LPGA Rookies Take in the ANA Inspiration
The ANA Inspiration is one of the most difficult events of the year to play your way into without status from the previous season. Players had seven events to climb into the top 80 on the current season money list. Rookies had it particularly rough, with difficulty qualifying into the opening East-Asian swing due to the limited field sizes.
Kristen Gillman, Sarah Schmelzel, Lauren Stephenson, and Linnea Strom all managed to fight into the top 80 on the money list this season to get to Rancho Mirage, and then forged through the tough conditions at the Dinah Shore Course to play into the weekend. Fellow rookie Jeongeun Lee6 also made the cut, having status into the field from her T16 finish at last years ANA Inspiration.
Gillman has the most major experience of the group, having made her first appearance as an amateur in 2014 at the Evian Championship. She has five majors under her belt, with her last a T27 finish at the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open.
She put extra pressure on herself to make it into her first appearance in Rancho Mirage. She has enjoyed the start of her rookie season, but knows the importance of the ANA Inspiration, “Testing your game against the best players, it’s nice at a major because as a kid, you always dream about the majors and jumping into Poppie’s Pond.” She sits at T37 at (+2).
Schmelzel has never appeared in a major, and no LPGA events under her belt as an amateur coming into the season. “It’s been a whirlwind just trying to get your feet under you,” Schmelzel explained. “I think it’s easy to let that thought get away from you think that it’s just another tournament.”
While not finding the performance she was looking for in the third round, Schmelzel’s kept her week in perspective. “It gives me a good idea of what I need to work on for the next major.”
Stephenson finished T8 at her first LPGA event at the ISPS Handa Vic Open, propelling her to the field of golf’s first major. She has enjoyed the challenge the first major of her career, amateur or professional, offers. “It almost takes the pressure off a little bit because you don’t feel like you have to hit 10 birdies.”
She has a long-term view on her performance this week, knowing that the ANA Inspiration has remained at the same course since its inception in 1972. “I’m hoping to keep learning the course as we come here each year.”
Stephenson and Strom are pacing the group at T31, sitting at (+1) with one round to go.
Strom had played in one major as an amateur before turning professional, missing the cut at the 2015 RICOH Women’s British Open. The difficult conditions offered by the Dinah Shore Course have been an adjustment for Strom, “You have to think for every shot, you don’t go up and just hit it. It’s more strategy and focus in everything you do.”
While speaking only for herself, Strom highlighted the most important lesson for the group to take away from the week. “The more tournaments I play, the more I get used to being around all the best players, and more I believe in myself a little bit more every day.”
After completing 18 more holes in Rancho Mirage, all four players are in the field at the LOTTE Championship, looking to believe in themselves a little bit more each time out.