RANCHO MIRAGE, California — Unless you are on the grounds of Mission Hills Country Club this week, it is almost impossible to understand the Herculean efforts it has taken to play the ANA Inspiration this week in Rancho Mirage.
With Riverside County being more restrictive than other LPGA event sites in the last two months, the tour and tournament operator IMG have made many adjustments to play a tournament with no fans in a COVID-19 world. Some changes that you might never think of include just where people are allowed to be at various areas of the golf course and clubhouse. In some cases, tournament officials have needed to adjust day to day this week.
The hard work put in to meet local and state restrictions is certainly appreciated by the LPGA players, who most often use the word grateful to describe their emotions about playing golf and being at Mission Hills for the 49th consecutive year.
LEADERBOARD: ANA Inspiration
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some things missing this week that every fan would notice if the fans were allowed on the course. For instance:
What is the ANA Inspiration without three-time winner Amy Alcott running around the course? The past champions dinner has been a highlight over the last decade, and players such as Kathy Whitworth, Patty Sheehan, Betsy King, Nancy Lopez and others tend to hang around the tournament for a few days, giving the major an elite feel.
These are usually junior golfers from the area, or sometimes Marines from Twentynine Palms, who carry a sign with the names of the players and the player’s current score in each group. You don’t realize they aren’t here until, well, they aren’t here, and you can’t readily see who the players are you are watching.
Okay, players do like to be in their own little world on the golf course, and sometimes we overestimate what the cheering of fans does and doesn’t do for players. But as past ANA Inspiration champion Lexi Thompson said this week, the lack of fans at the ANA Inspiration is different.
“It’s a lot different, I will say that, especially in tournaments like this where it’s known for the fans and the fan base here,” Thompson said. “I definitely thrive off it because I love people watching and just hearing the cheers and just seeing people root for us. The fans make the game, and I think we absolutely love that.”
No asterisk needed this year
With none of those things part of the tournament this week, the tournament still plays on. And the golf itself has been major championship caliber through three rounds. Concerns that the coronavirus pandemic would cause players to be rusty, that golf course changes would make conditions too difficult and that the lack of atmosphere would hurt the players as they search for competitive juices have all been dispelled.
From tee to green, this has been the ANA Inspiration, a major championship like most of the major championships played at Mission Hills the previous 48 years.
So there is no need to use an asterisk for the 2020 event or the winner. True, there is no defending champion, and a few of the top players in the world aren’t in the field this week. But those things have happened in the past, too.
It probably will never be truly known how close the tournament came to not being played this year. Already this week, health officials from the county have made modifications like changing the routing for people getting into and out of the clubhouse. And perhaps some things that were agreed to weren’t executed exactly the same way they were supposed to happen to comply with county and state restrictions.
But the desert has its LPGA major played in 2020, and that’s important not just for the players who have a chance to make a check this week but for the psyche of the desert and its golf fans. As difficult as it has been to get the tournament played, the event has been played.
The credit there goes to the LPGA, IMG and the officials at Mission Hills Country Club. They felt that playing the event was important enough to put in the additional work, spend countless hours on the telephone and rewrite plans to make sure everything was in order for the tournament to happen.
Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at (760) 778-4633 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter @Larry_Bohannan.