A three-strong Irish challenge tees up this week at the ANA Inspiration as a Major opportunity beckons for Stephanie Meadow, Leona Maguire and amateur Olivia Mehaffey in California.
Searing temperatures in the mid-thirties are expected to ensure players remain hot under the collar at Mission Hills Country Club but it will be the hopes of a life-changing week that keeps players on edge at the rescheduled women’s showpiece.
Meadow will rightly lead Irish hopes into battle after a consistent spell since play returned post-lockdown. A top-20 result at the Marathon Classic remains her best showing yet but Meadow’s top-40 at the Women’s Open, played in treacherous conditions at Troon, was another timely dart of confidence ahead of a more suitable assignment this week for the Northern Irishwoman.
“I have been trending in the right direction,” said the now 28-year old.
“I didn’t finish out great [in the Women’s Open – T39th] but I’m definitely seeing some positives. I’m very excited about the ANA, I really love the golf course and I feel it suits my game.”
The time is now for players to hit their stripes as the LPGA Tour enters a lucrative stretch of events for the Tour. Although the money may seem paltry when compared to the eye-watering FedEx numbers up for grabs over the weekend, a $3.1 million purse is not to be sniffed at while the winner’s portion is a tidy $465,000.
Sadly, AIG Women’s Open winner, Sophia Popov won’t be there despite being the most recent Major winner on Tour. No exemptions were made available for the delayed ANA, which was rescheduled from its original March date due to Covid, but Cavan professional Maguire ensured her safe passage to the field via the top-20 on the money list.
Leona has been striving to recapture the form that saw her grab a top-5 finish in Australia earlier this year and although she missed the cut at Troon, Maguire banked all three rounds a fortnight ago in Arkansas as the Tour returned Stateside. With the reps on board, she’ll be hoping better results will follow.
Meanwhile Arizona State star Mehaffey earns another shot in elite company after getting a sponsor’s invite into the event. Mehaffey had elected to skip this year’s Augusta Women’s Amateur to take up another Major opportunity back in March and having waited patiently until the Fall, the time has finally come with the 22-year old feeling ready to compete.
“I feel like I’m ready to go there and compete,” she said.
“I’ve played in three or four majors so I feel like I’m past just trying to enjoy the experience. It would be great to get out there and feel competitive with the professionals.”
Defending champion Jin Young Ko will be noticeable by her absence after she chose not to engage in Covid-19 protocols to make herself available this week. The current Rolex ranked number one may be missing but the next eight on the ladder will ensure a deep field – 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.
With temperatures set to soar, caddies will benefit this week from being permitted to use push carts if they so choose.
“Projected temperatures 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.”
104 players tee-up on Thursday with a cut to the top-70 and ties ahead of the weekend rounds.