They occupy the kind of rarified air that few will know. For starters, in order to have played in multiple Hanwha LIFEPLUS International Crowns, you have to have remained reasonably high in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings for multiple years. But there’s another catch: you also have to be from a country where three other women also maintained a high enough world ranking for your nation to qualify.
Look at recent history. Obviously, Lydia Ko would have been eligible for every Crown, as would Brooke Henderson. Unfortunately, New Zealand and Canada were never able to break into the top-8 countries as a whole, so those superstars have never gotten to compete in these matches.
Anna Nordqvist has played in multiple Crowns. So has Caroline Hedwall, including the first one in 2014, but Sweden didn’t qualify in 2016.
That’s what makes four players in this week’s Hanwha LIFEPLUS International Crown so remarkable. Lexi Thompson from the United States, Minjee Lee from Australia, and Moriya and Ariya Jutanugarn from Thailand have competed in every single Crown going back to 2014.
That’s nine years of being high enough in the world rankings, as both an individual and a country, to play for your flag in these matches. It’s extraordinary.
“You know, it was great the first year that we had it,” Thompson said, referring to the first edition of the Crown played at Caves Valley in Maryland. “I think every tournament that we have on this tour gets better and better. I think we improve on little things here and there.
“But the (Hanwha LIFEPLUS) International Crown itself, I think just the sponsors have great hospitality for us. They keep on improving on the event and make us feel very welcomed, whether it's through the dining, the volunteer staff, and just making everything so easy for us during the week.
“They care. The sponsors here at International Crown and Hanwha, it's amazing what they do. It's great to be part of it and it's an honor to represent our country.
“I think the sponsors make the difference in the tournament, so we're just happy to be part of it.”
As for any advice she might impart on her teammates given her lengthy experience in events like this, Thompson said, “I think the big thing about team events is just being there for each other and feeding off each other's energy and each other's games and personalities. We've all played a lot of golf together and we all get along very well, so that's always helpful.
“I've played in a few of these, but also Solheim Cups. Team matches are very similar. Solheim is just USA against Europe. This one is a great opportunity for other countries to represent their country.
“So it's similar format and team aspect, which we all very much enjoy, so we're just happy to be here.”
Ariya Jutanugarn echoed many of the same sentiments. “This is going to be the fourth time,” the younger Jutanugarn sister said. “We played since 2014. And it’s exciting to play this event again because it's so different. I feel like to be representing Thailand, we have to think and plan every single match, figuring out what we're going to do the next day. That is really a challenge for us.”
Lee, who is the reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion and will also defend her title next week at the Cognizant Founders Cup, said, “We don't get too many opportunities to play in this format, and obviously to represent Australia with these girls is really cool and it's a great honor for us.”
No one has grown in this event more than Minjee. In 2014, she was a 17-year-old amateur who was so nervous she could barely speak. Thankfully, Karrie Webb was there to put an arm around her. At the time Webb said, “This girl is one of the biggest talents I’ve seen in a long time. Keep your eye on her.”
Nine years later, no one can look away.
“I've played (in the Crown) since I was an am, (then) as a rookie pro, and now, a little bit (of a) veteran,” Lee said. “Over the years, I think it's just gone from strength to strength, and now that Hanwha LIFEPLUS has come on board, I think it's going to be even better.”
That sums up the evolution of these matches from those who know. It’s going to be a great week of golf.