SINGAPORE, The strongest field of golfers ever seen in Asia rode into town for this week’s US$2 million HSBC Women’s Champions. The tournament, to be played on the Tanah Merah Country Club’s Garden Course from March 5th to the 8th, boasts the richest prize in women’s golf in Asia and, with 34 of the world’s top 40 players in the line up, has exceeded last year’s inaugural event by drawing the deepest pool of talent ever assembled in Asia.
More exciting for the region’s golf fans is the emergence of a group of exciting young Asian players at the top of the world rankings, including 2008 Major winners Yani Tseng, Inbee Park and Jiyai Shin, who are all just 20 years old.
HSBC’s Group Head of Sponsorship Giles Morgan welcomed their arrival in the Lion City: “When we first conceived the idea of a sister tournament to the HSBC Champions in China, we believed Asia was ready and that the world was also ready for a truly top-quality women’s tournament here. It was rewarding enough to realise last year that we had successfully brought a genuine world-class women’s tournament to Asia. You can see now that we have done it just as the most talented generation of young Asians, possibly in any sport ever, has emerged,” Morgan said.
“It’s especially rewarding because having created a stage that this new generation can shine on, we’re already seeing just how inspiring it is to the young girls on the HSBC junior programmes in Singapore and China,” he added.
To celebrate the start of the tournament week, for what was rated by many players and officials as one of the top five events worldwide in women’s golf, world number one and defending champion Lorena Ochoa was joined by some of her closest rivals in world number two Yani Tseng of Taiwan, world number four Norwegian Suzann Pettersen and reigning US Open Champion Inbee Park for a trisha1] ride beside the Singapore River.
Speaking at the tournament press conference Ochoa admitted it would be difficult to repeat her stunning 11-shot winning margin from last year. “It was a great week. For sure it was spectacular. I had a really good pre-season, I worked really hard and when I got to Singapore everything just went in the right direction. I hope it’s the same this year,” said the 27-year-old Mexican. “I think it’s great that now there’s a whole new generation of players to challenge me. I’m really excited by that. I think it’ll be a great year. It’ll be great for the fans and the media having some new faces. I’m really excited. All of them are very young and they’re not afraid. I just play for me, rather than think of them, because there’s always somebody who is going to give you a hard time!” she added.
Ochoa’s 2008 victory in Singapore sparked a remarkable run of five wins in six tournaments as she dominated the early part of the season. However she was to claim only two more titles all year as her young challengers came to the fore.
““In the last year I have made fantastic progress up the rankings but I don’t want to stop at Number 2,” said Yani Tseng, winner of the first Major of 2008 (the McDonald’s LPGA Championship) and the LPGA’s Rookie of the Year.
“I want to win early to show that last year was no fluke and to prove that I’m here to stay. My goal this year is to be World Number One. Winning this week would be a great place to start in achieving that goal so I will be looking for a great start with a lot of birdies,” said the 20-year-old Tseng, who finished “on the podium” a remarkable eight times in her debut season.
20-year-old Inbee Park was on hand to represent the exciting group of young Koreans known as “Se-Ri’s kids” and her particular age-group, the 1988-born super-generation that includes fellow Major winner Jiyai Shin and In-Kyung Kim and Ji-Young Oh who both recorded their maiden LPGA wins in 2008, called “The Dragon Ladies” because they were born under that sign in the Chinese calendar.
“We grew up together, trained together, and we all came of age on the LPGA together last year. It’s an exciting period for Korean women’s golf and it’s exciting to be here together in the showcase for women’s golf in Asia,” said Inbee.
“This is the richest event we play in Asia, it’s the biggest event in Asia and whether it’s this year or the year after, there will come a time when one of us wins the HSBC Women’s Champion,” she added.
"The young Asian players are absolutely fearless and that is why they win," said Pettersen, a five time winner on the LPGA Tour. "Until recently things were being dominated by a few more experienced players and suddenly these girls have come in and shaken up the mix at the top of women's golf. That is a very positive and exciting influence for the sport and it's sure keeping us on our toes!"
The world’s local bank has taken steps to make sure the HSBC Women’s Champions leaves a legacy by energising the development of young golfers in the region. HSBC have once again used a sponsor’s invite to ensure that the top golfer from the South East Asian region gets to play. This year it’s Thailand’s Russy Gulyanamitta who takes that place and who has also promised to mentor the winner of the local qualifying tournament; 15-year-old Joey Poh. Joey is currently a student of the HSBC Youth Golf Excellence Programme, a grassroots sponsorship that supports the top to bottom approach of HSBC’s sponsorship strategy.
“I hope as many people as possible will come and watch the golf live at Tanah Merah, especially to cheer on Joey,” said Guy Harvey-Samuel, the CEO of HSBC Singapore. “With all the young Asian golf talent that has emerged in the past year, this year’s HSBC Women’s Champions promises to be even more thrilling and inspiring: A true Champions Showdown!”
Robbie Henchman, Senior Vice President, Director of Golf Asia Pacific at IMG, the event promoters, added "The HSBC Champions and Women's Champions tournaments really are the benchmark for golf in Asia. This is only the second edition of the HSBC Women’s Champions so we are delighted that the world’s best players have embraced the event so wholeheartedly.
Every available winner from the 2008 LPGA season and every Major winner over the past three years has taken up their invitation to play here in Singapore. The unprecedented strength and depth of the field reflects just how firmly established this tournament already is on the world’s golfing calendar.”
The line-up for the inaugural HSBC Women’s Champions collectively boasts 492 tournament wins and 32 Major titles, including all but one of the Major winners from the past three years (2006 Weetabix Women’s British Open winner Sherri Steinhauer is only absent because she is injured), every LPGA tournament winner from 2008 and the money list champions from all over the world.
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS