Today’s player interviews focused on tournament preparations and what to expect on the 18th hole. LPGA Commissioner shares his thoughts.
Day two of the ANA Inspiration media days was a bit of déjà vu as players spoke about their tournament preparations and what they had been working on in the offseason to prepare for this year. Wednesday’s media day kicked off with LPGA commissioner Mike Whan in what may be his last major press event before he departs the LPGA for his new job with the USGA (United States Golf Association). His 30-minute session was a reflection on his time with the LPGA and a retrospective of how he believes the LPGA has not only survived, but grown over the years since 2009. Whan told the reporters and LPGA staff gathered that his introduction to the LPGA was somewhat of an eye-opener.
“When I took this job in late 2009, I flew to New York for a Madison Square Garden announcement, I took the red eye that night to San Diego to meet with all the tournament directors, and I don't think many people know this, but I got up the next morning to the desert to meet with the Kraft people. Literally my second official day. I wasn't even working yet, but I came out and met Denny Belcastro and the team. We walked most of the back nine course. We had lunch overlooking -- pre-COVID -- overlooking the 18th green, and as he's walking with me to my car, and he said, you know, right, that 2013 will be our last year.
“Last year of what? We told the previous commissioner and the team, you'll have three years with us, 2011, '12, but we won't be here in 2013. So literally my first meeting with a sponsor was good-bye. I remember thinking this is one event I've been coming to most of my golf fandom and TaylorMade and everyone else and quickly learned afterwards the LPGA Championship was no longer title sponsored, and we were trying to figure out where to put that.”
Whan would also learn that not only the Kraft Nabisco (today's ANA Inspiration) was having difficulty, but so too were other major championships, but the Board and staff of the LPGA pulled together and managed to stabilize the tour and then grew it for the better.
”The British Open was going through a pretty difficult time in terms of sponsor renewal. I remember thinking at the time I might be in the job a year, and we'll be down to one major. I had a first board meeting and said to the board, majors are -- you build a house on a foundation. You build a tour schedule around the foundation of majors. I'm really excited -- that's not the question you asked me. When I think about leaving here, and this one being our last, we have these majors. Majors have been our foundation at least the whole 11, 12 years that I've been doing it, and we really built a schedule around these foundations. Obviously, we added Evian, but created the KPMG Women's PGA, created the AIG Women's Open. Obviously, the U.S. Open has been the U.S. Open. It's exciting to think that what felt like pure fear back in the fall of 2009 has turned into what this is. We've built the schedule that luckily has been built on the foundation of these majors.”
The leading winner and Hall of Fame player is popular on media days. She often provides insightful observations about the tournament, the course and what some keys may be for success – and her observations tend to be accurate. In response to a question about her last major victory coming in 2015 at the British Women’s Open, she shared her thoughts on what part of her game that let her down and about her preparations and work in the off-season.
“ I mean, I've came close few times after winning 2015 British. After that I came close a few times but I just couldn't pull it off. I think just putting, my putting wasn't just exactly there. So, that's part of the game that I'm really trying to improve a little bit. I'm trying to get back to where I was -- I think where I was in 2013 through '15, that area. So I think that's something that I have been missing.”
Her objective is getting her putting back to where she felt it was at its best for her – during the stretch of time in 2013. As for how she works on it in the off-season, she described the goal of her practice and indoor routine is to achieve a more consistent stroke.
“Yeah, just I think the whole 2013, the way I putted was -- I just couldn't ask for more. Just really consistently putting well. Other than just like one week really good and one week really bad. I didn't really have that bad weeks I should say. I was actually just above average most of the time and really good in the weeks I won. So I'm just trying to raise my average a little bit. Trying to put a lot of balls close to the hole. Trying to make it to the hole. But trying to get the speed right, rhythm right so my average is just a bit better.
“But, yeah, I mean, over the off-season because I was indoors a lot, I was home a lot, so I tried to do at least 500 putting strokes a day indoors at home. So, I mean, there is nothing else that I could do indoors, so I just try to make my putting stroke a little more consistent.”
Like Inbee and other top players, Danielle Kang comes into the season’s first major having also worked on her game. But, unlike Inbee, Kang has spent the majority of her efforts in preparing the mental aspects of her golf game. “To be honest, I'm just trying to control my emotions and mental game more so than anything. Physically with golf, technicality-wise and the mechanics and all that, it's there. Butch and I have done some really great work and I can rely on the work that I've done, but I think it's more so the emotion on the golf course that I have to figure out how to deal with and maintain through the 1st hole to 72nd hole. That's something that I'm working on. Hopefully gets better.”
As for insight into her actual strategy on course, Kang is relying on her acquired knowledge of the course, having played it for the better part of a decade. “This golf course is immaculate. I love coming back here. I told my mom today we've been here over ten years, we've been coming here since I was (an) amateur. You always want to play well here.
“The golf course is a testament to all aspects of your golf game from tee to green, around the greens, sure if you miss a green; the firmness of it, understanding the lies and where to miss, everything. It's golf course knowledge, trusting what you have. Mental preparation coming into a major week, obviously everyone wants to do well at a major. It's an added pressure of wanting to do well in California and perform well in your first major. You can't blame the golf course conditions because it's so perfect. So, I think just trusting my game and being able to be confident in my own game and staying focused is probably the most important thing that I'm working on this week.”
Jin Young Ko
As for the world number one ranked player and past ANA champion in 2019, Jin Young Ko expressed her thoughts on having no fans this year in addition to sharing concerns about the way the 18th green would play with the absence of a grandstand and supporting wall.
“[on no fans] I want to be like high five when I walk to the 18 greens before the bridge, but we couldn't, we can't do that in 2021. So, it's sad, because that part is one of the good memories in ANA Inspiration, but we can't. It's sad. I will do just by myself. – A Yay and High five . . . Yeah, I played yesterday on 18. I looked at the green and I felt scared, because if I shoot -- I could hit hybrid or 5-wood. If past the hole, safe, because grandstand a back there (in previous years). But this year is nothing. Just water. So I think I will be layup every day!”
The tournament gets under way on Thursday morning at 7:10 a.m. (Pacific time) with the group of Emma Talley, Emily Kristine Pedersen and Jennifer Song heading off the first tee. Going off the tenth tee will be the group of Yuka Saso, Annie Park and amateur Aline Krauter. The afternoon wave heads out at 12:00 noon with Erika Hara, Bianca Pagdanganan and Yealimi Noh starting on the first tee box. Dani Holmqvist and Aditi Ashok start at the same time from the tenth tee box.