourth behind three of the top five players in the world.
“I had a fantastic time at last year’s Lalla Meryem Cup so I’m really looking forward to defending my title in Morocco,” said Jutanugarn. “I am determined to give my best performance and I feel that I am playing well enough to win. Last week in China gave me a lot of confidence, especially shooting a 66 and 67.”
Fellow teenager Charley Hull lost out to Jutanugarn by three shots in a thrilling conclusion to last year’s tournament. It signalled the beginning of a sensational year for the 17-year-old, who lifted the trophy for Europe as the youngest ever player in The Solheim Cup. The Lalla Meryem Cup marked the start of a great rookie season for Hull, who went on to record five second places in a row and she will bring fond memories to the event.
American Beth Allen also tied for second three shots behind Jutanugarn and is also in a rich vein of form having tied for 18th place at the World Ladies Championship. The strong field also includes Laura Davies, Gwladys Nocera and Sophie Gustafson, who won the event before it was sanctioned by the LET in 2008, 2007 and 1998 respectively.
Trish Johnson is the highest ranked player in the field from the LET’s ISPS HANDA Order of Merit in fifth place after finishing ninth last week in China and is joined by last year’s LET Players’ Player of the Year, Lee-Anne Pace.
Morocco’s top player, Maha Haddioui, will be aiming to give her home fans something to cheer about. In 2013, Haddioui became the first Moroccan to hold membership of the Ladies European Tour and she finished tied for 44th at the Lalla Meryem Cup, before recording a season-best finish of equal 20th place at the Lacoste Ladies Open de France.
“I’m thrilled to be playing in my home town for this fantastic event, which holds a special place in my heart,” said Haddioui. “I hope to give a strong performance and help to inspire more youngsters from my country to participate in the sport. This edition is very special to me because it’s the 20th one but also represents 100 years of golf in Morocco.”
There are 25 LET rookies in the tournament, many of whom qualified for the LET through Lalla Aicha Tour School in Marrakech in December. They include current leading rookie Nicole Broch Larsen of Denmark, Scotland’s Sally Watson, Spain’s Patricia Sanz Barrio, Brazilian Victoria Lovelady and Nobuhle Dlamini of Swaziland.
The three amateurs in the field are Mathilda Cappeliez of France, China’s Jing Yan and Olivia Mehaffey of Northern Ireland.
Although the Lalla Meryem Cup was inaugurated in 1993, this is the fifth year that the tournament has featured on the Ladies European Tour schedule.
It is unique in world golf in that two men’s and women’s European Tour events take place in the same city, during the same week.
Whilst the women compete in the Lalla Meryem Cup, the men will contest the 41st edition of the Hassan II Golf Trophy on the European Tour at nearby Golf du Palais Royal from Thursday and there are various shared functions and clinics as well as the prize giving.
Today (Tuesday) the men and women will pair up for a special exhibition match played over six holes at Golf du Palais Royal from 3pm.
Laura Davies will play with Paul McGinley, while Gwladys Nocera is partnering Jose Maria Olazabal. Sharmila Nicollet is playing with Michael Hoey, while Maha Haddioui is playing with Robert Karlsson.
With some of the world’s top professionals from the men’s and women’s European Tours and three fast-rising amateurs, fans can look forward to some outstanding golf. The stage is set for a memorable Lalla Meryem Cup and Hassan II Golf Trophy in 2014.