German rookie Laura Fuenfstueck, Swedish pair Lynn Carlson and Julia Engstrom and the defending champion Linda Henriksson of Finland are amongst the favourites for this week’s VP Bank Ladies Open - but watch out for the locals when the second LET Access Series event of 2018 tees off at Gams-Werdenberg Golf Club, from Friday.
This is the fifth successive year of the tournament, located in the village of Gams in the Werdenberg municipality of eastern Switzerland, at the foot of the Alpstein sub-range of the Appenzell Alps and on the edge of the Rhine Valley.
Among the 132 players who are fighting for the €40,000 purse, there are 18 Swiss women, 10 of whom are amateurs.
Tournament ambassador Melanie Mätzler (Bad Ragaz) is joined by fellow professionals Caroline Rominger, Valeria Martinoli, Clara Pietri, Eva-Maria Moehwald, Rachel Rossel, Eva Baraschi and Anais Maggetti, as well as amateurs Chiara Tamburlini, Monja Mätzler Gianna Gilardi, Julia Unterweger, Jannika Rüttimann, Elena Moosman, Vanessa Knecht, Natalie Armbruster, Victoria Monod and Yael Berger.
Melanie Mätzler, co-initiator of the event and since last year the ambassador, wants a top 10 this year. In 2014, Mätzler reached her best finish of seventh place in the first edition of the tournament. She said: “By now I know the place, but many other players in the field have also played Gams a few times, so the home advantage is not quite as strong as it was two or three years ago.”
Rominger, who was once again the No.1 Swiss player in 2017, said: “Last year I made the cut for the first time at this home tournament and I also played really well in the final round. I have the feeling that, the place and me, we are gradually becoming friends.”
“This year, I have already played the LET South African Open in Cape Town. My second season tournament was in early April in Terre Blanche - the tournament is part of the LET Access Series, but there were nearly 50 LET players at the start. I made the cut and am actually very satisfied, I felt better in France every day.”
In addition to Fuenfstueck, who won the South African Masters in February and tied for eighth place in the recent Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco, Tyrolean Christine Wolf also placed 11th in the Lalla Meryem Cup and is one to watch.
The 2012 Crete Ladies Open champion, from Austria, said: “I’ve actually had a great start to the season. I finished 14th in Australia and 6th in South Africa. Before the LETAS event in Terre Blanche, I changed my swing a bit, which just takes time, so that had an effect and I missed the cut. However, I had become friends with the change and am feeling confident after a good result in Morocco. I have prepared well at home after the spring finally arrived in Tyrol and I am glad that the courses in Tyrol are in very good condition after a long and snowy winter.”
The field at the VP Bank Ladies Open 2018 will be led by defending champion Linda Henriksson, who claimed her first title in tough and windy conditions last year, ultimately defeating Russian Nina Pegova on the first play-off hole. The 29-year-old Finn said: "In Gams, it's important to get the ball off the tee on the fairway and play birdies on the par fives.” Moreover, everything is perfectly organised in Switzerland and: "we Finns like that".
However, in 2017, she also particularly liked seeing the donkeys who grazed next to the eighth hole.
Pegova has also returned to Gams, looking to become the first Russian winner on tour and another former champion in the field is Carolina Gonzalez Garcia from Spain, who celebrated her first professional victory in 2016, but was absent last year.
Since she has taken on a full-time job as a civil servant and only plays occasionally, she has accepted a wild card invitation to play this week. She said: "I combine incredible emotions and unique memories with this tournament. This year I want to enjoy my time in Switzerland and the tournament to the fullest, but of course also play golf well. I am preparing intensively: golf is and will be an important part of my life.”
There is a strong field in Gams, with 28 of the professionals who made the cut in the Lalla Meryem Cup playing and six of the top 12. They include Lynn Carlsson and Julia Engstrom from Sweden, who were fourth and fifth in Morocco respectively, Katja Pogacar of Slovenia, who shared eighth place with Fuenfstueck and Noemi Jimenez Martin from Spain, who tied for 11th in a group with Wolf.