By Kent Gray
Reigning Women’s British Open champion In-Kyung Kim has been lured to headline the 12th edition of the rebranded Omega Dubai Ladies “Classic” but it is another edgy sponsors invite that is dominating the pre-tournament narrative.
With a swing speed three miles faster than the average PGA Tour player (116mph compared to 113mph) and an eye-popping competition best hit of 402 yards, long drive champion Troy Mullins is sure to be a huge drawcard in more ways than one at the Ladies European Tour’s (LET) $500,000 season-ender from Dec. 6-9.
At least that’s what Tournament Director David Spencer is banking on after granting the Californian her 72-hole pro event debut at Emirates Golf Club.
Spencer took plenty of heat for handing Paige Spiranac her pro debut at the then Dubai Ladies Masters in 2015 and repeating the sponsors’ invite visit last season. He unashamedly admits the social media audience that accompanies Spiranac everywhere was a key driver behind the decision, to the point where the American is returning to the emirate as official starter for the men at January’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
The key driver behind Mullins’ invite is the one the 5ft 8in American wields, and rather impressively so as this tweet highlights:
She did it!
— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) July 26, 2017
Nicknamed the Trojan Goddess, Mullins only took up the game after attending Ivy League Cornell University when a hamstring injury curtailed her promising heptathlon career. Now she has genuine LPGA Tour ambitions.
Mullins won the 2017 Mile High Showdown, a World Long Drive event, in July with a 374 yard drive in the final and has a swing so sweet it has some of the game’s most critical analysts swooning, including Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.
Spencer is excited about what Mullins, who speaks four languages including Chinese, Spanish and American Sign Language (ASL), brings to the tournament. She will hold a clinic for spectators after play in the second round on Friday, Dec. 7.
“Troy caught our eye…we’ll we only started following long drive golf because she was on the Golf Channel and was being touted as having a perfect swing,” said Spencer.
“She’ll certainly be the longest player in the field but she’s also an accomplished golfer. We’ll she just how accomplished she is when she comes up against a professional field.”
As well as unveiling Kim and Mullins, a new name to bring the LET event “into the ‘classic’ family”, and a “sister” trophy to match the Dallah (Arabic coffee pot) handed to Desert Classic men’s champion, Spencer also revealed 16 other name players.
They include Kim’s fellow LPGA players Suzanne Pettersen, Brittany Lincicome, Olafia Kristinsdottir, Mel Reid and reigning Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open champion Beth Allen.
Aditi Ashok, who sealed LET Rookie-of-the-Year honours with a share of third place at Emirates G.C. last December, also returns along with Rafa Cabrera Bello’s sister Emma, Dame Laura Davies, Amy Boulden, Carly Booth, Felicity Johnson, Olivia Cowan and Moroccan trailblazer Maha Haddioui.
New names include Kristinsdottir and Susana Benavides while Czech Olympian Klára Spilková returns.
Benavides is the only Bolivian-born golfer to ever play in an LPGA event and like Spiranac, will bring a strong social media audience with her to Dubai.
Spilková became the first Czech player to win a Ladies European Tour event with a one stroke victory over Pettersen at the Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco in April.
Kristinsdottir brought forward double jaw surgery, a procedure that reportedly involved the addition of titanium plates to her nose and screws to her jaw, to correct an underbite just before becoming the first Icelander to play on the LPGA Tour. She is currently 82nd in the CME Rankings with one top-10 in her rookie year, a fourth placing at the Indy Women in Tech Championship Presented by Guggenheim.
I.K. Kim, the highest ranked player in the field at No.8 in the latest Rolex Ranking, banished the haunting memory of missing a 14-inch putt to win the 2012 Kraft Nabisco Championship when he won the Women’s British Open at Kingsbarns
Englishwoman Sophie Lamb, who closed with a 69 at Kingsbarns to win low amateur honours, will is also a confirmed Majlis starter along with the 29-year-old South Korean.