The Kyoraku Cup starts tomorrow in Okinawa, Japan. Many top Korean players from around the world have elected to play in this team competition rather than go for JLPGA membership in their Final Qualifying Tournament this week, including the LPGA's Na Yeon Choi and Eun-Hee Ji and the KLPGA's Hee Kyung Seo and So Yeon Ryu. But Sun Ju Ahn of the KLPGA has been playing solidly in the JLPGA Q-School (along with the LPGA's Candie Kung, Seon Hwa Lee, Inbee Park, Teresa Lu, Young Kim, Onnarin Sattayabanphot, and Na Ri Kim) while Yuko Mitsuka of the JLPGA has been playing in LPGA Q-School.
Here's how the teams stack up for the 9th playing of the event that started in 1999 (it was cancelled in 2001 due to 9/11 and in 2008 due to snow); I list their position in the current Rolex Ranking and Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index:
Ji-Yai Shin (LPGA): #2 RR, #6 GSPI
Na Yeon Choi (LPGA): #10 RR, #3 GSPI
Hee Kyung Seo (KLPGA): #47 RR, n.r. GSPI
In-Kyung Kim (LPGA): #13 RR, #18 GSPI
Mi-Jeong Jeon (JLPGA): #22 RR, #19 GSPI
Eun-Hee Ji (LPGA): #19 RR, #35 GSPI
Ji-Hee Lee (Captain, JLPGA): #29 RR, #22 GSPI
Bo-Bae Song (JLPGA): #34 RR, #43 GSPI
Sun Young Yoo (LPGA): #35 RR, #16 GSPI
Eun-A Lim (JLPGA): #57 RR, #80 GSPI
So Yeon Ryu (KLPGA): #76 RR, n.r. GSPI
Jeoung-Eun Lee (KLPGA): #93 RR, n.r. GSPI
Bo Mi Lee (KLPGA): #98 RR, n.r. GSPI
Ai Miyazato (LPGA): #9 RR, #8 GSPI
Sakura Yokomine (JLPGA): #15 RR, #14 GSPI
Shinobu Moromizato (JLPGA): #17 RR, #27 GSPI
Chie Arimura (JLPGA): #21 RR, #28 GSPI
Momoko Ueda (LPGA): #25 RR, #24 GSPI
Miho Koga (JLPGA): #40 RR, #32 GSPI
Yuri Fudoh (JLPGA): #33 RR, #34 GSPI
Akiko Fukushima (JLPGA): #52 RR, #67 GSPI
Yukari Baba (JLPGA): #60 RR, #49 GSPI
Miki Saiki (JLPGA): #65 RR, #81 GSPI
Ayako Uehara (JLPGA): #69 RR, #93 GSPI
Erina Hara (JLPGA): #94 RR, #150 GSPI
Yuko Saitoh (Captain, JLPGA): #107 RR, #122 GSPI
Note that the GSPI doesn't include KLPGA results, so a good part of Team Korea isn't their system. Player of the Year Hee Kyung Seo, for instance, would be ranked in the top 30 if she had played more than 4 events off the KLPGA in the last 52 weeks. And rival So Yeon Ryu would be just outside it if she had played more than 3.
It's also worth noting that almost half of Team Japan is coming off terrible outings last week in the Ricoh Cup. And that Yokomine might be a little let-down after winning her 1st-ever money title after coming just short each of the previous 4 seasons, while money-list leader heading into the JLPGA's final major Moromizato may just be down, period. Oh, and Ai-sama is coming off 2 consecutive finishes in the last events of the LPGA and JLPGA season in which she butchered her final 3 holes of each tournament.
Given all that, I'd say it's advantage Team Korea. True, the Korean Times is right to fret about their lack of experience and the lack of distinction among those who have participated in the past--they could certainly have used the match-play dynamos Seon Hwa Lee and Jee Young Lee, for instance. But with the way the JLPGA's vets have been playing lately, I don't see Fukushima staying undefeated in her career in this event at the end of this year's playing. Of course, a lot depends on who's matched up against who. If they keep the same format as in previous years, they'll be playing 2 sets of 12 18-hole stroke-play 1-on-1 matches on December 4th and 5th. There's a 7-page .pdf file on the event available at the bottom of the JLPGA site that I can neither link directly to nor use google translator on, but it has information on the course at the end that needs no translation.
I have been able to locate the 1st-round matchups:
Ryu v. Fudoh [adv. Korea]
Jeoung-Eun Lee v. Fukushima [adv. Japan]
Song v. Koga [toss-up]
Jeon v. Hara [adv. Korea]
Ji-Hee Lee v. Ueda [toss-up]
Lim v. Saiki [toss-up]
Ji v. Miyazato [adv. Japan]
Seo v. Yokomine [toss-up]
Shin v. Uehara [adv. Korea]
Choi v. Baba [adv. Korea]
Kim v. Arimura [toss-up]
Bo Mi Lee v. Moromizato [adv. Japan]
So Team Korea may have a very slight edge going into play tomorrow. But with 5 toss-up matches and upset opportunities galore, anything can happen.
Here's hoping LPGA Commissioner-to-be Michael Whan is paying attention this week and thinking of how to negotiate an agreement with the LET, JLPGA, and KLPGA to improve the Solheim Cup by synchronizing the formats and timing of their big international team matches and having the winners and losers face off in alternate years. It's great that the LPGA is experimenting with a new limited-field tournament format during their April drought (in Jamaica!), but they need to think much bigger and nail down their August with events that will have a global impact.
[Update 1 (12/4/09, 6:03 am): Great preview from Happy Fan over at tthe Seoul Sisters blog! Funny how fans of opposite teams look at the same players and come to the conclusion the other side has the advantage!]