The first of the five women’s major championships, the ANA Inspiration, gets underway at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, this week where the world’s leading women golfers will compete for a share in the US$2.7 million purse. First played in 1972 when known as the Colgate Dinah Shore, the event became a major championship in 1983 and has been known as both the Nabisco Dinah Shore and the Kraft Nabisco Championship before its most recent name change to the ANA Inspiration in 2015.
World No.1, New Zealander Lydia Ko, will defend the title she won in dramatic fashion 12 months ago, when she birdied the 72nd hole to get to 12-under par and finish one shot ahead of Charley Hull and In Gee Chun for her second consecutive win and second consecutive major championship. Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn looked prime to capture her first career win but bogeyed her final three holes to finish fourth at 10-under par. Many worried that the disappointment of losing the tournament in such dramatic fashion may be the end of the impressive youngster, however the 21-year-old year old showed her class and mental strength by bouncing back to win five events in 2016, including her first major championship at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Woburn. The world No.2 has started solidly in 2017 and for the first time could capture the coveted world number one title with a win, if Ko finishes fifth or worse.
Ko, meanwhile, has made a bucket full of changes in the off-season, including firing both her coach David Leadbetter and caddie Jason Hamilton, and last week as defending champion at the Kia Classic the youngster went on to miss just the second cut in her illustrious career.
While Ko’s missed cut last week was certainly a shock to many, the young Kiwi has mental toughness in bucket-loads and the fact that she already has three top ten finishes in 2017 would indicate that the swing changes that she made in the off-season have bedded in well. Write off Lydia Ko at your peril! Other recent winners of the event, aside from Ko, are Brittany Lincicome (twice), Lexi Thompson, Inbee Park, Sun Young Yoo and Stacy Lewis.
Korean So Yeon Ryu leads the money list in 2017 after two runner-up finishes and two other top 10s from four starts, but despite her amazing consistency has not found herself in the winner’s circle since her win at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in 2014. The South Korean, a former US Women’s Open winner, has finished runner-up in this event previously and appears a likely challenger to the two top ranked players, as is compatriot and also former US Open Champion In Gee Chun who has three top ten finishes from four starts so far in 2017.
Another player to watch this week is Swede Anna Nordqvist, winner of the Bank of Hope Founders Cup two weeks ago, in Phoenix. The 29-year-old is swinging the club as well as ever and will be determined to capture another major championship after her devastating loss to Brittany Lang at last year’s US Women’s Open.
Other LET members to watch include the 2016 Order of Merit winner and Players’ Player of the Year, Beth Allen, who is playing at home in her native California, as well as the 2016 Rookie of the Year Aditi Ashok, who both won twice on the LET last season.
They are joined by Carlota Ciganda, Jodi Ewart-Shadoff, Shanshan Feng, Sandra Gal, Caroline Hedwall, Charley Hull, Karine Icher, Pernilla Lindberg, Caroline Masson, Catriona Matthew, Azahara Munoz, Lee-Anne Pace, Suzann Pettersen and Mel Reid, the recent Oates Vic Open winner in Australia.