Players chasing one last leap at Chevron Championship
Chevron Championship tees off in the California desert for the final time
LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Half a century of golfing history will draw to a close on Thursday as the Chevron Championship tees off in the California desert for the final time.
The first women’s major of 2022 will also be the last ever held at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, which has hosted the tournament in various guises since the inaugural event in 1972.
Previously known as the Nabisco Championship, Kraft Nabisco Championship, and most recently the ANA Inspiration, for many the tournament is known simply as "The Dinah Shore" after the beloved actress and singer who was instrumental in founding the event.
It is a bittersweet farewell for many golfing traditionalists, even if there are solid financial reasons for uprooting the event to its new home in Houston in 2023.
The rebranding as the Chevron Championship has led to a sharp boost in prize money, bumped up from $3.1 million in 2021 to $5 million overall this year.
The 2023 event is also likely to be staged later in the year to move it out of the shadow of the Masters at Augusta.
Holding it later in the year and remaining at Mission Hills was deemed impractical due to the rapidly rising temperatures in the California desert.
So it means that this week’s winner will be the last to enjoy the tradition of taking a refreshing leap into "Poppie’s Pond", the affectionate nickname for the six-feet deep water hazard that guards the 18th green at Mission Hills.
Lexi Thompson, the 2014 champion, admitted that this week’s farewell to the venue was tinged with sadness.
"What’s so amazing is the history behind this tournament," Thompson said Tuesday.
"Jumping into Poppie’s Pond’s, putting the robe on on the 18th green, just the tradition and history behind it.
"It’s definitely unfortunate that it will be moving from this special venue. I think we’re all a bit bummed out about it, but at the same time, we’re not losing the event, we’re just losing the location."
Defending champion Patty Tavatanakit also admitted she was sad to see the event leaving California while acknowledging the financial impact of Chevron’s sponsorship.
"It’s a bittersweet goodbye I guess," the 22-year-old Thai star said.
"What Chevron did to this tournament, raising the purse and really growing the women’s game, it’s something truly what we’re after, what everyone is after.
"At the same time, having to move this event out of California, out of the desert, it’s sad. I love coming back here. But we’re evolving and changing, and we always look forward to what’s new."
South Korea’s world number one Ko Jin-young -- winner of the tournament in 2019 -- heads a powerful field vying for the right to be the last ever victor at Mission Hills.
Ko has been in sensational form in the past year, winning six of her last 11 tournaments, finishing outside the top 10 just once during that period.
The 26-year-old from Seoul would like nothing more than to add a second victory at Rancho Mirage to her collection of 24 professional titles, and revealed Tuesday she is better prepared for the plunge into Poppie’s Pond if she emerges victorious on Sunday.
Ko leapt into the water with caddie David Booker and agent Choi Soo-jin three years ago, even if she was scared to do so.
"It was first time jumping in the swimming pool in my life, so I was scared a little bit, but I had to," Ko recalled.
"I tried to keep smile on my face, smiling face, and jumping in Poppie’s Pond. It was fun, but I was a little scared."