Rancho Mirage, California
March 31, 2015
NEW INTRO, SAME PERSON
Lexi Thompson took a celebratory leap into Poppie’s Pond – and subsequently golf history - a year ago here at Mission Hills, becoming the second youngest major champion in LPGA Tour history. The achievement changed the way Thompson is announced on the first tee, adding major champion to her intro. It also meant she had added plans to her tournament agenda this year with an invitation to the champion’s dinner on Monday, but largely she remains unchanged, she says.
“I’m still the same person, but winning the ANA Inspiration has given me so much confidence,” Thompson said. “Just even coming back to the tournament I remember the shots I hit every day, and it brings back so many great memories. But going into every tournament, I go in with extra confidence now knowing I’ve won this one.”
While Thompson says she’s the same as last year, this championship has evolved. The 2015 edition comes with a new name – the ANA Inspiration – but the history of this championship remains the same. The winner on Sunday will still jump into Poppie’s Pond and will be donned with the iconic white robe on the 18th green Sunday.
“This tournament has so many traditions. Whether it’s jumping into Poppie’s Pond, putting that robe on after you jump into the pond, there are so many traditions and so much history behind this tournament,” Thompson said. “I think that’s what makes this tournament so special and inspirational is that. But just the past champions that have won it, like I said, have been huge role models to me. I’ve always looked up to them. It was very important to keep this tradition going at this tournament here at Mission Hills. We’re very grateful for ANA coming in and picking up the tournament and keeping that tradition going.”
Annika Sorenstam is the only player to defend at this championship (2001-2002), but Thompson feels like her game is in a place to potentially do so this week. She finished in a tie for 10th last week at the Kia Classic and feels like if she’s in contention on Sunday that she’ll be more comfortable there after last year’s final-round triumph.
“It’s something I really learned when I first turned professional, and I struggled a few Sundays when I had the lead or was close to it. I just got really quick and just everything, my routine was quick. I didn’t really focus on that, and that’s huge,” Thompson said. “It’s important to just slow down everything and take your time, breathe, and just focus on doing your routine before every show.”
RACE FOR THE RAMA STARTS HERE
The second-year of the race for the ANNIKA Rolex Major Award will start this week in the desert. Michelle Wie, the award’s inaugural winner last year, said getting a good start in the points standings is definitely on her mind. Wie was runner-up here last year and won the U.S. Women’s Open to win the award by eight points over Inbee Park.
“It was a really great honor. Just such a prestigious award with Annika’s name on it,” said Wie. “If you think about the past and what she’s done in the majors and how consistently well she’s played and how many majors she’s actually won, it’s amazing that I can win such an award. It was really great, and definitely it’s in the back of my mind for this year, especially this being the first major of the year. It’s definitely something you think about for sure.”
Wie was asked on Tuesday how she ranks certain accomplishments and whether she would win majors or earn other awards. The four-time LPGA Tour winner said she’s at the point in her career where she’ll be happy with a win in any form.
“I’ll take anything (laughing). I’m not picky at all,” said Wie. “For me I think the most important thing is I want to give myself the best chance every week, whether it’s a major or not. There is that added extra pressure that you want to win the majors, especially in tournaments like these which have so much history.”
ROLEX RANKINGS SCENARIOS
The fight at the top of the Rolex Rankings continues this week in the desert with Inbee Park being the only player to have a chance to unseat Lydia Ko at No. 1. Here are the scenarios:
Inbee Park would become No. 1 if:
• She wins AND Lydia Ko finishes in a tie for third or worse.
• She wins AND Ko finishes in a five-way tie for second
• She finishes solo second and Lydia finishes 33rd (not counting any ties) or worse
EMBRACING HER ROLE
For Lexi Thompson, the blessings that professional golf have brought to her life go beyond the money or the fame. It’s beyond being able to travel the world, experiencing different cultures while playing a game she loves. All those are blessings, but the real blessing is the smiles.
“I think the biggest thing that I enjoy the most is just putting a smile on people’s faces that watch me play,” Thompson said. “ I’m a part of the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program now and an ambassador for that. It’s incredible to see how much the game is growing on the women’s side and to see all the little girls growing up in the game at such a young age, it’s amazing to see.
“But just the amount of fans that we get at our tournaments now, it’s incredible. Even on practice rounds we have people out here watching us, and always supporting us and cheering us on between holes. There is nothing like that feeling, getting rooted on by fans. It’s the best.”
Part of the growth of the women’s game is because of players like Thompson. They embrace their role in pushing the game forward and do their part to bring young girls into it. The results speak for themselves in recent years. The LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program has grown from 4,500 participants in 2010 to 50,000 girls that will be introduced to the game in 2015. Thompson, for her part, might sign more autographs than any other player on recent year. And her selfies taken with fans quotas is up there as well.
“I love taking pictures and signing autographs. No matter what I shoot, I stay for every autograph and every picture because the fans took time out of their lives and watched me come out and play bad golf sometimes,” Thompson said.
“So why not take extra time and sign their autographs, take their pictures? It means the world to them. It doesn’t matter what you shoot. You’re a role model to them. So take the time and stay with them, take pictures.”
LET’S GET IT STARTED
ANA officials were on site at the ANA Inspiration on Tuesday to officially kick-off the first major of the year with a traditional Japanese ceremony, a kagami-baraki. LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan and defending champion Lexi Thompson assisted in breaking a barrel of sake open as a symbol of opening to harmony and good fortune. The ceremony signified the new era for the championship with a new sponsor, new journey for ANA together with the LPGA.
