ANA INSPIRATION IS GOLF’S FIRST MAJOR
Major championship golf returns to the California desert this week at the famed Dinah Shore Course at Mission Hills Country Club for the 48th staging of the ANA Inspiration. The 112-player field includes the top 25 players in the Rolex Women’s Golf Rankings and all seven winners from this season, competing for a $3 million purse and the chance to hoist the Dinah Shore Trophy and make the leap into Poppie’s Pond at week’s end.
In 2018, five different players from five countries won the five LPGA majors, but none of those wins was more dramatic than that by Pernilla Lindberg. The Swede picked up her first professional victory at the 2018 ANA Inspiration after a marathon eight-hole, two-day playoff with seven-time major winner Inbee Park.
11 past ANA Inspiration champions are competing this week, including: Juli Inkster (1984, 1989), Lydia Ko (2016), Stacy Lewis (2011), Brittany Lincicome (2009, 2015), Pernilla Lindberg (2018), Inbee Park (2013), Morgan Pressel (2007), So Yeon Ryu (2017), Lexi Thompson (2014), Yani Tseng (2010) and Karrie Webb (2006, 2000).
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE ANA INSPIRATION
- This is the 48th playing of the ANA Inspiration at the famed Dinah Shore Course at Mission Hills Country Club. The tournament became a major in 1983 when it was the Nabisco Dinah Shore.
- There are 26 different winners in the tournament’s history as a major. Annika Sorenstam, Amy Alcott and Betsy King have the most wins with three each.
- The 2019 tournament purse was raised to $3 million, up from $2.8 million last year.
- Players from the United States have won the most titles at this event (14 different winners).
- The overall tournament record, 19-under 269, was shot by Dottie Pepper in 1999. The tournament’s lowest round, 62, was recorded in 2006 by Lorena Ochoa in the first round.
DEFENDING CHAMPION LINDBERG SOAKING IT ALL IN
When Pernilla Lindberg was driving through the California desert fresh off her second top-25 finish of the season, she spotted a familiar face on the highway.
“It was pretty cool driving in,” she said on Tuesday at Mission Hills. “Coming down the valley the other day coming from Kia Classic I saw my face on a billboard farther up the road here. That’s probably a first, that I get to see my own face on a billboard.”
The billboard was just one sign of how her week ahead at the ANA Inspiration is different than any other week on Tour for the 32-year old.
For starters, Lindberg returns to Rancho Mirage this week as a defending champion for the first time in her career. The 2018 ANA Inspiration was a storybook week for Lindberg, with her then-fiance (now husband) Daniel Taylor on the bag, she led wire-to-wire and took down LPGA Hall of Hame member Inbee Park in a marathon eight-hole playoff that ended on Monday.
With a year to reflect on her first professional win and her jump into Poppie’s Pond, Lindberg started off her week being honored at the annual ANA Inspiration Champion’s Dinner on Monday night and said the memories of her win are ones that will be with her forever.
“It’s really cool to be able to say that I belong in that group,” Lindberg said. “It’s really a step into history books. It’s really nice to be able to know that I’m welcome to that champion’s dinner for as long as I want to and know that the invitations are not just thrown out there. You have to work hard to get there.”
WORLD NO. 1 PARK SETS HER EYES ON NEXT WIN
Heading into her fifth consecutive week as World No. 1, Sung Hyun Park has been anticipating the 2019 ANA Inspiration. The 25-year-old South Korean has six wins on the LPGA Tour, including major wins at the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open and the 2018 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. But Park doesn’t credit her golf prowess as the reason behind her major success. Instead, she claims she was on the better side of luck those two weeks.
“I do have two major wins under my belt,” said Park. “Honestly, at those wins I had good luck those weeks. I think myself, including all the other players in the field, we focus more on the majors and players put a lot more emphasis on it, as do I. I’m just focusing on getting those low scores, but overall I think it’s just good luck.”
