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From past to present, Poppie’s Pond awaits amidst pandemic at 2020 ANA Inspiration

Complete preview of the 2020 ANA Inspiration

It’s time for the legendary winner’s leap into Poppie’s Pond. This week marks the return of major championship golf to Mission Hills Country Club with the 49th playing of the ANA Inspiration.

The 104-player field, including 17 players in the top 25 of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, will compete for a $3.1 million purse and the chance to hoist the Dinah Shore Trophy. The tournament was delayed from its traditional late April week due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seven past ANA Inspiration champions are competing this week: Lydia Ko (2016), Stacy Lewis (2011), Brittany Lincicome (2009, 2015), Pernilla Lindberg (2018), Inbee Park (2013), Morgan Pressel (2007) and Lexi Thompson (2014). Defending champion Jin Young Ko is not in this week’s field, as she has remained in Korea due to the coronavirus pandemic.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE ANA INSPIRATION

·        This is the 49th 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 27 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 2020 tournament purse was raised to $3.1 million, up from $3 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.

JIN YOUNG KO SENDS BEST WISHES TO 2020 ANA INSPIRATION FIELD

2019 ANA Inspiration champion Jin Young Ko will not defend her title this week at Mission Hills Country Club, opting to remain home in the Republic of Korea due to travel concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The ANA Inspiration will be forever dear to me as my very first LPGA major championship. Choosing to skip this year’s ANA was one of the most difficult decisions of my entire life. All year I had been looking forward to reliving so many special memories at Rancho Mirage and the opportunity to jump into Poppie’s Pond again,” said Ko. “Although I sadly will not be able to participate this year, I am encouraged by the successful tour restart and all the positive steps the LPGA is taking to make it as safe as possible. I want to thank the LPGA and all our tour sponsors, including ANA, for continuing to provide opportunities for players amidst this unprecedented crisis and look forward to getting back in the fray when international travel is deemed safe once again."

Ko has not teed it up on the LPGA Tour in 2020, last competing at the 2019 CME Group Tour Championship. She has played in three KLPGA Tour events over recent weeks, with a best finish of sixth at the Korea Women’s Open.

WORLD NO. 4 SUNG HYUN PARK MAKES RETURN TO LPGA TOUR

It’s major week in Rancho Mirage, and one player is using this week as her grand return to the LPGA Tour. Rolex Rankings No. 4 Sung Hyun Park is teeing it up for the first time on the LPGA Tour since the 2019 CME Group Tour Championship, where she withdrew due to a lingering shoulder injury. She used the break from playing as the perfect opportunity to let her shoulder recover, which she said is now fully healed.

“It's really been a while since I've been on the LPGA Tour. I think I'm more nervous than excited to be back. It's been a while since I've been in a competitive environment, and I've got to keep that in mind playing while the four rounds this week,” said Park, who played only one competitive event on the KLPGA Tour as well as a charity skins game against World No. 1 Jin Young Ko during the Tour’s hiatus.

Park’s gotten in her practice at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course, and said she drank about seven or eight water bottles while playing 18 holes. As temperatures get over 100 degrees, she knows what challenges lay ahead of her. But the major champion isn’t trying to put too much pressure on herself in her 2020 debut.

“I don't hope to place too well in the first few tournaments of this year. I just hope to kind of get some momentum and play well in a competitive environment,” said Park. “There aren't that many tournaments this year, but I do hope to win at some point and finish the year on a high note.”

AUSTIN ERNST TAKES TIME TO CELEBRATE, GRADUALLY SHIFT FOCUS TO MAJOR AFTER WIN
After earning her second career LPGA Tour win on Aug. 30 at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, Austin Ernst headed into a week off from competition. It was a time for celebration with family and friends, instead of transitioning to the next stop on the schedule.

The time away was undoubtedly refreshing and allowed for a gradual shift in focus.
 
“There wasn’t a lot of time for reflection, it was more getting to enjoy the win which was nice,” said Ernst, who captured the Walmart title at -20. “Now I can focus on this week. It was great to get the week off to actually celebrate the win and not feel like I have to immediately prepare for an event.”
 
As she prepares for her ninth start in the ANA Inspiration, Ernst enters with a boatload of confidence. It started to build thanks to a fifth-place finish at the AIG Women’s Open, her second career top-10 result in 36 major tournament appearances. It continued to blossom as she worked her way into the winner’s circle just nine days ago at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Ark.
 
