HUGE COMFORT FACTOR FOR IN-FORM INBEE PARK HEADING INTO FIRST MAJOR OF THE YEAR
The stars could hardly be aligned any better for Rolex Rankings No. 6 Inbee Park as she heads into this week's ANA Inspiration in pursuit of her eighth major championship title. The Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club is one of her favorite venues on the LPGA Tour, and she has a stellar record of success here to prove it. Park has recorded six top-10 finishes in 12 starts at Mission Hills, including a victory in 2013 and a playoff loss to Pernilla Lindberg last year.
Add to that comfort factor a runner-up finish for Park in last week's Kia Classic and it is no surprise that the LPGA Hall of Fame member is one of the hot favorites going into the first major championship of the year.
"This golf course has great champions, it has great history," Park said during a press conference on Wednesday before teeing off in the ANA Inspiration Pro-Am competition. "It has a very special ceremony for the winners. It's just really very memorable. It's definitely one of my favorite stops on tour. You just come to the golf course and you really know the golf course. You're really used to the atmosphere and the venue. You just get comfortable.
"I have had a lot of good results here and that always helps. When the roughs are up here and the greens are firm and the greens are really, really pure, it's a really fun golf course to play. I always love to putt on the pure greens."
Park, a 19-time champion on the LPGA Tour, was edged out by Swede Lindberg in a marathon playoff for the 2018 ANA Inspiration that required eight holes and spilled over into Monday. Asked if that loss made her even hungrier to win at Mission Hills this year, she replied: "I knew that I came so close last year. I kind of know that I can pull off something really good on this golf course. This definitely gives me a lot of confidence going into this year as well. Being so close last year you're kind of thinking like, 'Oh, maybe.' If I can do it this year, that will be even better.
"I feel really good actually. I was in contention last week, which is what I'm really looking forward to doing. Doesn't matter whether I win or not. If I can have that kind of opportunity on the weekend every week, that'll be just really great. Whether I can pull it off, not pulling it off, you just play under the pressure and you play for the trophy. That's what you want every weekend."
Park will start the first round Thursday alongside Nelly Korda at 1:19 p.m. off the 10th tee.
NELLY KORDA AIMS TO STAY CONSISTENT
Despite being only 20 years old, this is not Nelly Korda’s first rodeo at the ANA Inspiration. It is the fifth time the Rolex Rankings No. 8 player is starting in the event, including two starts as an amateur. Her best finish came in 2018, where she tied for 13th at 10-under 278.
Korda said participating in the tournament as an amateur prepared her for her time as a professional, in part with some help from older sister Jessica Korda. “Experience is everything. I was really lucky because Jess was out here and I kind of like knew all the girls. So really fitting in was already a given to me because I knew so many of the girls, so I was never really too intimidated by them,” said Korda. “Playing as an amateur really helped a lot comfort-wise.”
Nelly and Jessica most recently tied for second at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, finishing at 21-under 267. Jessica, who said following Founders Cup how grateful she was to be back after suffering a forearm injury, has a close relationship on and off the course with her sister. Nelly said she enjoys playing alongside Jessica, but they both realize they are going for the same goal when it counts. “We don't talk about how we push each other, but obviously we want to beat each other as well at the end of the day and that pushes us,” said Nelly. “It's very healthy. When I'm struggling she's right there and vice versa.”
The younger Korda sister is rolling into the 2019 ANA Inspiration with the consistency of a veteran, which has been one of her goals for this season. Every result in 2019 has resulted in a top-10 finish or higher, including a win at ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. But preparing for the first major means a lot more to Korda, especially with the possibility of jumping into Poppie’s Pond. “It's really cool,” said Korda. “I've always as a little girl watched this tournament, and I've always been so inspired by all the past winners. The history is so rich here.”
Nelly Korda will start the first round Thursday alongside Inbee Park at 1:19 p.m. off the 10th tee.
CONFIDENCE IS KEY FOR SO YEON RYU
As a 14-year old in the Republic of Korea, So Yeon Ryu remembers watching her idol Grace Park on TV as she made the famed leap into Poppie’s Pond and hoisted the Dinah Shore Trophy. Ever since that moment, Ryu had set her sights on following in Park’s footsteps and at the 2017 ANA Inspiration, her dream became a reality.
“I always dream about like one day I'm going to jumping into the Poppie's Pond and then one day I want to see my name on the bridge,” Ryu said on Wednesday in Rancho Mirage. “And then just dreams came true. Every time when I come here I just feel so blessed and then so motivated to keep playing well and well. I am looking forward to have more of my name on the bridge.”
