JEDDAH: Defending champions and former British Open champions Anna Nordqvist and Georgia Hall have described this week’s Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by the Public Investment Fund as “one of the showpiece events” in women’s golf as they prepare to play what will be the first Ladies European Tour event will feature three Arab golfers.
Moroccan pair Ines Laklalech and Lina Belmati will make their professional LET debuts when the million-dollar tournament kicks off on Thursday, joining compatriot and 10-season tour stalwart Maha Haddioui in the strongest ever Arab representation in all the LET domains.
Nordqvist believes diversity is one of the reasons the Tour continues to grow and attract many of the biggest names in women’s golf.
The Swedish professional and Hall will face Spain’s Carlota Ciganda, England’s Bronte Law and Denmark’s Emily Kristine Pedersen in the third annual Aramco Saudi Ladies International, which comes just four months after the last one.
Nordqvist said: “I think that’s what’s so great about the Ladies European Tour. There are players from all over the world – girls from Australia and you even see players coming from the United States to compete. And play all over the world too. Playing in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and we were just in Kenya a few weeks ago, then we go to South Africa, then Thailand.
“The Ladies European Tour is a place where a lot of people feel at home, and it’s a very friendly atmosphere. That’s why I like to come back and play on the tour because I like the vibe.
The Aramco Saudi Ladies International is the first of six Saudi-backed golf tournaments on the LET calendar for 2022, with the other five being individual events in the million-dollar Aramco Team Series to be staged in the worldwide, including New York and London.
This investment has helped the LET offer a record purse of nearly $30 million for its 2022 season, more than double the figure for 2019.
Hall described the support as “fantastic” and added, “It’s definitely what the LET needs and it wasn’t like this when I was on the LET five or six years ago. I’m really happy for the girls. That’s why you bring in players from the LPGA, because they want to come to those events and play on that tour.
The 25-year-old said: “I think the Aramco Saudi Ladies International is one of the standout events at LET, and rightly so. The setup is really good. We are taken care of incredibly well. We really like coming here. That’s why we keep coming back.
World No. 25 Hall is one of the tournament favorites going into Thursday, after losing in the playoffs to Solheim Cup teammate Emily Kristine Pedersen when the event was first staged in 2020, and again against Lydia Ko last November.
“I’ve played the last two individual events pretty well here,” Hall said. “I really like the golf course. The wind can pick up quite a bit, which doesn’t bother me. I feel quite comfortable playing in the wind. I like to move the golf ball, hit low shots.
She added: “Went there this morning, and the course is in good shape again and the greens not too fast, so I think they’ll be able to hold up when you hit it.”
Nordqvist echoed Hall’s comments. “I love coming here,” she said. “It’s my third time now. We’ve done quite a few rounds around this track and it’s probably the best I’ve seen on this golf course. It’s quite lush there.
“This wind is as strong as I’ve ever seen it. It will definitely be a challenge. Usually when (the tournament) is played in November you’ve had quite a few tournament months behind you and you might know a bit more where the ball is going so I think that’s going to add an extra challenge this year, I just feel a little rusty in tournaments.
Moroccan Maha Haddioui has long carried the flag as the only Arab player on the Ladies European Tour.
However, that changes this week with the arrival of two fellow Moroccans as full-time LET professionals: Ines Laklalech and Lina Belmati, who are both making their Saudi debuts.
Haddioui was a key figure in launching the first Aramco Saudi Ladies International in 2020, with the tournament prompting 1,200 Saudi women and girls to sign up to learn golf over the four-day event.
She believes similar events are key to driving the game’s continued growth globally.
The 33-year-old said: “As professional golfers we travel the world and the LET is here to inspire people in the countries we go to to get into the game and see golf as something they love. could undertake. or a sport they might play.
“For me, three years ago, I didn’t think I was sitting here with two other Moroccan professionals and playing this event. I think that’s a good thing. It’s really small steps that make things like this happen – having tournaments and opportunities to play in events like these,” she said.
“Seeing that there are three Moroccan girls playing in it will inspire Tunisian girls, for example, or girls from other places in the Arab world, to say, ‘Well, three of them made it, so I’m sure I can do it, too.”