Weirdest LPGA major ever? One year later, we look at an ANA Inspiration held in the thick of COVID.

·4 min read

PALM SPRINGS, California — It still seems strange, even eerie, that one year ago this weekend the Coachella Valley hosted perhaps the strangest major championship the LPGA has ever seen.

The 2020 ANA Inspiration, postponed from April because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was finally played this weekend one year ago. While the event crowned a champion in Mirim Lee in a playoff with Nelly Korda and Brooke Henderson, so much about the tournament was reflected by what the country was going through with the pandemic at that moment.

The tournament had no ticketed fans, and those who live on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage were supposed to only watch from their backyard or common acres of the course. There were naturally a few breaches of those restrictions, but not many.

Oh, and there were those temperatures pushing 110 degrees, caddies riding in a golf cart (only a few, admittedly) and a nearby wildfire that blanketed the desert skies with smoke. On a few days, particularly one day just before the tournament, the smoke was so thick it actually kept the temperature down like a thick cloud cover and the smoke obscured the nearby San Jacinto Mountains entirely.

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Just getting onto the course required a negative COVID-19 test and daily health screens, something that we almost take for granted today. In September 2020, all of that still seemed new and in some ways frightening. Masks and colored wrist bands were required. Access to the players was limited for the media, and protocols for getting into and out of the clubhouse at Mission Hills seemed to change every day.

It wasn’t much fun for anyone from players to volunteers, the LPGA staff or the homeowners.

A year later, things certainly seem to be much better, both for professional golf tournaments and for the Coachella Valley. But nothing is quite the same as it was in 2019.

Edging back to normal for sports

Consider that the ANA Inspiration last April was still played without fans because of county regulations. But the tournament felt much better than it had in 2020, with access to players much easier and with fewer regulations. There were still COVID-19 tests and daily health screenings, though.

If the tournament was played today at Mission Hills, protocols might allow for fans, but only those who had been vaccinated or could provide a recent negative test result. While the tournament was played and a solid champion was crowned in 2020, the 2021 duel between champion Patty Tavatanakit and runner-up Lydia Ko somehow felt much more like an LPGA major event.

We’ve seen fans return to tournaments, most recently the Solheim Cup last weekend in Ohio. We’ve heard of very few players who had to withdraw from tournaments because of positive tests, so fans and players are starting to go about their business again. But the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t want to go away, with the delta variant keeping everyone on edge.

That isn’t stopping – for the moment – fans attending high school football games or plans for fans to attend the rescheduled BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in October in Indian Wells. Yes, those tennis fans will need to show proof of vaccination, but remember a year ago at the ANA Inspiration there was no vaccine.

The LPGA and the organizers of the tournament from IMG did everything they could to make the ANA Inspiration run smoothly one year ago, and they succeeded given the limitations of the pandemic. In a sense, it was a small miracle that the tournament was held, and most people will never know the behind-the-scenes work that had to be done to play an LPGA event in the desert in 2020.

The sports world and the desert are both in much better places a year after the pandemic ANA Inspiration. With the BNP Paribas Open less than a month away, and with The American Express tournament on the PGA Tour just four months away in La Quinta, everyone has to hope that the current surge eases and fans can go out and support their favorite players in events that are important to the desert.

The desert has seen two ANA Inspirations played without galleries, one American Express played without a gallery and two postponements of the BNP Paribas Open. A return to normal means getting those events played on time with fans in the seats and along the fairways.

Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer, part of the USA Today Network. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_Bohannan.