Park is making her fourth start of the ANA Inspiration with a best finish of T6 in 2016. Her goal for the 2019 season is to win five times on Tour and with one victory already this season at the HSBC Women’s World Championship, she’s already got her eyes set on her next win.
“Of course, my goal here is to win,” said Park, who will tee off with 2018 major winner Georgia Hall at 1:11 p.m. off No. 10. “The ANA Inspiration is a major that I’ve targeted that I would like to win.”
That major win comes with a big tradition, one that is already weighing heavy in her mind. In a rare moment of levity for the normally reserved Park, when asked if she knew how to swim in the case she has to make the traditional leap into Poppie’s Pond, she answered with a smile, “No, I don’t know how to swim, and so if the water level is deep then I might drown.”
LINCICOME READY TO LEAP AGAIN
When asked about her memories from the ANA Inspiration, Brittany Lincicome says she continues to cherish every moment, from embracing the tournament’s history to the beautiful Dinah Shore Course at Mission Hills. Lincicome has quite the history in Rancho Mirage; this year is the 10th anniversary of the first time she won the tournament in 2009, where she eagled the final hole to earn her first major title one stroke ahead of Cristie Kerr. In 2015, she finished on top again after beating Stacy Lewis in a playoff on the third extra hole.
Participating in her 12th ANA Inspiration this year, she is hoping for her third jump into Poppie’s Pond. “Everybody literally dreams about it. When you walk around 18 on the practice days you try not to think about it. You’re looking in that pond and you’re thinking, ‘How cool would it be to jump in there?’” said Lincicome.
This year is a bit different for the 33-year-old. The mom-to-be, who is expecting a baby girl this September, is playing her first major tournament pregnant. Lincicome said the pregnancy may have her feeling a little different, but that she and her caddie, Missy Pederson, are taking it one hole at a time. “I can definitely feel when I swing, especially with driver, there are some things stretching, and growing around the belly area,” said Lincicome. “I hit it and, ‘Oh, that was a little painful.’”
Despite the changes, Lincicome is still aiming to do her best this week. “I feel like I’ve been driving it well. If I can keep it on the fairway, get it on the green, eliminate mistakes, I definitely have a good chance of winning,” said Lincicome. “I have so many wonderful memories from this event I think that’ll carry me through and I’ll be on Cloud 9. Definitely feel like I have a strong chance of winning for sure.”
DRIVER IN HAND, THOMPSON READY TO TACKLE MISSION HILLS
At just age 24, Lexi Thompson has playing in her 10th ANA Inspiration, dating back to her debut as an amateur in 2009. To put that in perspective – of the 112 players in the tournament field, only 17 have made more appearances on the Dinah Shore Course than Thompson and all but one of them is over age 30 (Michelle Wie turns 30 in October).
So how does someone so young fare so well on this course? According to Thompson, who won the tournament in 2014, it all comes down to one simple thing. She just plain loves this course.
“I think it’s just I get to play aggressive out here,” said Thompson, who has three other top-10 finishes to go along with her win. “I get to take my driver and just the setup of the golf course, you know, aim up the right side and hit my draw out there with my driver. I think it suits a ball striker, which major championships usually should. It’s just a great layout and I love coming here.”
Thompson often speaks of being comfortable on the golf course, and she takes plenty of comfort in a new, yet old, face by her side. Starting at last week’s Kia Classic, Thompson re-teamed with former caddie Benji Thompson (no relation), who caddied for her from 2013 to mid-2016, including for her jump into Poppie’s Pond here in 2014.
“He has an upbeat personality, very positive,” said Thompson, who will tee off No. 1 at 8:19 a.m. alongside 2016 ANA Inspiration winner Lydia Ko. “He has an aggressive personality out on the golf course. I think he brings out the best in my game.”
HUGE COMFORT FACTOR FOR IN-FORM INBEE PARK HEADING INTO FIRST MAJOR OF THE YEAR
The stars could hardly be aligned any better for Rolex Rankings No. 6 Inbee Park as she heads into this week’s ANA Inspiration in pursuit of her eighth major championship title. The Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club is one of her favorite venues on the LPGA Tour, and she has a stellar record of success here to prove it. Park has recorded six top-10 finishes in 12 starts at Mission Hills, including a victory in 2013 and a playoff loss to Pernilla Lindberg last year.
