The Ladies European Tour is in China for the fifth edition of the Sanya Ladies Open at Yalong Bay Golf Club on Hainan Island, followed by the inaugural Xiamen Open on the Chinese mainland.
A total of 120 top golfers from 27 countries and regions will participate this week, including 55 players from the Ladies European Tour (LET), 33 from the China LPGA Tour, 22 from the Ladies Asian Golf Tour (LAGT) and ten invitations.
The leading players in the field include Charley Hull, Gwladys Nocera, Nikki Campbell, Valentine Derrey, Camilla Lennarth, Florentyna Parker, Trish Johnson, Connie Chen and Kylie Walker.
While last year’s winner Lee-Anne Pace is not playing due to personal reasons, the 2012 winner Cassandra Kirkland has returned and will be hoping to recapture the 45,000 euro first prize.
The 30-year-old from Paris said: “I’ve been playing decent all year, making cuts and top 20s and 30s, but I just need to make a few more putts. Other than that I’m quite happy with my game and I think I can do it again. I’m not putting pressure on myself, but it’s a course that suits me and there’s usually wind, which I love.”
Last year, China’s Yu Yang Zhang earned a career best finish of second after a play-off and she is excited to be back at the tropical venue.
“It’s where I’ve been the closest to being a champion in my professional career,” said the 23-year-old third year LET member from Guangzhou. “This is my fourth year here and every year has been a little improvement so I hope this year can be even better.”
Xi Yu Lin is another Chinese player to watch, as she has recorded four top 10 finishes from as many appearances in the event, having fist played in 2010 as a 14-year-old amateur.
Now in her second year as a member of the LET and her first year on the LPGA Tour, Lin said: “I like the course and in China there are not too many windy golf courses like this, so it’s tough, but I’m happy to have had a few good scores here.”
Once again, the players are looking forward to testing themselves against the par-72 (36-36) Robert Trent Jones-designed course, which will be set at 6484 yards for the tournament. Since its inception in 2000, Yalong Bay has successfully staged 13 professional tournaments including the Sanya Open in 2003, 2004 and 2006, the Volkswagen Masters in 2006, Crowne Plaza Open in 2006; the TCL Classic on the PGA European Tour in 2005, 2006 and 2007 as well as the Sanya Ladies Open in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. The course was named as one of the ‘World 100 Best Courses outside the US’ and in ‘China’s Top 10 Golf Clubs’ by American Golf Digest.
Order of Merit still within reach for Hull
With just four events remaining in the 2014 Ladies European Tour season, six players still have a chance of winning the Order of Merit. They are top ranked Suzann Pettersen, Shanshan Feng, Charley Hull, Gwladys Nocera, Lee-Anne Pace and Nikki Campbell.
Of the players in the Sanya Ladies Open, Hull, Nocera and Campbell, ranked third, fourth and sixth respectively, all still have a mathematical chance of winning, but third ranked Hull is the best positioned.
The 18-year-old from Kettering in England could overtake Pettersen with three victories from four events, in the Sanya Ladies Open, Xiamen Open and Hero Women’s Indian Open. However she is currently not entered for India, therefore she will need two victories, including one in China and one at the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters, where higher prize money is on offer. Meanwhile, Nocera needs three wins including Dubai.
Watson looking to overtake Boulden in rookie race
Scotland’s Sally Watson will be looking to take advantage of Amy Boulden’s absence over the next fortnight in China in order to overtake her in the race to be named the Ladies European Tour’s Rookie of the Year.
The 23-year-old from Elie is visiting China for the first time having received invitations to play in both the Sanya Ladies Open and Xiamen Open.
“I’m very excited. It’s a place I learned a lot about through my international relations major so it’s exciting to be here for the first time and experience the culture and have some good Chinese food,” said Watson.
With four tournaments remaining on the 2014 Ladies European Tour schedule, Watson is currently 11,296.54 euros behind Boulden on the order of merit, which means that the Scot needs to finish either fifth in Sanya, or fourth in Xiamen, to leapfrog the Welshwoman. Otherwise two tenth place finishes would see her earn 11,000 euros and almost get the job done.
“It’s definitely a nice opportunity but it’s always nice to have Amy in a tournament. You want that competition and she’s definitely pushed me to continue to work hard at my game and try and get better and that’s a good thing,” said Watson. “But it’s an opportunity for me and hopefully I can capitalise on that this week.
“I’ve been very lucky to get some invitations to the final events of the season. I was hoping my good finish at tour school last year would have helped me get in but obviously it wasn’t quite enough.
“I tried to write a nice letter and to say how important it was to me to have the opportunity to come and play in China for the first time. I did learn a lot about it in school so I was looking forward to the opportunity to come here and I’m very grateful for the invitations and hopefully I can make the most of them.”
Whilst studying International Relations at Stanford University, under the guidance of her academic advisor, the former US Secretary of State Professor Condoleezza Rice, Watson learned about “China’s growing importance in the world.” Therefore she was excited to follow the APEC Summit earlier this week in Beijing, attended by US President Barack Obama.
Now she has turned her focus fully to competing in the Sanya Ladies Open, taking place over three rounds at Yalong Bay Golf Club in tropical Hainan from Friday, where she will be looking to improve on her season best ties for third place in the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open and Allianz Ladies Slovak Open.
After 16 events played this year, Watson has racked up four top ten finishes and is lying in 26th position on the order of merit, whereas Boulden is sitting in 22nd place after 13 events.
“I think the rookie class is very strong this year and you only get one chance to win the rookie of the year prize in your professional career, so it would be a nice Christmas present. If not, I’ve had a great year and really enjoyed myself and so I’ll take that all forward into next year,” Watson added.
Sanya Ladies Open: Numbers to know
10 invited players
60 number of professionals who will make the cut, plus ties
1 past champion (Cassandra Kirkland)
7 2014 LET champions
63 (-9) tournament low score (2013, Nikki Campbell R1 and Jia Yun Li R3)
203 (-13) Lowest winning score (Lee-Anne Pace, 2013)
210 (-6) Highest winning score (Cassandra Kirkland, 2012)
1 play-off (2013)
300,000 prize fund in euros
45,000 first prize in euros