The LPGA’s first Major, March 27 – April 2 at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, CA. #ANAinspiration
For going on half a century now, the ANA Inspiration has been the LPGA Tour’s signature event, the tournament that symbolized the organization to America’s sporting public, golf fans and non-golf fans alike.
It hasn’t always been known as the ANA Inspiration of course. For virtually its entire history it was named for entertainer Dinah Shore before being known as the Kraft Nabisco Championship. The event became the ANA Inspiration two years ago but even today it is known among the players as ‘the Dinah.’
The tournament got its start in 1972 as the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle. It attracted attention immediately because Colgate-Palmolive put its considerable influence behind the tournament and put up a purse of $110,000 for the field to play for at a time when the average purse for the other 29 events on the LPGA’s schedule that year was $30,290!
Shore leant her name to the event because she thought at first it was a tennis tournament but she went on to become one of the LPGA’s most visible and enthusiastic advocates.
While the tournament didn’t become a major championship until 1983, it immediately became the signature event on the schedule. Today it is the first major championship on the golfing calendar each year and has drawn comparisons to the Masters because of the reduced size of the field (108 players this year and the fact that it is played at the same venue each year, Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California.
The 46th edition of the tournament gets underway on Thursday. Lydia Ko arrives at Mission Hills as the defending champion; she birdied the 72nd hole a year ago to finish one shot in front of Charley Hull and in Gee Chun. Ariya Jutanugarn bogeyed her last three holes to finish fourth, two shots off the pace.
The victory made Ko, who was 18 years, 11 months, and 9 days old at the time, the second-youngest player, male or female, to win two professional major titles. Only Young Tom Morris achieved that feat at a younger age.
Ko missed the cut last week at the Kia Classic and admits there is pressure that comes with holding down the number-one position in the world rankings, something she’s done now for 75 consecutive weeks; since October of 2015.
“There is a pressure because you’re the No. 1 ranked player,” she says, “(and the belief) you should play awesome week-in and week-out, try and win every week. If that was the case, I would love it.’ But you know if you did it second every week, I think you’d probably be the No. 1 ranked player anyway.
“I think the big thing is that it’s more about consistency and how many times you can put yourself in contention, and then sometimes being able to pull it off. I think being in this position, you know, there’s been a lot of cool things and positive things that have happened.
This week, Ko will be trying to become just the second player in history to successfully defend her title in this event. The first was Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam who won back-to-back titles in 2001-02.
Ko is one of nine past champions in the field. Three of the nine have won this tournament twice; Juli Inkster in 1984 and ’89, Karrie Webb in 2000 and 2006, and Brittany Lincicome in 2013 and ’15. Four other players, all retired, have won this championship more than once. Sorenstam, Amy Alcott, and Betsy King have won it three times each while Dottie Pepper has won it twice.
In addition to the nine past champions, this week’s field features the 80 players in the world including all six of this season’s tournament winners.
Stacy Lewis won this tournament in 2011 but hasn’t won anywhere since June of 2014. But she’s comfortable with where her game is heading into the week. “it’s been a really good start to the year,” she said. “I had two kind of close calls already and played some really solid golf. It’s nice to sit here feel like I’m playing well and not searching for my golf swing and not trying to make things better.
“Now it’s just about playing the golf course and shoring up some little things. It’s not looking for a golf swing or a putting stroke. I feel like everything’s there and I’m really excited because this is one of my favorite courses we play all year.”