Add to that comfort factor a runner-up finish for Park in last week’s Kia Classic and it is no surprise that the LPGA Hall of Fame member is one of the hot favorites going into the first major championship of the year.
“This golf course has great champions, it has great history,” Park said during a press conference on Wednesday before teeing off in the ANA Inspiration Pro-Am competition. “It has a very special ceremony for the winners. It’s just really very memorable. It’s definitely one of my favorite stops on tour. You just come to the golf course and you really know the golf course. You’re really used to the atmosphere and the venue. You just get comfortable.
“I have had a lot of good results here and that always helps. When the roughs are up here and the greens are firm and the greens are really, really pure, it’s a really fun golf course to play. I always love to putt on the pure greens.”
Park, a 19-time champion on the LPGA Tour, was edged out by Swede Lindberg in a marathon playoff for the 2018 ANA Inspiration that required eight holes and spilled over into Monday. Asked if that loss made her even hungrier to win at Mission Hills this year, she replied: “I knew that I came so close last year. I kind of know that I can pull off something really good on this golf course. This definitely gives me a lot of confidence going into this year as well. Being so close last year you’re kind of thinking like, ‘Oh, maybe.’ If I can do it this year, that will be even better.
“I feel really good actually. I was in contention last week, which is what I’m really looking forward to doing. Doesn’t matter whether I win or not. If I can have that kind of opportunity on the weekend every week, that’ll be just really great. Whether I can pull it off, not pulling it off, you just play under the pressure and you play for the trophy. That’s what you want every weekend.”
Park will start the first round Thursday alongside Nelly Korda at 1:19 p.m. off the 10th tee.
NELLY KORDA AIMS TO STAY CONSISTENT
Despite being only 20 years old, this is not Nelly Korda’s first rodeo at the ANA Inspiration. It is the fifth time the Rolex Rankings No. 8 player is starting in the event, including two starts as an amateur. Her best finish came in 2018, where she tied for 13th at 10-under 278.
Korda said participating in the tournament as an amateur prepared her for her time as a professional, in part with some help from older sister Jessica Korda. “Experience is everything. I was really lucky because Jess was out here and I kind of like knew all the girls. So really fitting in was already a given to me because I knew so many of the girls, so I was never really too intimidated by them,” said Korda. “Playing as an amateur really helped a lot comfort-wise.”
Nelly and Jessica most recently tied for second at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, finishing at 21-under 267. Jessica, who said following Founders Cup how grateful she was to be back after suffering a forearm injury, has a close relationship on and off the course with her sister. Nelly said she enjoys playing alongside Jessica, but they both realize they are going for the same goal when it counts. “We don’t talk about how we push each other, but obviously we want to beat each other as well at the end of the day and that pushes us,” said Nelly. “It’s very healthy. When I’m struggling she’s right there and vice versa.”
The younger Korda sister is rolling into the 2019 ANA Inspiration with the consistency of a veteran, which has been one of her goals for this season. Every result in 2019 has resulted in a top-10 finish or higher, including a win at ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. But preparing for the first major means a lot more to Korda, especially with the possibility of jumping into Poppie’s Pond. “It’s really cool,” said Korda. “I’ve always as a little girl watched this tournament, and I’ve always been so inspired by all the past winners. The history is so rich here.”
Nelly Korda will start the first round Thursday alongside Inbee Park at 1:19 p.m. off the 10th tee.
CONFIDENCE IS KEY FOR SO YEON RYU
As a 14-year old in the Republic of Korea, So Yeon Ryu remembers watching her idol Grace Park on TV as she made the famed leap into Poppie’s Pond and hoisted the Dinah Shore Trophy. Ever since that moment, Ryu had set her sights on following in Park’s footsteps and at the 2017 ANA Inspiration, her dream became a reality.
