Austin Ernst and her brother Drew aim to take full advantage of the LPGA’s new cart rule at the ANA Inspiration. With 100-plus degree temperatures forecasted in Rancho Mirage, California, throughout the week, Ernst plans to pack a cooler with snacks and Gatorade for the back of the cart. She’ll also keep a wet towel around her neck and walk with a sun umbrella. If Austin wants to talk to her brother, she’ll tell him to drive slowly down the fairway beside her.
With the LPGA major shifting from the spring to September due to COVID-19, the tour decided to allow caddies to use electric carts or push carts at Mission Hills Country Club’s Dinah Shore Tournament Course for safety reasons.
“I just thought, there’s really no reason not to take advantage of it,” said Austin, recent winner of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
The heat isn’t the only concern. Smoke from California wildfires could put players in carts too.
“We’re continuing to monitor both the AQI (Air Qualify Index) and the temperature very closely,” said Chief Tour Operations Officer Heather Daly-Donofrio. “While we’re not out there yet, if it becomes clear from our medical team, and we’re also going to be working with the medical team at Eisenhower Medical, who’s a partner this week at the ANA Inspiration, if the high temperatures and the AQI converge to a point where we feel that’s unhealthy for walking … we have not ruled out carts for players on tournament days.”
Burning eyes and a scratchy throat impacted past champion Stacy Lewis early week at Mission Hills.
“For me, the smoke itself has been more of an issue than the heat,” she said.
Right now, Thursday’s forecasted high is the lowest of the four rounds at 100 degrees. Saturday and Sunday temps are expected to reach 110 and 113 degrees, respectively.
Danielle Kang, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 2, said that her caddie will not take a cart. Several longtime caddies told Golfweek the same, saying that it disrupted their routine and created more hassle than it was worth.
On Monday, the hottest day of the week in Rancho, Mirage, Anne van Dam tweeted out a TrackMan update: Her iPad overheated after two minutes, and her iPhone lasted eight minutes.
— Anne van Dam (@Annevandam) September 8, 2020
Lydia Ko calls Orlando, Florida, home when she’s not on the road and likens summers there to a complimentary sauna. The dry heat of the desert is different, of course, and she found the initial forecast “kind of frightening.”
“It’s (so) hot that you touch like the door handle of your car,” said Ko, “and it’s kind of on the slight sizzling point.”
Now that she has spent a few days in the desert heat, Ko said that she actually prefers the extreme temps to what she left in Orlando. Nelly Korda, a Florida native, said the same, a mentality that should serve both players well.
It does take work to beat the heat though, and Korda credited a massive headache on Monday to dehydration.
“I actually have a really hard time drinking,” said Korda. “Like I do not drink on the golf course. That’s something that I’ve always done, and I told (my caddie) yesterday on the first hole, I was like, you need to remind me to drink a lot.”
Pernilla Lindberg, winner of the 2018 ANA, gave her husband/caddie a carry bag for the week to lighten his load. She’ll rely on the water coolers on each tee box and take a pass on the cart.
After spending most of the off week resting in Utah, Lindberg headed to Rancho Mirage on Saturday afternoon when it was 120 degrees. Shorter practice days, more electrolytes and a bottle of water by her bed to start the day are keys to the week.
The San Jacinto Mountains typically provide a stunning backdrop for Mission Hills. It was a weird feeling on Tuesday, Lindberg said, when they disappeared behind thick clouds of smoke. Blue skies returned the next day, however, bringing hope for better days ahead.
“We’re watching the levels very closely,” said Daly-Donofrio, “but with the AQI you really can’t forecast out too far.”