Some serious star power comes to the European, LPGA and Ladies European Tours this week, and it is more than just the players teeing it up in Northern Ireland. Assembling a strong field, including 14 Aussies, the tri-sanctioned event is presented by the management group of Niall Horan.
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Played on the Ladies European Tour and secondary Challenge Tour in 2019, the inaugural event was won by Stephanie Meadow on the women’s side, while Jack Senior claimed the men’s title. Meadow held off one of Europe’s best in Charley Hull over 72 holes, whereas Senior required extra holes to defeat fellow Englishman Matthew Baldwin.
COURSE: Galgorm Castle Golf Club and Massereene Golf Club in Northern Ireland share hosting duties this week for the ISPS Handa World Invitational, which owns a similar format to the Vic Open in Australia.
Galgorm played host to the postponed Irish Open in 2020, and is considered the better of the two host layouts, both of which are ranked inside the top-20 courses in Northern Ireland.
Designed by Simon Gidman, Galgorm sits in the grounds of the castle of the same name and will measure 7,005 for the men this week.
The shorter of this week’s venues, Massereene was designed by Fred W. Hawtree and began its existence as a golf club in 1895. The back nine of the par-70 presents a more interesting challenge thanks to its undulating terrain.
FORMAT: Tri-sanctioned between the European Tour, LPGA and Ladies European Tours, the event sees men and women playing at the same time with a split prize purse in separate tournaments.
PRIZEMONEY: US$1,500,000 (for both fields).
PLAYERS TO WATCH …
Fresh off a disappointing loss on the first hole of sudden death to Aussie Minjee Lee in France last week, Jeongeun Lee6 will be keen to atone and put another trophy on the mantlepiece this week.
Lee6 was brilliant at times last week, before the Korean let the chasing pack back into the Evian Championship on Sunday and eventually rinsed her second shot at the first play-off hole after Minjee’s stunning approach to hand the Aussie her first major. The runner-up finish was Lee6’s 17th top-10 on the LPGA Tour where she has only won once. A statistic she has a great chance to amend this week with many of the world’s best in Tokyo for the Olympics.
The 25-year-old is one of the best putters in women’s golf, which should help on two unfamiliar layouts in Northern Ireland.
RIGHT: After a close call in Wales and crushing play-off loss, Justin Harding will be hoping to make ammends this week. PHOTO: Warren Little/Getty Images.
Lost among the understandable excitement of Lee’s major victory last week was the performance of her compatriot Sarah Kemp.
The 35-year-old has been putting together her best year on the LPGA Tour in 2021, and was tied for 19th last week in France.
Kemp will be full of confidence after her best ever major finish and with plenty of experience playing in Europe wouldn’t surprise if she found herself in the thick of things over the weekend as she chases her maiden win on the LPGA Tour.
He featured here last week, and it was proven with good reason, so keep an eye on Justin Harding again this week.
Harding went down to Nacho Elvira in a play-off in Wales when another non-golfing superstar lent his support to an event. And it stands to reason he will be in the hunt again in Northern Ireland.
The South African has now finished better than 25th in four of his last five starts, including a T19 at The Open, and a third European Tour win seems imminent.
Harding is a solid player through the bag, but it is his putting of late that has really impressed and with plenty of confidence he is one of the favourites this week.
There is plenty of good lead in form for the Aussie men here, but one of the players seemingly struggling a little makes for interesting viewing in Scott Hend.
The 47-year-old hasn’t had his best stuff of late, but the last time the European Tour staged a mixed format event in Sweden he lifted to a share fourth and the Olympic games will provide a mental boost for Hend as well.
The Queenslander was one of our contingent in Rio in 2016 and those fond memories flooding back this week and a different make-up to the week-to-week diet of events on Tour could lead to an improved showing in Northern Ireland.
PAST AUSSIE WINNERS: No previous Australian winners.
AUSTRALIANS IN THE FIELD: Maverick Antcliff, Austin Bautista, Scott Hend, Whitney Hillier, Sarah Kemp, Steph Kyriacou, Deyen Lawson, Bryden Macpherson, Blake McLeod, Su Oh, Dimi Papadatos, Sarah Jane Smith, Elvis Smylie and Blake Windred.
Round 1: Thursday (Fox Sports 503 LIVE 11pm – 4am)
Round 2: Friday (Fox Sports 503 LIVE 11pm – 4am)
Round 3: Saturday (Fox Sports 503 LIVE 11:30pm – 4am)
Round 4: Sunday (Fox Sports 503 LIVE 9pm – 1:30am)
*AEST, check local guides