“I always dream about like one day I’m going to jumping into the Poppie’s Pond and then one day I want to see my name on the bridge,” Ryu said on Wednesday in Rancho Mirage. “And then just dreams came true. Every time when I come here I just feel so blessed and then so motivated to keep playing well and well. I am looking forward to have more of my name on the bridge.”
Ryu, a six-time LPGA winner, shared on Wednesday that she is playing a lighter LPGA schedule in 2019 in order to keep herself fresh and rested, and estimates she’ll play 21 of the 32 tournaments this season. This week, the 28-year-old is making her fourth start of the 2019 season and is searching for her first top-25 finish.
“The one thing I realize was I think I really need to have back my confidence,” Ryu said. “I knew my swing wasn’t really great in Asia, and that one really made me just losing the confidence. Then I just kept talking myself to like, You’re not ready, you’re not ready, instead of, You’re going to be ready soon, you’re going to be ready soon. Right now I just have a different mindset. Like no matter what, I know you’re great player and just trust yourself and just enjoy this game and think about the one ball at a time instead of the whole picture. I really try to be positive at this moment.”
Ryu will start the first round on Thursday at 1:27 p.m. off No. 10 alongside Michelle Wie.
LEWIS’ GAME ROLLING BACK INTO SHAPE IN TIME FOR SEASON’S FIRST MAJOR
Stacy Lewis has taken her time to get back in the swing of things since having her baby girl, Chesnee, last October. She played the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, then sat out on the Asia and Australia swing. Upon her return to play in the States, Lewis missed the cut at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but found her stride last week at the Kia Classic where she shot a final round 67 to place 12th at -13.
“I was just disappointed to miss the cut in Phoenix because I felt like I just needed to keep playing,” said Lewis. “Kind of seeing this whole thing as a process. You know, I think that’s its best I’ve ever played on that golf course at Kia, so I was pretty excited with the result from last week.”
Lewis, who is playing in her 12th ANA Inspiration this week, has done historically well in Rancho Mirage. She has five top-five finishes, including a win in 2011, and has never missed the cut. The 34-year-old said she enjoys every aspect of this event. “I love playing in the desert and just the history of this tournament,” said Lewis. “Just coming in with good vibes, seeing all girls jump in the pond the last – gosh, I don’t know how many years we’ve been jumping in the pond now. It’s my favorite tradition we have.”
The 12-time LPGA Tour winner has been adjusting to a new life since giving birth, but she is ready to be back in the winner’s circle. “Expectations two week ago were to make the cut. Now it’s to be in contention come Sunday,” said Lewis “With the way the game is, I feel like I’m rolling it really good. I just honestly want to start tomorrow, to be honest. Just want to get playing.”
Lewis will start the first round on Thursday at 8:03 a.m. off No. 1 alongside Minjee Lee.
MINJEE LEE EXCITED TO PLAY IN LPGA’S FIRST MAJOR
Rolex Rankings No. 3 Minjee Lee enters the first major of the 2019 season with more maturity and experience, two assets to which she owes her early season success. With six starts preceding the ANA Inspiration, including back-to-back runner-up finishes at the Honda LPGA Thailand and the HSBC Women’s World Championship, Lee’s steadfast consistency is sure to come into play this week at Mission Hills Golf Club.
“I’m definitely pretty excited to be here,” said Lee, who is making her sixth ANA Inspiration start. “It’s the first major of the year. I think for myself I think of it as another event. I’m just coming to play my best and just try and go out there and have some fun.”
With a win at the LPGA Volvik Championship, 13 top-10s and winning the prestigiousGreg Norman Medal, given to the best male or female player in Australia, 2018 was a great year for the 22-year old LPGA Tour champion. That said, despite those accolades, Lee still gets star-struck when given the opportunity to play alongside her role model and the 41-time LPGA Tour winner from Australia, Karrie Webb.
“If I’m playing with Webby, I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m playing with Webby. Can you believe it? I’ve watched her on TV,’ and being able to go do the U.S. Opens with her and watch her play, it’s just really cool,” said Lee.
