It will look different, especially for a major. But what else is new in 2020?
In addition to the lack of galleries and grandstands next week at the ANA Inspiration, as well as the absence of more than 100 trees that have been removed from the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club, LPGA officials have announced another policy modification for the week in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
In a memo to players and caddies that went out on Thursday, LPGA Chief Tour Operations Officer Heather Daly-Donofrio wrote: “Projected temperatures next week will range from 105-115 and we are very conscious of the high heat. 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.”
The cart rule isn’t mandatory. Some will choose to walk and carry the bag as always. Push carts are also an option for caddies. Players may ride in carts during practice rounds but must walk during tournament rounds.
“We have consulted with our medical team and feel this is the best decision to keep our caddies safe and healthy during this extreme heat,” Daly-Donofrio said.
Despite the heat, not all players will utilize a caddie, an option provided in the age of COVID-19. Lindsey Weaver, who became a media darling at the AIG Women’s Open for her good play into the weekend despite playing without a caddie, has chosen to push her own cart at Mission Hills as well, despite being given the option of a local caddie who could ride in a cart. "When the LPGA gave us the option of not using caddies, 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," Weaver said. "I've gotten comfortable with it."
According to Dr. Bruce Thomas, the LPGA’s medical director, “There are a couple of important factors to consider. Yes, it’s a dry heat but it’s intense. We normally play this event in March and early April when the weather is delightful in the desert. But early September is hot and 110 to 115 is unusually hot even for this time of year.
“The problem is, you perspire but you don’t know it, unlike Florida where you’re changing your shirt a couple of times a day. Perspiration evaporates quickly, you don’t realize it, and pretty soon you’re in real trouble. Caddies who are lugging around an extra 30 to 50 pounds are at greater risk. They can get into real trouble quickly.”
There will be a few other modifications next week. Caddies will wear bibs instead of the usual jumpsuits that have become a tradition at the ANA Inspiration. And the LPGA Tour has purchased 1,500 cooling towels for players, caddies, staff and volunteers.
“This was the date that we needed to play the ANA Inspiration and hold a major,” said Daly-Donofrio. “We’re watching the forecast and know it’s going to be hot. And we do not want to put the health of our caddies at risk.
“Will it look odd? Yes, especially for a major championship. But we’re not going to sacrifice the health of our athletes or caddies for optics.”
Even without the unusually hot temperatures, the optics were always going to be different. Grandstands, especially around the first and 10th tees and behind the 17th and 18th greens will be gone, which will not only look jarring on television but will create some challenges for players. In the past, various ANA logos on the grandstands behind 18 provided aiming points for those attempting to reach the par-5 in two. Now, they will see water behind the green.
Missing trees will also give the place a different feel. A large Eucalyptus perched behind the first green is gone, along with much of the shade forest that separated the third and fourth fairways. Not only will the visuals be different, there will be almost nothing to block the hot, howling wind that tears through the Coachella Valley like a regularly scheduled freight train.
Still, some people will raise eyebrows when they see carts on the fairways of a major. But in a year turned upside down, it’s a modification that makes sense.
“There will be some caddies who won’t take a cart and some who will take it day by day,” Daly-Donofrio said. “But we wanted to set the policy at the beginning of the week so everyone can plan accordingly. And everyone knows what the expectations are.
“Look, there has been nothing normal about 2020,” she said. “We have the health and safety of our caddies in mind. That, at the end of the day, is what’s most important.”