Originally created 05/12/02

Tournament gears up for 2nd time in a year



The Asahi Ryokuken International Championship has the dates it wants, most of the top players and a national cable television contract. Now if it just had more preparation time.

Practice rounds for the ninth LPGA Tour event of the season begin Monday. Tournament rounds are scheduled Thursday through Sunday at Mount Vintage Plantation Golf Club in Edgefield County, S.C.

The inaugural Asahi Ryokuken International Championship was held Sept. 20-23, at the end of the season. Because the tournament contract wasn't signed until January 2001, the September date was one of the few remaining.

At the time, tournament officials asked the LPGA Tour for a permanent May date starting in 2002, and they got their wish.

There was a downside to the date change. It's not easy staging two tournaments within eight months.

"Putting two tournaments on in the same fiscal year and two tournaments so close together has been a challenge," said tournament director Steve Storm. "I feel like if we can get over this tournament here and move forward to the next one, where we'll have a whole year to prepare, it will be a lot better.

"We'll have had two tournaments to learn what we did wrong," Mr. Storm added. "I'm just looking forward to having a full year to prepare for a tournament."

The May date is preferred over September because it is expected to draw more spectator interest. Instead of coming at the end of the golf season and competing with football for fans, the tournament takes place less than a month after the Masters Tournament.

"We're certainly coming off the biggest tournament there is," Mr. Storm said. "People are thinking about golf and they're getting the clubs out after a winter layoff."

Attendance figures were not released after the 2001 event. However, officials acknowledged that they didn't reach their projected goal.

The tournament was a definite hit with volunteers, including marshals and gallery guards. According to Mr. Storm, more than 95 percent of the volunteers elected to come back. The interest is so strong that a waiting list has been established for the 2003 tournament.

This year, there will be a field of 144 golfers in the $1.25 million tournament that will pay $180,000 to the winner.

It is a deeper field than in 2001 because a number of top players, such as Cristie Kerr and Laura Davies, withdrew from the inaugural tournament in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Both are in the field this year.

Annika Sorenstam, the world's No. 1-ranked player, heads the list of stars for the second-straight year. Ms. Sorenstam, a two-time winner this season and the leading money winner, tied for fourth at Mount Vintage last year. She finished two shots behind the winner, Tina Fisher, who also returns.

Ms. Sorenstam is joined by four other players in the top 10 on the money list. They are No. 3 Ms. Kerr, No. 6 Grace Park, No. 9 Liselotte Neumann and No. 10 Mi Hyun Kim.

Also, five of the top 10 players in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance ratings are entered. In addition to Ms. Sorenstam, they are No. 4 Rosie Jones, No. 5 Ms. Kim, No. 6 Lorie Kane and No. 9 Ms. Park.

Se Ri Pak, the world's No. 2-ranked player, is taking the week off. Karrie Webb, who is ranked No. 3, is playing in Japan this weekend and won't be back in the United States until Wednesday, Mr. Storm said.

"With jet lag, she opted not to play," Mr. Storm said.

Like Tiger Woods on the PGA Tour, Ms. Sorenstam is the player every tournament director on the LPGA Tour wants. She has won 10 tournaments in the past 14 months.

"I read an article comparing her to Tiger and talking about the things that she's done that he hasn't," Mr. Storm said. "For instance, he's never shot 59 like she has. If the purses were comparable on the LPGA Tour to what they are on the PGA Tour, I think she might be ahead of him in money winnings."

Because the inaugural Asahi Ryokuken International Championship was put together so quickly, and because it was played during football season, there was no television deal. This year, the Golf Channel will carry three hours of live coverage during tournament rounds, with replays at night. Live coverage will be from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday and from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

"The tournament is going to be seen worldwide," Mr. Storm said. "Mount Vintage is a beautiful golf course. We're going to get exposure out there worldwide about the golf course and tournament."

ABOUT THE TOURNAMENT

WHAT: The second annual Asahi Ryokuken International Championship

WHERE: Mount Vintage Plantation Golf Club, Edgefield County, S.C.

WHEN: Thursday-Sunday

TELEVISION: The Golf Channel, 1 to 4 p.m. (first two rounds) and 2 to 5 p.m. (final two rounds); replays Thursday-Sunday 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.

DEFENDING CHAMPION: Tina Fischer ($180,000, 10-under-par 206)

PURSE: $1.25 million ($180,000 first place)

TICKETS: $60 for a week pass or $25 per day Wednesday-Sunday; children 14 and younger admitted free with a paying adult

PARKING: On-site, $5 per day

On the Net:

AugustaLPGA.com

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851.