WHEN the seventh edition of the HSBC Women's Champions (HSBC WC) event takes place in a couple of weeks, some of the premier names in women's golf will be gracing the fairways of one of Singapore's toughest courses. For the second year running - after five years on the Garden course at Tanah Merah Country Club - Sentosa Golf Club's Serapong course is the venue of this US$1.4-million tournament.
One of the 63 women professionals who have qualified for the no cut 72 hole tournament is defending champion Stacy Lewis, who currently sits at number three on the women's world rankings. Other marquee players are world number one Inbee Park, Suzann Pettersen (2), So Yeon Ryu (5), Shanshan Feng (6), Na Yeon Choi (7), Karrie Webb (8), Lexi Thompson (9) and 16-year-old star and world number four, Lydia Ko from New Zealand.
Lewis - who, like many others, will be warming up with a few events in this part of the world, such as this weekend's ISPS Handa Australian Open at Melbourne's Victoria Golf Club, before coming to Singapore - is looking forward to defending her trophy.
"In 2013, I played in Australia before coming to Singapore. I have been doing that for the last couple of years just so that I can get a head start. This year I am going to start playing a couple of weeks earlier, with our first tournament in the Bahamas, and then go to Australia, and then come to Singapore. So, I have a few tournaments under my belt which I like having before going there, because I have got to have a game on the golf course and I will be ready to go."
She adds: "Last year, they moved the tees around (at Sentosa), and you have to change your game to play on the tees. You really have to think your way around, and that's what I liked about it. With my gameplay, I could beat a lot of people that way, and it worked out."
She continues: "When you ask players what their favourite event is, everyone says Singapore. It's just the tournament that everybody wants to win, and you get the best field there. For me last year, it was just so early in the year and I didn't expect myself to come up with the surprise win. But it definitely kick-started the year for me."
That included winning the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup two weeks after the HSBC WC and her second major (after the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship) - the 2013 Women's British Open. She comments: "This year, what I want to try to do better is to make my schedule a little bit better. Besides that, it's actually really just winning tournaments along with giving myself a better chance at winning the majors. That is definitely a goal and along with that, just giving myself a chance to win every week. And all the things that will happen at the end of the season, those will take care of themselves."
Compatriot Jessica Korda, 20, who is currently world number 24 following her win at the 2014 season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic, is looking forward to returning to the HSBC Women's Champions. "I loved Singapore and really enjoyed the challenges of The Serapong course, finishing tied for fifth last year. Winning my first tournament of the year was a huge confidence boost so I hope I can keep playing well and carry on the good form and enjoy another great week in Singapore."
Ko, who will be making her debut in the HSBC WC, was crowned sportswoman of the year in the Halberg Awards in Auckland this week. She turned professional in October 2013 after a stellar year, achieving a runner-up finish in a major championship (the Evian Championship) last year and winning three professional events. She believes that this year will be a learning curve for her. "I'll be learning to play more tournaments, and balancing school. But my main goal is just to have fun, to just enjoy".
She adds: "Over the last year, I've been doing a lot of correspondence. I've been taking subjects that are easier to do while I'm on the road, things like English Language. I took photography last year, and I could get beautiful photos in the places I go to."
Ko is no stranger to Singapore having played in the Queen Sirikit Cup, and is looking forward to making the trip. "I really enjoyed my time in Singapore the last time I was there. I do remember that it was really, really hot, so I have to manage my body and not get overly tired."
In addition to the 62 players is local qualifier and amateur Amanda Tan - a big fan of Ko's - who will be relying on her home course advantage to make an impression over the four rounds. The Singapore Sports School student qualified for the event last month in the Host Country Qualifying Tournament, after posting a combined total of 157 over two rounds, to give her a one shot margin over fellow Singaporean Jen Goh. She says: "From now until the tournament I will be focusing on my short game in particular. My target for this tournament will be to come in the top half. I know it's tough but I just need to work hard. I have a long way to go, and so much to work on."
With the strong and impressive calibre of this year's tournament, Singaporean golf fans are again in for a treat. HSBC global head of sponsorship & events Giles Morgan says: "It is no surprise whatsoever to see the sheer strength and depth of this field - HSBC Women's Champions is our flagship women's event and a true test of champions. Qualification is tough, the course is tough and the competition is even tougher - that's what makes it such a fascinating event for players, fans and TV viewers. We're looking forward to another vintage renewal in 2014."
HSBC Women's Champions 2014
Feb 27 to March 2
Sentosa Golf Club (Serapong course)
No cut 72 stroke play event
Inbee Park, Suzann Pettersen, Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson, Paula Creamer, Na Yeon Choi, Lydia Ko, Jessica Korda