The first Major Championship of the year. No, not The Masters but the other one. The LPGA’s Chevron Championship. The tournament formerly known as the ANA Inspiration, Kraft Nabisco, and of course the Dinah Shore. Once the first ball is struck on Thursday, it will signal the beginning of the end. However, with endings come new beginnings
After this week, Mission Hills Country Club will no longer be the host venue (nor will California be the host state for that matter). The proverbial wagons are going to be hitched up in a way similar to the wagons in the television show “1883” and like the new saying – “Head east young lady” -goes, moving forward the tournament will be held in the Houston, Texas area. The reason being, Chevron – the Human Energy company is the new title sponsor. In fact, Chevron says that there is an estimated 8,000 employees that live in the Greater Houston.
On one hand, I understand the reason for the move. Moving to the Houston area may allow for a certain synergy to form between the LPGA and Chevron’s employees. A move which may pay further dividends in increased exposure for the LPGA. But, on the flip side of the coin I don’t quite understand the move because Chevron Corporation is actually headquartered in San Ramon, California. Being the “over-analyzer” that I am (I always did poorly on “True and False” quizzes) I think about it further.
Seeing that Chevron is increasing the prize fund for the 2022 championship to $5 million, you’d move the event to Tuktoyaktok, Northwest Territories (Canada) if they told you to. The increased amount of the purse is an increase of more than 60 percent which is amazing for the players.
The first major of the year has been held at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California since it’s inception in 1972. Fifty years, and I only know this because I was born in the same year. Fifty years is a long time and along the way we’ve seen some incredible moments on Sunday over the last five decades. But, all of them pale in comparison compared to “The Leap”. The leap into “Poppie’s Pond”. Thank you Amy Alcott for giving us and this tournament a tradition. The leap into “Poppies Pond” has become a tradition for a tour that’s notoriously thin and practically void of any traditions. Meanwhile, the PGA TOUR has so many that they could actually lend a couple. The PGA TOUR has jackets to spare. Green ones, plaid ones, and a red cardigan to name a few.
So, how’d we get this annual snapshot in time? The winner in 1988 (Amy Alcott) was the first winner to have jumped into “Champion’s Lake”. Alcott initially did so to celebrate her second victory at the (then titled) Nabisco Dinah Shore. While the splashdown wasn’t immediately embraced, it would be six years later. Leaping into “Poppies Pond” became the tradition that it is in 1994 when victor Donna Andrews claimed victory there. The rest as they say is, history.
2022 has been an exciting year thus far on the LPGA. We’ve seen splendid golf from the likes of Danielle Kang and World #1 Jin Young Ko. Canada’s Brooke Henderson has been nothing short of steady as she currently sits in third for the “Race to the CME Globe”. The LPGA has also seen three first-time winners in 2022 as Leona Maguire, Nanna Koerstz Madsen, and last week’s winner Atthaya Thitkul have all captured their maiden victories. So, it seems like nearly anyone in the field could win this week.
The 2022 Chevron Championship features 40 of the top 50 players in the world. Missing from the field are notables #2 Nelly Korda and #12 Hyo-Joo Kim. The defending champion, Patty Tavantanakit (aka Patty T), claimed her first career victory at Mission Hills and she is trending the right way. Lydia Ko is there too, the winner of the 2022 Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio.
The list usual suspects that could win is as long as a laundry list. So how about some “Dark Horse” favourites? I don’t think Lizette Salas could be considered in this category as she’s ranked #23. Could you look at one of the Jutanagarn sister’s to win? You could, but I’m not sure that being ranked #33 and #40 respectively qualifies as a “dark horse” either.
Canada’s Maude-Aimee LeBlanc (ranked #136) is a name that I look at to change her life this week. The 33-year old product of Purdue Universtiy is a native of Sherbrooke, Quebec and Purdue University. Leblanc retired from professional golf in 2019 after a dissatisfying season on the Epson Tour. Leblanc has cited the pandemic as being a blessing in disguise as it gave her a chance to become inspired in golf once again. Ever since, Leblanc gained full-status on the LPGA and in 2022 she’s had two Top 10 finishes including last week’s career best 4th place finish at the JTBC Classic presented by Barbasol in Carlsbad, California. Golf is a funny game because a couple of week’s earlier she missed the cut on the Epson Tour’s stop at the Carlisle Arizona Women’s Charity Classic.
Until The Next Tee!!