The iconic statue of Dinah Shore that greets players with a smile and a wave at the 18th green of the Tournament Course at Mission Hills this year should also feature shorts and a mask. The ANA Inspiration, usually golf’s first major, was pushed by COVID-19 from the gentle days of early spring to the triple-digit heat of late summer where eight of the top-10 in the Rolex Rankings will vie for the coveted LPGA title.
When Shore, with her Hollywood connections, and Colgate-Palmolive president David Foster, with his financial firepower, created the tournament in 1972 it gave an instant boost to women’s golf. Dinah called on celebrity friends like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope to play in the pro-am and instantly tens of thousands of spectators lined the fairways.
A lot will be different about the 49th edition of the ANA Inspiration. There will be no pro-am; no spectators; no grandstands and no Jin Young Ko, the defending champion and No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings. She chose not to engage in the travel protocols required by both South Korea and the United States because of COVID-19.
But what there is will be well worth the wait from March to September. As Dinah might say – the show must go on. And what a show it will be.
After Ko, the next eight in the Rolex Rankings will socially distance in the desert: No. 2 Danielle Kang, No. 3 Nelly Korda, No. 4 Sung Hyun Park, No. 5 Minjee Lee, No 6 Sei Young Kim, No. 7 Nasa Hataoka, No. 8 Inbee Park and No. 9 Brooke Henderson. Like Ko, No. 10 Hyo-Joo Kim chose to remain in South Korea.
Among the traditions of the ANA that survived this turbulent time is honoring top amateurs. In the field of 106 from 22 nations are a half-dozen future stars: China’s Lei Ye, Texan Kaitlyn Papp, Australia’s Gabriela Ruffels, California’s Rose Zhang, Northern Ireland’s Olivia Mehaffey and North Carolina’s Emilia Migliaccio.
An uninvited guest will be the heat and that is going to add to the distinctly different look of the tournament. Caddies won’t wear the traditional white long-pants jumpsuits, sporting bibs instead, and they will be allowed to ride in carts while players must walk during the four competitive rounds.
“Projected temperatures next week will range from 105-115 and we are very conscious of the high heat,” LPGA Chief Tour Operations Officer Heather Daly-Donofrio wrote in a memo to players and caddies. “2020 has been the year of health and safety, and with that in mind, we will be allowing caddies to take carts for the week.”
Caddies may walk if they want and push carts are also allowed. Lindsey Weaver, who pushed her trolley to a T-19 finish in the AIG Women’s Open, will try it again at Mission Hills. “I pushed my own clubs and I've been doing it for four weeks and playing pretty well so I didn't want to change anything," she said.
Sung Hyun Park, who has two top-10 finishes in the ANA, dropped from No. 2 to No. 4 in the Rolex Rankings while sitting out the first eight months of the LPGA season. She’s back at Mission Hills.
“It has been an uncertain time, but I always knew I wanted to return to the USA for the ANA Inspiration,” Park said. “It is one of the best events of the year and although I am really going to miss all the amazing ANA Inspiration fans this year, I am really looking forward to seeing all my friends on the LPGA Tour having spent so much time away.”
Danielle Kang, T-6 in the ANA last year, won the first two tournaments of the restart – The Drive On Championship and the Marathon Classic Presented by Dana – and that boosted her to No. 2 in the Rolex Rankings. The winner of the 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is looking to add her second LPGA major in the state where she was born.
“We’re very thankful to ANA for their event, and their amazing efforts to get it rescheduled in 2020,” she said. “I’m very excited to play in our second major of the year, and we can’t wait to play for the fans at home that’ll be watching us.”
How important was the creation of the ANA Inspiration to the history – in fact, perhaps to the survival – of the LPGA? In 1994, the year she died, Dinah Shore was inducted in the LPGA Hall of Fame as an honorary member and remains its only honorary member.
What Dinah and David created in 1972 is one of the pillars on which the LPGA Tour rests. Nearly a half-century later, a lot about the tournament will look different but one thing will remain the same: The best players in women’s golf will be competing for one of the LPGA’s most-coveted titles.
On Sunday, someone will walk onto the 18th green at Mission Hills with a chance to win, greeted by Dinah’s smile, her right hand extended high in a wave. It will be a comforting reminder that the best of traditions survive even the toughest of times.