Even with the surge in confidence, Ernst knows her performance this week, and in majors particularly, comes down to consistency in one area: putting.
 
“I’m trying to put myself in position to have a chance to win every week,” said Ernst, who secured her best finish at the ANA Inspiration of T14 in 2017. “That’s my next step to contend in majors and hopefully get a major championship. Lag putting is going to be really important. You’re going to have a lot more putts in the 30- to 40-foot range than usual weeks with how long the course is playing right now. Then in majors, putting inside of 6-10 feet is huge. I’m still very aggressive and I’ve played this course a lot, so I know where to leave it.”

NASA HATAOKA ISN’T IN SCOTLAND ANYMORE

From temperatures in the low 60s with winds blowing at 10-20 mph in Scotland to highs of 118 degrees with hazy skies in California, three-time LPGA Tour winner Nasa Hataoka could immediately feel the climate difference when she arrived in Rancho Mirage.

“The weather is obviously the most surprising thing this week,” said Hataoka. “When I landed at the airport, it was incredibly hot.”

In terms of her game, Hataoka changed up her plan of attack after the two weeks in Scotland. “It was a long break after the three tournaments starting in Scotland, and I found some things that I need to work on,” said the Japanese star, who was the LPGA Tour’s youngest winner in 2019. “Mainly my short game, especially after playing under the windy conditions in Scotland. I thought I needed some work on getting up and down on a lot of shots.”

Wind could be a factor this week in the Desert, but the main storyline will undoubtedly be the heat. With temperatures expected climb well above 100, caddies have the option to drive a cart instead of toting a heavy bag all 18 holes. Hataoka’s caddie Greg Johnston does not plan to use a cart, but his boss hopes he’ll at least keep his mind open.

“A sun umbrella and using an ice bag and trying to stay away from the sun as much as possible,” said Hataoka of her plan to beat the heat. “My caddie says he'll carry the bag instead of using the cart, but I might have to convince him to think otherwise.”

NELLY KORDA SAYS SHE JUST NEEDS A PLAN

Three-time LPGA Tour winner Nelly Korda comes to Mission Hills Country Club riding the high of a season-best tie for third at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. After spending the first few tournaments sorting out equipment changes, the third-ranked player in the Rolex Rankings finally feels like her game is coming to a comfortable point as she approaches this week’s major competition.

“I've been kind of lost at the beginning of the season,” said Korda. “Then finally at (the AIG Women’s Open), I laid out a plan, and it started to work. It's kind of kept me calmer out there as well.”

This week, Korda will look to her past to help layout a successful game plan, especially given the extreme heat that blankets the Coachella Valley each September. Korda is competing in her sixth ANA Inspiration, but it’s her August week at Mission Hills during the first stage of 2015 LPGA Q School that will provide her best direction for surviving the elements.

“I remember when I was here during Q-school, and it's kind of rough around this time of year, especially in the desert, but they've done a really good job this year,” said Korda, whose best ANA finish is a tie for 13th in 281. “The greens are really pure, and the rough is really thick around the greens.”

PAST CHAMPION KO SET FOR RETURN TO A LAND OF HAPPY MEMORIES
There’s plenty of physical changes on the grounds of the Dinah Shore Tournament Course. However, when she arrived at Mission Hills Country Club, they still couldn’t alter the “good memories” that Lydia Ko has from winning the 2016 ANA Inspiration.

“The course is definitely different just being at this time of the year,” said Ko, a 15-time LPGA champion. “The grass is different from what we normally play. Most of it is Bermuda right now, which is closer to the grass I practice on in Florida. It’s cool to be part of the history here and always nice to come back to a place where you’ve played well. It draws back a lot of good memories.”

Ko will have Jason Hamilton on the bag this week in Rancho Mirage, Calif., which only adds to memories for Ko in Riverside County. Hamilton was Ko’s caddy when she won the major title and took the leap into Poppie’s Pond in 2016. She credits much of the victory to guidance Hamilton provided down the stretch.

“Going down the last hole, I didn’t really know what I needed to do, but Jason pulled me aside and said we can lay up and make a birdie,” Ko said. “I thought I need to make eagle, so it’s something I thank him for, even to this day. You see so many people jump into Poppie’s Pond in many different ways and when I knew it was my turn there’s so many emotions. He and I were just talking about it all yesterday and he said I holed a lot of good par putts down the whole back nine. Those opportunities gave me the final opportunity on the last hole. It was a very memorable day.”
 

