Five Things to Know about the game’s biggest stars heading into the ANA Inspiration

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Beth Ann Nichols
·5 min read
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RANCHO MIRAGE, California – With eight of the top 10 players in the world finishing inside the top 10 at last week’s Kia Classic, expectations are high that the year’s first major could be an absolute thriller. Players say they’ve never seen Mission Hill’s Dinah Shore Tournament Course in such pristine condition. It’s firm and fast and increasingly warm here in the desert.

Here’s are five things to know going into the 50th ANA Inspiration:

1. Inbee Park rose to No. 2 in the world this week. She’s been ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 for 22 percent of her LPGA career. After running away with last week’s Kia Classic, her 21st LPGA victory, the seven-time major winner comes into this week a heavy favorite.

Park first rose to No. 1 in the world on April 15, 2013, the week after winning the ANA (known then as the Kraft Nabisco) and spent a total of 106 weeks there. Would a fifth stretch at the top, at age 32, be meaningful in a different way?

“I think that it would mean a lot because I kind of thought that, will I be No. 1 again?” said Park. “I was asking the same question to myself for few years.

“Being able to do it again would be meaning a lot obviously, that I can still compete out here. Being the best player in the world still for the long time is a good confidence.”

When asked for the secret of her longevity, Park pointed straight to her husband, G.H. Nam, who doubles as her swing coach. His presence on tour week in and week out not only gives Park a sense of home and comfort on the road, it helps to keep her from falling into any bad habits with her swing.

“Probably my swing is a little bit easier on my body, like not swinging so hard,” said Park. “Rhythm is not too quick. So maybe that’s the key to the consistency. I don’t know.”

Lexi Thompson during round 1 of the 2019 ANA Inspiration at Dinah Shore at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

2. Lexi Thompson has begun working with Martin Hall, Morgan Pressel’s longtime swing instructor and host of Golf Channel’s “School of Golf.” Thompson said she’s seen him two or three times now.

“Just keeping things simple,” said Thompson, “but at the same time trying to improve on little things.”

Stats guru Justin Ray tweeted that Thompson is a combined 49-under par in the last five years at ANA, 13 strokes ahead of her nearest competitor in Ariya Jutanugarn. And yet, Thompson’s lone major title came before that at the 2014 ANA. She’s had five top-7s since then.

“I’ve been working hard on my mental game and being more relaxed out there, and hopefully that helps me out more than anything,” said Thompson.

“I know I’ve put in the work physically on my game everything and so just letting it go and letting my true talent show is what I want. You know, if that comes out to a win, great. If not, I’m going to continue working.”

3. Brooke Henderson switched to left-hand-low from inside 10 feet at last week’s Kia Classic, where she tied for 10th. Henderson said she felt comfortable with the big change and that she’ll keep going with it.

Henderson’s father, Dave, is also her coach and typically travels quite a bit with his wife, following their two daughters. With COVID-19, however, Henderson’s parents have remained in Canada. The last time Dave was at a tournament was January 2020.

“He’s always there, like virtually,” said Henderson, who lost in a playoff at the ANA last year to Mirim Lee, “always helping us out and sending us his notes that he has on every course and FaceTiming and everything. So it’s been OK. Definitely miss having my mom and him out here, to show support and helping out on the course.”

LPGA: ANA Inspiration - Final Round
LPGA: ANA Inspiration - Final Round

Jin Young Ko waves to the fans after winning 2019 ANA Inspiration at Mission Hills CC – Dinah Shore Tournament Course. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

4. Jin Young Ko put a new driver into play for the second round of last week’s Kia Classic. Ko had used a Callaway model for the past three years but switched to the Titleist TS3.

While No. 1-ranked Ko didn’t compete in last September’s ANA, choosing instead to stay back in South Korea due to the pandemic, she did practice at Mission Hills in the weeks following the tour’s Florida swing. She was pleased to see her name on the Walk of Champions.

“I had good practice last three days in Mission Hills,” said Ko, “so I can’t wait for tomorrow and next four days.”

5. Danielle Kang will partner with her mentor, Annika Sorenstam in a charity match on Wednesday at Mission Hills. Sorenstam isn’t the only former No. 1 Kang leans on. Inbee Park’s U.S. base is in Las Vegas, where Kang makes her home.

“I don’t think many people know she’s literally like my older sister, my adopted mom,” said Kang. “I joke around that I’m an adopted child of her and her husband. They feed me, they drive me, they buy me ice cream. She has been there for me through thick and thin. You know, supported me since the beginning.

“And whether it’s when I went up to world No. 2 – it was a really weird feeling being at world No. 2, and she was the only player to give me a call ­like, is one of the main people to give me call and say, ‘Let’s go to 1, we can do it, all that.’ ”