Lee will tee off the first round on Thursday at 8:03 a.m. off No. 1 with Stacy Lewis.
NOTABLE FIRST-ROUND GROUPINGS
Defending ANA Inspiration champion Pernilla Lindberg will tee off at 8:27 a.m. off No. 1, playing alongside major champion and World No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn
Past ANA Inspiration champions Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko will tee off Round 1 at 8:19 a.m. off the first tee
Major champion Michelle Wie will make her 2019 U.S. debut playing alongside 2017 ANA Inspiration champion So Yeon Ryu at 1:27 p.m. off No. 10
ALL NIPPON AIRWAYS INKS IN SPONSORSHIP EXTENSION OF ANA INSPIRATION
LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan enjoyed his “second best day in the LPGA” on Tuesday when he and Yuji Hirako, Chief Executive Officer and President of All Nippon Airways Co. Ltd, formally signed a three-year extension of ANA’s title sponsorship of the LPGA Tour’s first major of the season, the ANA Inspiration.
The duo put pen to paper in a brief signing ceremony conducted in the spectacular surrounds of The Edge Steakhouse at The Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage, with stunning views below of the Coachella Valley’s desert landscape and in the distance the rugged Santa Rosa Mountains.
All Nippon Airways, Japan’s largest five-star airline, has been title sponsor of the $3 million ANA Inspiration for the past four years and Tuesday’s signing, which took place just two days before the opening round of the tournament’s 2019 edition in Rancho Mirage, confirmed ANA’s desire to commit until at least 2022.
“I’ve been Commissioner of the LPGA for 10 years and if I’m honest the best day of my Commissioner experience was the day that we got ANA to join us here in the desert, not just because we were getting a title sponsor, not just because of what this means to the LPGA, but because your people have such big visions,” Commissioner Whan said as he looked at Hirako, seated to his right. “ANA doesn’t do anything small and we don’t consider this small. This is as big as the LPGA gets.”
Read more from Mark Lamport-Stokes here: http://www.lpga.com/news/2019-ana-inks-sponsorship-extension-of-ana-inspiration
RACE TO THE CME GLOBE UPDATE
Heading into the season’s first major championship and the eighth week of the 2019 Race to the GME Globe, 2019 winner Jin Young Ko holds a narrow lead over fellow 2019 winner Nelly Korda in the standings with 1,332 points and 1,155 points respectively. Rolex Rankings No. 1 Sung Hyun Park is in third with 907 points followed by fellow 2019 winner Eun-Hee Ji with 772 points.
The 2019 season brings a fresh face to the Race to the CME Globe. LPGA Members will accumulate points at each official LPGA Tour event leading up to the CME Group Tour Championship. The top 60 points earners and ties will then earn a spot in the CME Group Tour Championship, with the entire field competing for the $5 million purse and the $1.5 million winner’s check, the largest single prize in the history of women’s golf.
TOURNAMENT SCORING RECORDS
18 holes: 62 (-10) Lorena Ochoa, first round, 2006
36 holes: 132 (-12), Pernilla Lindberg, 2018; Sung Hyun Park, 2018
54 holes: 202 (-14), Pernilla Lindberg, 2018
72 holes: 269 (-19), Dottie Pepper, 1999
No. 11, par 5
SOCIAL MEDIA – #DriveOn
Tournament: @ANAinspiration; #ANAinspiration, #InspirationStartsHere
LPGA: @LPGA, @LPGAMedia (Twitter), @lpga_tour (Instagram)
TV TIMES (all times Eastern on Golf Channel)
Wednesday, April 3 – Live press conference show 5-6 p.m.; Pro-Am Show 11 p.m.-12 a.m.
Thursday, April 4 – 12-4p.m. and 7-9 p.m.
Friday, April 5 – 12-4p.m. and 7-9 p.m.
Saturday, April 6 – 5-9 p.m.
Sunday, April 7 – 5-9 p.m.
ANA Inspiration Preview via LPGA