Sky Sports, BBC Golf Analyst, & Former LET Player Sophie Walker discusses the ANA Inspiration
With the budding flowers and the greening of the grass and trees, Spring’s arrival is announced. But, Spring is not only for the reappearance of its plants and shrubbery; it’s also known for the start of “Major Championship Season” in the golf world.
On April 1st thru to the 4th, the golf world will be focused on the 50th edition of the ANA Inspiration Championship as the best women in golf compete for the honour of jumping into “Poppies Pond”, marking victory in Rancho Mirage, California. Like the Masters tournament, the ANA Inspiration is held at the same course each and every Spring.
And like the Masters, viewers have become familiar with the course, its challenges and its champions. Originally conceived and hosted by singer and television celebrity Dinah Shore, the first event was held in 1972 and known as the Dinah Shore Classic. By 1982, the event became one of golf’s majors for women. This year will mark a return to the event’s traditional time on the calendar after last year’s edition was abruptly postponed until September as a result of the onset of the coronavirus and Covid-19.
Speaking as a guest on the podcast show – “We’re Talking Golf”, Sophie Walker previewed this year’s edition. Walker is a former professional player on the Ladies European Tour (the “LET” ) and has since hung up the clubs, transitioning into a career as a golf analyst with both Sky Sports and the BBC. She will be presenting the 2021 ANA Inspiration on BBC’s “Five Live” show with Iain Carter, BBC’s golf editor. With her in-depth knowledge of the game and the players themselves, Walker provides terrific insight into some of the players to watch as potential contenders.
No Spectators nor the Blue Wall
One of the major talking points in last year’s tournament was the presence of the large, blue wall at the back of the 18th green. The wall is normally there to protect the spectators sitting in the grandstand, but with no spectators at last year’s event, the wall remained in place and was eventually dubbed the “Great Wall of Dinah”. Its presence allowed players to try and reach the green in two shots as it greatly reduced the risk of having a less than perfect shot from hopping into the water behind the green.
That meant that Mirim Lee, the eventual champion, was able to hit her second shot with little regard of the hazard, as her ball hit the wall, remaining in play instead of having to take a penalty or play from the water. In chipping in with her next shot for a -2 under eagle, Lee managed to squeak into the playoff, making the most of it by winning on the first playoff hole against Brooke Henderson and Nelly Korda.
So, who are some of the players to consider for this year’s championship?
Charley Hull – England
In her first ever ANA championship in 2015, Hull finished T-26 (tied for 26th spot). Since then, she has never finished lower than 14th (T-14 in 2017), with her best finish coming in 2016 when she finished second to Lydia Ko.
Sophie’s Take: “Charley, her personality is like her golf swing … and I love that about her. She’s a fast talker, fast walker and she swings the club fast. This (the ANA) is by far her favourite major to perform well in … This course really suits Charley because it is a bomber’s track … and the greens bake out, so you need to be able to hold them and she hits it high enough with so much spin … she’s always the one that you look for out of the Brits.”
Jin Young Ko – South Korea
Perhaps the favourite among many fans is Jin Young Ko, the 2019 ANA Inspiration champion. She didn’t return to Rancho Mirage in 2020 to defend her title as she remained in her native South Korea sitting out the LPGA because of the coronavirus pandemic. But she remains the world’s number one ranked player, a position that she has held since winning the Evian Championship in 2019, and should be among the contenders to "leap into Poppies Pond" on Sunday.
“Jin Young Ko just she's good at everything. I think that's there isn't a standout. You know, you look at Inbee Park and you think oh, wow, she puts good or Lexi think why she's a mile. Jin Young Ko is just is just an frontload she's better than good. She's brilliant at every single aspect of her game. Multiple major winner. And, yeah, you've got to look for her to be right at the top. I think if you finish above her, you could be jumping into Poppies Pond.”
Danielle Kang – United States
Danielle Kang enjoyed tremendous success when the 2020 season was “rebooted” after the coronavirus imposed suspension in play, winning the first two events – the Drive On Championship held at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio before following it up with the Marathon LPGA Classic. Those two victories propelled her up the Rolex World Rankings into second spot before she eventually fell back to 5th by the end of the season.
With one major victory (2017 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship) to her credit, Kang has become a more consistent and competitive player in the last few years, where she is now considered a favourite for most majors.
“… she's a big time player and she will be up there that is for sure. And I was saying about how much this means to the players. It means a lot to her – majors. She plays well in American majors, her record elsewhere, at the British (Open) is shocking. It's almost like don't bother coming over Danielle, which I know she's going to try and improve but, get her in America with the history of the ANA. And I think that she will … she will be up there. She was up there last year.”
Brooke Henderson, Nelly Korda, In Gee Chun and more . . .