ANA INSPIRATION BRINGS STARS TO DESERT FOR MAJOR CHAMPIONSHIP

The iconic statue of Dinah Shore that greets players with a smile and a wave at the 18th green of the Tournament Course at Mission Hills this year should also feature shorts and a mask. The ANA Inspiration, usually golf’s first major, was pushed by COVID-19 from the gentle days of early spring to the triple-digit heat of late summer where eight of the top-10 in the Rolex Rankings will vie for the coveted LPGA title.

When Shore, with her Hollywood connections, and Colgate-Palmolive president David Foster, with his financial firepower, created the tournament in 1972 it gave an instant boost to women’s golf. Dinah called on celebrity friends like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope to play in the pro-am and instantly tens of thousands of spectators lined the fairways.

A lot will be different about the 49th edition of the ANA Inspiration. There will be no pro-am; no spectators; no grandstands and no Jin Young Ko, the defending champion and No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings. She chose not to engage in the travel protocols required by both South Korea and the United States because of COVID-19.

But what there is will be well worth the wait from March to September. As Dinah might say – the show must go on. And what a show it will be.

For more from Ron Sirak for LPGA.com, visit http://www.lpga.com/news/2020/ana-inspiration-brings-stars-to-desert-for-major

SAFETY FIRST: LPGA MODIFIES CADDIE POLICY FOR ANA INSPIRATION

It will look different, especially for a major. But what else is new in 2020?

In addition to the lack of galleries and grandstands next week at the ANA Inspiration, as well as the absence of more than 100 trees that have been removed from the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club, LPGA officials have announced another policy modification for the week in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

In a memo to players and caddies that went out on Thursday, LPGA Chief Tour Operations Officer Heather Daly-Donofrio wrote: “Projected temperatures next week will range from 105-115 and we are very conscious of the high heat. 2020 has been the year of health and safety, and with that in mind, we will be allowing caddies to take carts for the week.”

The cart rule isn’t mandatory. Some will choose to walk and carry the bag as always. Push carts are also an option for caddies. Players may ride in carts during practice rounds but must walk during tournament rounds.

“We have consulted with our medical team and feel this is the best decision to keep our caddies safe and healthy during this extreme heat,” Daly-Donofrio said.

For more, visit www.lpga.com/news/2020/safety-first-lpga-modifies-caddie-policy-for-ana-inspiration

COVID-19 UPDATE
Nearly the entire 105-player field at the ANA Inspiration has completed pre-tournament COVID-19 testing as only one player and one caddie are still awaiting test results. Of the group that has received their results, there was one positive.

LPGA Tour Member Charley Hull tested positive for COVID-19 and has withdrawn from this week’s event. Hull has self-isolated and is working with Tour and local health officials on contact tracing.

“As part of the LPGA Tour’s COVID-19 testing process, I was informed this morning that I tested positive for COVID-19 and I have withdrawn from the ANA Inspiration,” said Hull. “I didn’t feel great yesterday but I put it down to jet lag, the heat and my asthma playing up. I now realize I have some mild symptoms which feel similar to having a cold and I am self-isolating and working with Tour on contact tracing. I am very disappointed to have to withdraw from what is one of my favorite events of the year but wish everyone the best of luck at this week’s tournament and look forward to when I can return to playing on Tour.”

Following guidance from the CDC and our medical directors, LPGA protocols will require Hull to quarantine for a minimum of 10 days. After 10 days, she will be reevaluated by the LPGA’s medical team to determine if she is cleared to return to competition.

SOCIAL MEDIA: #DRIVEON

Tournament: @ANAinspiration; #ANAinspiration, #InspirationStartsHere

LPGA: @LPGA, @LPGAMedia (Twitter), @lpga_tour (Instagram)

TV TIMES (all times Eastern on Golf Channel)

Wednesday, Sept. 9 – 7-9 p.m. (ANA Inspiration Charity Skins Match benefiting Eisenhower Health)

Thursday, Sept. 10 – 12-4 p.m., 7-9 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 11 – 12-4 p.m., 7-9 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 12 – 2-6 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 13 – 2-6 p.m.

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

Ana Inspiration / Local Sports Headlines

Blake Arthur

Sports Director Blake Arthur joined the KESQ/CBS Local 2 team in August of 2015. Learn more about Blake here.

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