Ryu, a six-time LPGA winner, shared on Wednesday that she is playing a lighter LPGA schedule in 2019 in order to keep herself fresh and rested, and estimates she’ll play 21 of the 32 tournaments this season. This week, the 28-year-old is making her fourth start of the 2019 season and is searching for her first top-25 finish.
“The one thing I realize was I think I really need to have back my confidence,” Ryu said. “I knew my swing wasn't really great in Asia, and that one really made me just losing the confidence. Then I just kept talking myself to like, You're not ready, you're not ready, instead of, You're going to be ready soon, you're going to be ready soon. Right now I just have a different mindset. Like no matter what, I know you're great player and just trust yourself and just enjoy this game and think about the one ball at a time instead of the whole picture. I really try to be positive at this moment.”
Ryu will start the first round on Thursday at 1:27 p.m. off No. 10 alongside Michelle Wie.
LEWIS’ GAME ROLLING BACK INTO SHAPE IN TIME FOR SEASON’S FIRST MAJOR
Stacy Lewis has taken her time to get back in the swing of things since having her baby girl, Chesnee, last October. She played the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, then sat out on the Asia and Australia swing. Upon her return to play in the States, Lewis missed the cut at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but found her stride last week at the Kia Classic where she shot a final round 67 to place 12th at -13.
“I was just disappointed to miss the cut in Phoenix because I felt like I just needed to keep playing,” said Lewis. “Kind of seeing this whole thing as a process. You know, I think that's its best I've ever played on that golf course at Kia, so I was pretty excited with the result from last week.”
Lewis, who is playing in her 12th ANA Inspiration this week, has done historically well in Rancho Mirage. She has five top-five finishes, including a win in 2011, and has never missed the cut. The 34-year-old said she enjoys every aspect of this event. “I love playing in the desert and just the history of this tournament,” said Lewis. “Just coming in with good vibes, seeing all girls jump in the pond the last - gosh, I don't know how many years we've been jumping in the pond now. It's my favorite tradition we have.”
The 12-time LPGA Tour winner has been adjusting to a new life since giving birth, but she is ready to be back in the winner’s circle. “Expectations two week ago were to make the cut. Now it's to be in contention come Sunday,” said Lewis “With the way the game is, I feel like I'm rolling it really good. I just honestly want to start tomorrow, to be honest. Just want to get playing.”
Lewis will start the first round on Thursday at 8:03 a.m. off No. 1 alongside Minjee Lee.
MINJEE LEE EXCITED TO PLAY IN LPGA’S FIRST MAJOR
Rolex Rankings No. 3 Minjee Lee enters the first major of the 2019 season with more maturity and experience, two assets to which she owes her early season success. With six starts preceding the ANA Inspiration, including back-to-back runner-up finishes at the Honda LPGA Thailand and the HSBC Women’s World Championship, Lee’s steadfast consistency is sure to come into play this week at Mission Hills Golf Club.
“I’m definitely pretty excited to be here,” said Lee, who is making her sixth ANA Inspiration start. “It's the first major of the year. I think for myself I think of it as another event. I'm just coming to play my best and just try and go out there and have some fun.”
With a win at the LPGA Volvik Championship, 13 top-10s and winning the prestigious Greg Norman Medal, given to the best male or female player in Australia, 2018 was a great year for the 22-year old LPGA Tour champion. That said, despite those accolades, Lee still gets star-struck when given the opportunity to play alongside her role model and the 41-time LPGA Tour winner from Australia, Karrie Webb.
“If I'm playing with Webby, I'm like, ‘Oh, I'm playing with Webby. Can you believe it? I've watched her on TV,’ and being able to go do the U.S. Opens with her and watch her play, it's just really cool,” said Lee.
Lee will tee off the first round on Thursday at 8:03 a.m. off No. 1 with Stacy Lewis.
GREG MIEURE AND SEAN CHUCKAS NOMINATED FOR AXA LPGA VOLUNTEER SERVICE AWARD
The AXA LPGA Volunteer Service Award is a program launched in 2018 to recognize exemplary volunteers at each LPGA tournament. This week’s award recipients are Greg Mieure and Sean Chuckas, who have been the official Chairmen for the Product Distribution Committee at the ANA Inspiration since 2015.
For more information on the AXA LPGA Volunteer Service Award, visit: http://www.lpga.com/tournaments/axa-lpga-volunteer-service-award