Alexa Pano, Muni He, Gabriela Ruffels among the 10 players who received sponsor invites to Saudi Ladies International
Next week’s Aramco Saudi Ladies International features a stellar field and a $5 million purse, now the highest prize fund in women’s golf outside of the majors and the LPGA’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. Up from $1 million last season, the women’s purse now matches that of the men’s Saudi International, won last week by Abraham Ancer.
Many of the best players in the women’s game will make their 2023 season debut next week, including World No. 1 Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, Atthaya Thitikul and In Gee Chun. In all, 13 major winners have entered.
The 120-player field will feature 60 Ladies European Tour players, 50 from the top 300 in the Rolex Rankings and 10 sponsor invites. The event, which is presented by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, takes place Feb. 16-19 at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club. The winner will receive $750,000.
Other notable players who have committed include Danielle Kang, Nasa Hataoka, Yuka Saso, Maria Fassi, Hyo-Joo Kim, Hannah Green and Andrea Lee.
The LET’s Saudi-backed events remain controversial given the wide-ranging human rights abuses Saudi Arabia has been accused of, especially toward women.
The 13 major winners in the Saudi Ladies International field boast 18 major titles between them.
While the purse is significant for every player in the field, it’s especially impactful for those with only LET status as well as those who have limited starts before the LPGA’s first full-field event of the season in late March.
The LPGA is in the midst of a month-long break before staging back-to-back limited-field events in Thailand and Singapore.
Here’s a closer look at the 10 players who received sponsor invitations and are entered into the field, which includes a wide mix of veterans and up-and-comers:
Gabriela Ruffels of Australia plays a tee shot on the 15th hole during the first round of the LPGA LOTTE Championship at Kapolei Golf Club on April 14, 2021 in Kapolei, Hawaii. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Gabriela Ruffels began her season on the LET last week with a fourth-place finish at the Magical Kenya Ladies Open. The former U.S. Women’s Amateur champion competed last year on the Epson Tour and missed the deadline to register for LPGA Q-Series last fall. The Aussie signed up for LET Q-School to have more options.
Marianne Skarpnord of Norway during Day One of the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield on August 04, 2022 in Gullane, Scotland. (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)
Veteran Ladies European Tour player and Aramco ambassador Marianne Skarpnord is a five-time winner on the LET. The 36-year-old finished ninth in the season-opening Magical Kenya Ladies Open.
Alexa Pano of the United States hits a tee shot during the final round of the 2022 LPGA Q-Series – Dothan at Highland Oaks Golf Course on December 11, 2022 in Dothan, Alabama. (Photo by Hannah Ruhoff/Getty Images)
After turning professional last spring, 18-year-old Alexa Pano played the rest of 2022 on the Epson Tour. In December, she tied for 21st at Q-Series to earn her LPGA card. The former Netflix star, known for her role in the documentary, “The Short Game,” made the cut in 16 of 18 starts on the Epson Tour last season with five top-10 finishes.
Muni He of China hits her tee shot on the third hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G at Pinnacle Country Club on September 25, 2022 in Rogers, Arkansas. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Muni He, 23, joined the LPGA in 2019 and finished 110th on the CME points list last season. He, who dates Formula One driver Alex Albon, notched her best finish in 2022 at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship where she tied for fifth.
Anne van Dam
Anne van Dam of the Netherlands lines up her putt on the ninth hole during round two of the AmazingCre Portland Classic at Columbia Edgewater Country Club on September 16, 2022 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
One of the longest players in the game, Anne van Dam played a hybrid of LPGA and LET events in 2022. Her best finish on the LPGA, a T-10, came at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational with partner Sophia Popov. She had four top-10 finishes on the LET, including a ninth-place at the Saudi Ladies International. The 27-year-old Dutch player has won five times in her career on the LET and represented Europe at the 2019 Solheim Cup.
Aline Krauter of Germany tees off on the 1st hole on day two of The Amundi Evian Championship at Evian Resort Golf Club on July 22, 2022 in Evian-les-Bains, France. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
After helping Stanford win the 2022 NCAA title, Germany’s Aline Krauter turned professional in August. The 2020 British Women’s Amateur champion played two events on the LPGA as a professional in 2022: the Greater Toledo LPGA Classic (T-29) and the Pelican Women’s Championship (T-55).
Krauter earned both her LPGA and LET cards for the 2023 season and will begin play this week at the Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco.
Maha Haddioui of Team Morocco plays her shot from the fourth tee during the first round of the Women’s Individual Stroke Play on day twelve of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Kasumigaseki Country Club on August 04, 2021 in Kawagoe, Japan. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
A former Division II Lynn University standout, Maha Haddioui was the first player from Morocco to earn full playing privileges on the LET. Haddioui, 34, competed in both the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games.
Patricia Sanz Barrio
Patricia Sanz Barrio of Spain plays her tee shot on the par 5, 18th hole during the first round of the 2017 Dubai Ladies Classic on the Majlis Course at The Emirates Golf Club, on December 6, 2017 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
Patricia Sanz Barrio, 32, has competed on both the LET and Epson Tours. The Spaniard played collegiate golf at Auburn and turned professional in 2013. Her younger sister Marta also received a sponsor invite to compete in Saudi.
Marta Sanz Barrio
Marta Sanz Barrio of Spain on the 9th tee during second round of the Helsingborgs Open in the Ladies European Tour at Vasatorps Golf Club in Helsingborg, Sweden, September 4, 2015. BJORN LINDGREN/AFP via Getty Images
Younger sister of Patricia Sanz Barrio, Marta also competed at Auburn and joined both the LET and Epson Tours in 2015. The 30-year-old won both the 2019 IOA Golf Classic on the Epson Tour and the 2018 Firekeepers Casino Hotel Championship.
Annabel Dimmock of England plays her shot off the 16th tee during Day Two of the Volvo Car Scandinavian Mixed Hosted by Henrik & Annika at Halmstad Golf Club on June 10, 2022 in Halmstad, Sweden. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
Annabel Dimmock, a 26-year-old London native, has one career LET victory at the 2019 Jabra Ladies Open and 10 top-10 finishes. Dimmock finished last season No. 85 on the Race to Costa del Sol. As an amateur, Dimmock represented Great Britain and Ireland at the Curtis Cup. She turned professional in 2015.