“The first time I met ANA I knew we had the right partner, because what they asked me is how can we build on the traditions that already exist?” said Mike Whan. “A lot of partners will ask how do we create new traditions, but few ask how do we build on the traditions that already exist?
“I asked them for two things. No. 1, Dinah Shore, let’s play for the Dinah Shore Trophy, let’s play on the Dinah Shore Championship course, let’s play on Dinah Shore Drive, let’s continue to play with and for Dinah Shore,” Whan added. “That was about a 30-second conversation when they said we completely agree. I knew we were onto something special. The second thing we challenged them with is the robe. We really feel like the robe, just like the leap in Poppie’s Pond has become something truly special. And we wanted the robe to continue to grow just like the tradition of the leap. From there, the ANA executives said we’ve got it. Let us take it from there and take this tradition to a whole new level.”
The ceremony also included the unveiling of the new and improved champions robe. ANA will now use renowned and luxury towel company, the Imabari Towel Company, to annually create the robe which now features blue stripes and new tournament logo. ANA were inspired by the tournament’s sense of history and tradition to produce an upgraded robe ‘fitting for the new champion’ in partnership with the renowned Imabari Towel brand – a Japanese trademark symbol of the highest quality.
“ANA is very excited and humbled to partner this wonderful championship,” said Takashi Shiki, Executive Vice President, Marketing & Sales, CS & Products Services at All Nippon Airways. “To be associated with its unique history and tradition is a true honor for our organization. We respect and value all that this event represents as the leading event in ladies golf worldwide and we hope even more people can be inspired by the golf on display this week.”
INSPIRED BY IT ALL
Twenty-two past champions gathered at the Ritz Carlton in Rancho Mirage on Monday night for the ANA Inspiration Champions Dinner. The collection of Hall of Famers and current stars was a who’s who in women’s golf and the conversation of the night turned to who inspired them to become a champion of this major. Defending champ Lexi Thompson spoke about how fellow winners Nancy Lopez and Juli Inkster have mentored her and motivated her to becoming the player she is today.
“It was a huge honor being there last night,” said Thompson. “Being inducted into the champions club of the tournament is a huge honor. But to be there last night with all the past champions and just to be in a room full of inspirational and role models, I’ve always looked up to Nancy Lopez, especially, and it’s just, it was a special night. I had my mom there to be there with me last night, and it was a dream of mine. Hopefully I’ll get a few more wins here and keep on showing up at a champions dinner.”
SIX MORE YEARS FOR WHAN
The LPGA today announced the contract extension of LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan through 2020. Under Whan’s leadership over the past five years, the LPGA has seen increases and improvements in numerous areas of the business:
• A 50% increase in purse money, up to $60M from $40M increase in official events from 23 to 33
• From 200 hours of TV coverage per year with the majority tape-delayed to 400 hours of coverage with more than 90% live
• Addition of new mega-events: Race to the CME Glove, UL International Crown, Founders Cup, KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, sponsorship of the ANA Inspiration, televised Rolex Awards Celebration, addition/return of locations such as the Bahamas, Hawaii, Naples, NYC, Australia
“I was honored to be asked,” said Whan. “I always say in board meetings I’m proud to be part of this crazy family, because that is what it is. It’s kind of a crazy traveling family. I feel like I’m part of the family, and I feel like we’ve got a long way to go. I’ve said many times I don’t want to be remembered as the team that brought us from 23 to 33 events. That seems incredibly underwhelming and unfulfilling. It just seems there is a lot more we can do. A lot more we have done. I think some of the stuff we’ve done outside of the Tour is just as exciting as what is going on with purses and tournaments. “
KEY NUMBERS TO KNOW
19-under - tournament scoring record held Dottie Pepper in 1999
2001 and 2002 - years that Annika Sorenstam became the only player to defend her title at this event
3 - out of the last four years the winner has been a first-time major winner
62 – low scoring record set by Lorena Ochoa in the first round in 2006
30- Juli Inkster will extend her record of starts made to 30 this week
26 – cuts made by Juli Inkster at this event
11 – Top-10s by Karrie Webb at this event
1 - number of defending champions who have missed the cut (Sun Young Yoo in 2013)
8 – Most top-five finishes by one player here is by Karrie Webb with 8
10 – Largest margin of victory was by Karrie Webb here in 2000
“I’m not a big fan of status quo, so I wouldn’t say any of those five do we want to say we’re there. This event will get bigger and better. I have zero doubt about that. Let’s talk in June how great the first KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is. But knowing both of those partners, they won’t allow ‘16 to be the same as ‘15. I think Evian championship is only going to get better each year knowing how much stuff we’ve changed in the course of that transition. So I don’t worry so much about the financial stability of those events. But I said this in a player meeting in Ocala, I’m not going to leave with our five majors being exactly the same when I leave as they are today. I feel like that’s a commitment any commissioner has to make to his players.” – Mike Whan on the future status of the Tour’s five major championships
“That’s very good. I wish I had that (laughing). I got to play with her last week, and it’s just incredible. Her game is very consistent. There is not a weakness in her game. She’s very straight off the tee, and has a great short game. You can’t ask for anything better than that. But it’s great to play with her because she has a great attitude on the golf course, and probably the best tempo I’ve ever seen on a golf swing or a putting stroke. So it’s good to see what she’s doing. I hope all the best for her.”
– Lexi Thompson on Lydia Ko’s recent streak of 28 consecutive sub-par rounds