ANA Inspiration Preview

    The ANA Inspiration is the first major championship of the year for women professional golfers. In a sense, it plays the role of the Masters tournament on the women’s side – it’s always the first major of the year and it is always held at the same course.

    The Masters of course is steeped in tradition. The challenge for the LPGA is maintaining tradition as they are forced to juggle sponsors. For years this tournament was known as the Kraft Nabisco Championship, and before that it was known as the Dinah Shore Tournament. It was also billed as the Nabisco Dinah Shore and other names over the years, as lead sponsors came and went.

    The tournament began in 1972 and is hosted by Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California. In 1983, the LPGA sanctioned it a major championship. It is always held in late March or early April.

    Dottie Pepper has the all-time scoring record at the ANA Inspiration with a 19 under par 269 at the 1999 championship. The winners of the tournament began a tradition of leaping into “Poppie’s Pond”, a lake that borders the 18th green.

    The ANA Inspiration has produced a series of worthy champions over the years. The last five winners of the event are:

    2015 Brittany Lincicome

    2014 Lexi Thompson

    2013 Inbee Park

    2012 Sun-Young Yoo

    2011 Stacy Lewis

    Past champions also include Lorena Ochoa, Karrie Webb, Annika Sorenstam, Dottie Pepper, Betsy King, Juli Inkster and Amy Alcott. It was a coveted title before it was designated a major championship in 1983. Champions before the major designation include Hall of Fame members Nancy Lopez, Kathy Whitworth, Judy Rankin and Mickey Wright.

    Handicapping this year’s field should be pretty straightforward. Brittany Lincicome clearly likes Mission Hills. She’s the defending champion and she also won this tournament in 2009. Lincicome has 11 top-10’s at major championships over the past 7 years. Lincicome isn’t as consistent as some of the other top players, however. It has been feast or famine for her at the ANA Inspiration, where she has missed 3 cuts to go along with her two titles.

    Current world number one Lydia Ko is a threat any time she tees it up. At just 18 years old, she just doesn’t have much of a track record yet to analyze. In 3 starts at this tournament, her best finish is a tie for 25th place. Of course, she closed out last year by winning the last major, the Evian Championship, by 6 strokes.

    And, 2013 Champion Inbee Park, who has fallen to #2 in the world, has won 7 major championships (and the career “Super Grand Slam”) including last year’s British Women’s Open and Women’s PGA Championship. She has 22 top-10’s at majors in less than a decade.

    American Stacy Lewis has 15 top-10’s during the same time span, but only 2 major titles. Stacy has had a quiet start to the 2016 season. Fellow American Lexi Thompson won this tournament in 2014 and has been playing great golf at the start of the year. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand the last weekend in February by 6 shots in a tournament that included 2 rounds of 64 and a 20 under par total score of 268.

    The fact of the matter is there is a lot of depth on the LPGA Tour, including an incredible assembly of talented young South Korean women. This surplus of talent bodes well for fans and viewers of the ANA Inspiration.