REIGNING CHAMPION BABNIK ON THE HUNT FOR MORE JABRA JOY
Reigning Jabra Ladies Open presented by Bitstamp champion Pia Babnik is relishing the chance to take to the greens at Evian Resort Golf Club this week as she tries to retain her trophy earned in 2021.
The victory in France last year was the first of the Slovenian’s career, as she saw off Annabel Dimmock in a playoff to raise the trophy aloft at just 17-years-old.
That success was swiftly followed up with a win at the Aramco Team Series event in Jeddah, as she finished the season as runner-up in the Race to Costa Del Sol.
And the teenage talent is eager to get back to winning ways at a venue that will always be close to her heart, as she tees it up at 12.43 on Thursday as the action gets underway.
Babnik said: “It’s great to be back, it’s always nice to play on such well-prepared golf courses, and also this year it’s going to be great weather conditions so I’m glad to be here.
“I’ve worked on my distance in the off-season and improved it for this year, and I feel my putting is better too.
“Last year in the final round I started double-double, and then I tried to get myself back to level-par which made me relax and I played well.
“I wasn’t really nervous in the playoff because I was already happy that I had finished second, because that would have been my best result at the time. So I was relaxed but also really wanted to win.
“A lot of girls are good this year, so it’s going to be great to have a lot of competition this week and through the year.”
Babnik has featured in just two events so far this year, but has already made her mark on the Race with a third-place finish at the Comunidad de Madrid Ladies Open at the start of the month.
It’s not just life on course that has been busy for the Slovenian, with her school studies also keeping her occupied when she doesn’t have a club in her hand.
She continued: “I do most of my school on the off-season, because doing both is just too much. I’ve just passed my Italian and English exams, although it was just a half year of Italian.
“I’ve done most of my exams in December, and a few more at the start of this year, but I still have three more to go, but I can do that next year!”
Elsewhere in the field, there will be a number of players eager to taste victory this week, and as a result qualify for the 2022 Amundi Evian Championship held at the same venue between July 21-24.
One player who has already booked her place at the first European Major of the season is Sanna Nuutinen, with the Finn returning to Europe this week after an eye-catching performance on the LPGA across the Atlantic.
A T12 finish at the Cognizant Founders Cup last week was the 31-year-old’s best performance of the season, and she comes to Evian-Les-Bains looking to secure her maiden LET title.
“The course here is beautiful, it’s one of my favourite places to come which is one of the reasons I wanted to play this event, and I’m looking forward to coming here to play in the Major in July, so this will be a nice preparation for that as well,” Nuutinen said.
“I’ve been working a lot on my putting. The transition from the LET to LPGA has been quite big as I was quite surprised with the differences, especially with how fast the greens are!
“I’m really happy with how my game has been improving and how I’ve been adapting to America. It was tough at the beginning but me and my caddie have worked hard because everything was so new to us.
“The rookie year is never easy and I feel I have to work hard to catch them, and last week it looked to have finally paid off, so I’m looking forward to the remainder of the season.”
As one of the most consistent players on tour last year, Nuutinen finished fourth on the 2021 Race to Costa Del Sol with eight top-ten finishes to her name.
One of those came in last year’s Jabra Ladies Open, as she finished in a tie for third – two shots behind victor Babnik – and she is looking forward to facing a strong field at Evian-Les-Bains in the week ahead.
“Scandinavian golf and European golf is looking strong at the moment and it’s great to see the players get more opportunities to play big events.
“The LET has really developed their schedule this year which is really good, and it’s great to see a lot of young players coming up as well.”
There will be 132 players competing for the €250,000 purse this week in the 54-hole tournament in France, with play getting underway at 7.30am on Thursday.
Six players in the field have already tasted success in 2022, with Lee-Anne Pace, Manon De Roey and Meghan MacLaren all ready to tee it up, as well as Comunidad De Madrid Ladies Open winner Ana Peláez.
Joburg Ladies Open champion Linn Grant also returns to action this week, while Race to Costa Del Sol leader Maja Stark will be looking to extend her advantage at the top of the standings with another strong showing in France.
Photo: Tristan Jones