ANA Inspiration preview

March 29, 2018

Top of the World

People’s Republic of China’s Shanshan Feng and Republic of Korea’s Inbee Park are two of just 13 golfers to hold the title of Rolex Rankings No. 1 since the rankings system began in 2006. Both have dealt with the pressure that comes with being the world’s best and offered different perspectives on the topic when each met with the media on Wednesday from the 2018 ANA Inspiration.

Park, currently No. 9 in the world, has risen to the top spot three different times in her career with the first time coming in 2013, and she has held the No. 1 ranking for a total of 92 weeks. Yet the LPGA Hall of Famer is in no rush to get back under the microscope that comes with being World No. 1.

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“When you’re just outside No. 1 and you want to be No. 1, you always want to reach that goal,” said the 19-time LPGA champion. “But once you reach that goal, you’ve been there, sometimes the golf doesn’t work the way you want it to work, like not good all the time, not perfect all the time. So when it’s not working well, that’s where you have to take some time a little bit off and take some pressure off of you. Have some energy in you so when you get back to No. 1 or you get a lot of attention and you have enough energy in you that you can just enjoy while you’re there.”

Feng became the first player from China, male or female, to become No. 1 in the world on November 13, 2017, following her ninth career LPGA victory at the 2017 Blue Bay LPGA. Although she’s been at the top for 20 weeks now, she doesn’t spend a lot of time consciously thinking about that position.

“Well, of course, if I can stay as long as possible,” said Feng. “I mean, but I’m really not thinking about it, but of course, people keep telling me I’m World No. 1, World No. 1 for how many weeks in a row now. Of course that’s going to give me a little pressure because I think people expect the World No. 1 to do well all the time, which, we don’t.”

Inbee has the upper hand on Shanshan at Mission Hills – Park has five top-10 finishes in 11 career starts at the ANA Inspiration, including her win in 2013, while Feng has just two top-10s in this event with a career-best sixth place finish in 2014.

Lorena Ochoa (2008) and Lydia Ko (2016) are the only players in the history of the Rolex Rankings to have won the ANA Inspiration while atop the world rankings.

Park will tee off Thursday’s first round at 1:22 p.m. off the 10th tee with fellow major champion Paula Creamer, while Feng will start from the first tee at 8:30 a.m. with two-time major champion Cristie Kerr.

Korda poised for major breakthrough

To say Rolex Rankings No. 12 Jessica Korda’s 2018 LPGA season is off to a hot start might be an understatement. In her first start on Tour since she underwent major jaw surgery in December, she picked up her fifth career LPGA victory at the 2018 Honda LPGA Thailand. Korda followed that up with a T10 finish in Singapore, and then collected a commendable T26 finish in her last start at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup before taking a week off to rest up for the season’s first major.

This week Korda is making her eighth career start at the ANA Inspiration, and hopes she can stay hot despite the added pressure that comes at a major championship.

“It’s just you want to play so well, and you put this extra pressure on yourself,” Korda said. “Instead of coming into it like a normal event, obviously seeing everything around you and the atmosphere, the people, the interest, and obviously what it would be like to be a major champion, I think you just sometimes get so caught up in that that you forget to play your own game and concentrate on what you need to do.

“I think the more times I’ll play in them, the more I’ll just feel comfortable with myself, and being mature enough to put that to the side and just play golf.”

Top-10 finishes have historically eluded Korda when it comes to major championships. In 38 career starts in majors, Korda has just two top-10 finishes: T5 at the 2014 Ricoh Women’s British Open and T7 at the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open. Korda’s best finish at the ANA Inspiration was T11 in 2017.

Heading into the ANA Inspiration, Korda leads the LPGA in scoring average (68.25), putting average (28.50) and has the most rounds under par with 11. Korda is paired with Lydia Ko in the first round at 8:14 a.m. off the first tee.

Wednesday's quotes of the day

“My favorite walk is definitely 18. From when you hit your shot in, to high-fiving everyone, walking down past all the past champions, and the Dinah Shore statue is obviously so iconic, and seeing the clear, blue water that you so desperately want to jump into at the end of the week. Everything about it, even when you walk through the tunnel into the first tee, I feel like that’s something new too in the last couple of years. It’s really cool. You feel like you’re really getting into it, and being surrounded by all these people, it’s just really, really cool.”
-Jessica Korda

Shanshan Feng answering the question “Can she swim?”:

“I can. I’m not like really good at it, but I will survive in the water. And I don’t know how deep that pond is, but I do believe it’s not covering – it’s not that tall, right. So I won’t have any trouble in there. The more I’m worrying is breaking my legs, yeah. But if I can jump in, I can break my legs. It’s okay.”

“I really like the golf course the way it is right now. The fairways are firm, and the rough is up and the greens are hard. It kind of gives us a little room so we can catch up a distance. When you land on the fairway on this conditions, it’s running, so you can kind of get to maybe make two short irons in range. But you have to hit every fairway. That’s really the important thing, yeah.” - Inbee Park

Next gen on display

On Sunday, fourteen-year-old Rose Zhang earned the final amateur exemption with her victory at the ANA Junior Inspiration. Reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Sophia Schubert, 2017 ANA Junior Inspiration winner Lucy Li, Albane Valenzuela, Lilia Vu, Maria Fassi andAtthaya Thitikul join Zhang as the seven amateurs competing in the major championship field.

Maria Fassi (Mexico), age 19, is a two-time Mexican Amateur champion (’15, ’16) and is currently in her third year at the University of Arkansas, where she has five individual titles. She makes her fourth LPGA start this week (career-best T15 at the 2016 Citibanamex Lorena Ochoa Invitational).

Lucy Li (Calif., USA), age 15, was the youngest qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Open at 11 years old in 2014 and finished a career-best T70 in the 2017 ANA Inspiration after winning the 2017 ANA Junior Inspiration. She makes her third LPGA start this week.

Sophia Schubert (Tenn., USA), age 22, won the 117th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship last summer and is currently a junior at the University of Texas. Schubert finished T58 at the 2017 Evian Championship in her only LPGA start.

Atthaya Thitikul (Thailand), age 15, became the youngest champion in Ladies European Tour history at the LET Thailand Championship in July, breaking a record held by Lydia Ko. She won the inaugural Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific to get into the ANA Inspiration. She makes her fifth LPGA start this week and second of the season after recording a career-best T8 finish at the 2018 HSBC Women’s World Championship.

Albane Valenzuela (Switzerland), age 20, is Switzerland’s No. 1 golfer and finished T21 representing her country at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. She is appearing in her sixth LPGA tournament and second ANA Inspiration after winning Low Amateur honors in 2016 (T65).

Lilia Vu (Calif., USA), age 20, reached the top of the World Amateur Golf Ranking on March 7 and is currently a junior at UCLA, where she made history by winning four straight events and setting the school record for most tournament wins. She makes her third LPGA start and second appearance at the ANA Inspiration this week (T46 in 2014).

Rose Zhang (Calif., USA), age 14, won the ANA Junior Inspiration and the youngest player in the field competing in her first LPGA event. She is the top-ranked Class of 2021 golfer in the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Girls Rankings.

Amateurs to win an LPGA event (six wins by five players)

Polly Riley, 1950 Tampa Open

Pat O’Sullivan, 1951 Titleholders Championship