Mickey Walker on the ANA Inspiration
What a fantastic opener to the Major season the ANA Inspiration was! The final round and in particular the final nine holes were compulsive viewing, with the lead changing hands every couple of holes.
It seemed that the winner would almost certainly come from the final pairing of the day – the 22-year-old South Korean rookie, Sei Young Kim, who had a three-shot lead over the 2011 champion Stacy Lewis. Stacy gradually clawed the shots back and found herself two ahead with six holes to go.
In the penultimate group yet another former champion, Brittany Lincicome, hit a drive and 5-iron to eight feet for a closing eagle. Her reaction was a delight as she made a series of something like vertical bunny hops with the biggest most joyous grin on her face! The two shots that she hit onto the 18th green were almost identical to those that she hit in 2009. Stacy needed a birdie at the last to win but missed what was to be the first of three opportunities to win the Championship before virtually handing Brittany the title when, at the third time of playing the 18th in the play-off, Stacy bogeyed leaving Brittany just needing to two putt from 10 feet for her second Major.
Coming into the week Brittany hadn’t shown any great form, but she had said all along that she was excited to return to the desert and to a course that suited her game. It is amazing how often the phrase ‘horses for courses’ rings true, with the leading three players all being former winners on this course. To my mind, Brittany’s resurgence seems to have coincided with her contentment off the course and her recent engagement to Dewald Gouws, the South African professional long driver who regularly hits drives over 450 yards!
There is no doubt that Brittany has huge natural talent, being one of the longest hitters on tour, but also at times possessing a deft touch on the green, as she proved by leading both the driving and putting stats at Mission Hills – an unbeatable combination!
As well as Brittany getting back into the winner’s circle, it was great to see Morgan Pressel contending and ultimately finishing third.
There was a lot to be pleased about from a European perspective Amazingly, Morgan has only won twice as a professional including this Championship back in 2007 as an 18-year-old. I am a big fan of Morgan and love the way that she never gives up and does well in a golfing world where more and more of the top players hit the ball prodigious distances. A return to see her former coach – Ron Stockton – some three weeks prior to the Championship gave her the help and impetus to get back on track with her swing.
There was a lot to be pleased about from a European perspective too with Carlota Ciganda once again showing what a huge talent she is and looking more and more as if her first LPGA victory isn’t too far away.
And Anna Nordvist once again showed how consistent a player she has become and how able she is to compete at the highest level, also finishing in a tie for fourth. It was good too to see signs that after a long lean spell by her standards Suzann Pettersen is starting to show signs of a return to form.
The new sponsor ANA or, to give them their full name All Nippon Airways, had a seamless transition from their predecessors – Kraft Nabisco. The week seemed to be very much ‘business as usual’ apart from the fact that the corporate colours of ANA are blue and white rather than red, and that both the trophy and the robe that is given to the winner after the dive into Poppie’s Pond were actually displayed in glass cabinets on the 1st tee each day. This did look rather strange, but I can understand that they wanted to embrace and enhance the traditions of this Major.
The only other thing that I found a bit odd was the insistence of the American commentators to refer to previous winners as winners of the ANA Inspiration, when the event was previously sponsored and known as the Kraft Nabisco. To my mind, Lexi Thompson is the 2014 Kraft Nabisco champion, not the 2014 ANA Inspiration champion.
Of course I understand that corporate America work this way and that the commentators were only doing their job, I just found it mildly irritating!