International Crown offers twist

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The International Crown will bring together eight countries in match play the first three days, with the top five advancing to singles play on Sunday.

The International Crown isn't the first attempt at establishing a second women's golf team competition to complement the Solheim Cup. But unless you are a mega-golf fan, you've probably forgotten about the Lexus Cup. That's if you even knew about it to begin with.

When the Solheim was launched in 1990, it essentially followed the format of the men's Ryder Cup, a competition between U.S. and European teams. Nobody involved then was particularly prescient about how many great women's golfers from places outside the U.S. and Europe would be coming down the pipe in the next 20-plus years.

The Lexus Cup was an attempt to capitalize particularly on the growth of Asian women's golf. It ran from 2005 to 2008 and pitted an Asian team vs. an international team, which included American players.

It simply wasn't a good format. The squads didn't make much sense -- who really wanted to see the United States as part of another team? -- and it was played after the LPGA season, in either November or December. The Lexus Cup was held in Singapore three times and Australia once. It died of natural causes in 2008.

When Mike Whan took over as LPGA commissioner in 2010, one of the many things on his plate was taking another shot at creating a new team event. And here it is, four years later.

The International Crown focuses on the national aspect of competing, as eight countries qualify. That's based on the cumulative ranking of the top four players in each country at the time the field is set, which was last November for this inaugural event.

Then the seeding of the teams and the four players who will compete for each were set on March 31. A surge by the Americans in early 2014 gave them the top seed over South Korea, which was a bit of a surprise.

So the USA is in a pool with Spain, Thailand and Taiwan. South Korea heads up the other group, which has Japan, Sweden and Australia. Each team will play two four-ball matches against every other team in its pool, and that competition takes place Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Then the top five teams in points will compete Sunday in singles matches.

There are no captains, so the players will have to make their decisions as a group. Who will emerge as the leader on each team? Will there be any power struggles? That could be interesting to watch.

As will the fans' reaction to the competition. The Solheim Cup has become popular because most observers have a rooting interest in either the USA or European sides. But how engaged will American fans be at Caves Valley Golf Club this week in the matches that don't involve the U.S. players? Will each country draw at least some of its own fans? And how will the event do in terms of luring a television audience?

We're about to find out.

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