Gurgaon: While French woman Gwladys Nocera is back to defend her Hero Women's Indian Open title at the tricky 'Black Knight' course at the DLF Golf and Country Club, a host of Indian stars including Vani Kapoor and Sharmila Nicollet, will lead the local challenge as the country's only Ladies European Tour (LET) golf tournament tees off here on Friday.
The three-day 54-hole tournament is a tri-sanctioned event and will see some of the top stars from the LET, Ladies Asian Golf Tour (LAGT) and the Women's Golf Association of India (WGAI) vying for the title.
The increased prize money of $400,000 will see some of the top golfers in the fray as the foreign field will be led by Nocera, 2013 Indian Open winner from Thailand Thidapa Suwannapura, Cheyenne Woods, niece of US great Tiger Woods, Englishwomen Melissa Reid, winner of the 2015 Turkish Open, Hannah Burke, 2015 Tipsport Golf Masters title holder and Trish Johnson.
It was a good tournament last year for Indian players as Vaishavi Sinha and Gauri Monga finished fifth and tied eighth respectively. While the duo returns to have a shot at the title, the strong Indian line up will have the likes of Vani Kapoor, Hero Order of Merit leader with four wins this season, Sharmila Nicollet, Amandeep Drall, Neha Tripathi, Smriti Mehra and amateur Aditi Ashok.
While seasoned Indian professionals can make their presence felt, there are high expectations from Aditi, who first grabbed attention as a 14-year-old at the 2011 Queen's Sirikit Cup and finished eighth at the 2012 Women’s Indian Open. Aditi has been in red-hot form this year, becoming the first Asian to bag the title of the St Rule Trophy and the Lawson Trophy at St Andrews, Scotland. Earlier this year, she also became the first Indian to win the Ladies British Amateur Open Stroke Play Championship and the 81st Singha Thailand Amateur.
Aditi, who finished 14th at last year's Women’s Indian Open, is entering this edition with a strong international winning record and will be one of the title contenders to watch out for.
Nocera, fifth on the LET order of merit, has special attachment with India as she won the 2007 Emaar MGF Ladies Masters, India's first LET event in Bengaluru, and lifted the trophy at the Hero Women's Indian Open last year at the Delhi Golf Club. At a new golf course, she will be looking to clinch her second successive title.
Nocera, the winner of the 2015 Lalla Maryem Cup, said "I always love to play in India. It's one of my favourite destinations. I enjoyed winning at the Delhi Golf Club last season but it's a different course altogether this time. It's a challenging course and it will be a real test of a golfer's skill to win here. I am excited to play and geared up to defend my title."
"Finishing on top of the order of merit is one of my goals, but I also want to finish high in this tournament since good performances will give me opportunities to play in top-flight tournaments,” she added.
Sharmila, India's second player to have a full card on the LET, feels it won't take long to see a local golfer holding the Hero Women’s Indian Open trophy.
Sharmila, a Hero MotoCorp-sponsored player, said "Indian golfers have greatly benefited from playing alongside some top LET and LAGT players in the Indian Open. They have been in the top 10 every now and then. I feel Indians are capable of consistently doing well and win the Indian Open soon," she said during an interaction with media.
Meanwhile, in the morning draw of the Hero Women’s Indian Open 2015 Pro-Am, professional Sarah Kemp of Australia led her team comprising of amateurs Arun Kumar, Mahender Singh and Chander Bhan to victory. The three amateurs received a return ticket to Europe from Lufthansa Airlines.