Changes at Chevron — Jennifer Kupcho is ready to defend — Must-click women’s golf links
The IX: Golf Thursday with Addie Parker, Apr. 20, 2023
It’s finally here — the first major of the 2023 LPGA season. The Chevron Championship begins today and there are a lot of changes to digest this week, and as much as we know and adore Dinah Shore, not all change is bad. Let’s dive into the nitty gritty about this week and what we can expect from the LPGA’s finest.
The name/the sponsor
This isn’t the first year that we’ve had to sit with the name of the event switching from the ANA Inspiration to the Chevron Championship. We are creatures of habit, and golfers often embrace tradition and cling to the memories that come with being in one place for so long. 40 years at Dinah Shore is nothing to sneeze at, and the rich history that comes from it shouldn’t be forgotten, but it wasn’t without its issues.
Title sponsorship in golf, especially women’s golf is everything — Chevron is the fifth different title of the event for a reason. There was no money or coverage coming in at Dinah. With Chevron, the final two rounds will be broadcasted on NBC. Over the last two years as the sponsor, Chevron has increased the prize fund to $5.1 million in total, which is $2 million more than in 2021 — in its last year being called the ANA Inspiration.
Hell, players are even filming content for the tournament in Rolls Royces.
Not to mention the fun and stylish player gifts being given out.
The tournament isn’t usually this late in April. Typically it’s the first major in golf, period, but with the introduction of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the event’s timing forced many talented amateurs to forfeit competing in the major. Not to mention, with it being so close to Masters week (the week before) and the building anticipation, as well as the remnants of March Madness, the tournament was fighting and losing against other sporting events.
With it being this late into the month, it frees up networks to actually broadcast women’s golf at the highest level — a major championship in all its glory.
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Texas isn’t the desert of California, but the ladies of the LPGA tour have their work cut out for them at The Club at Carlton Woods, their Jack Nicklaus Signature Course. Nicklaus designed the course in 2001, with 62 bunkers and nine holes where water comes into play. The greens average 6,800 square feet in size and feature creative slopes that divide the greens into sections in a way only Jack could design. The course is long to play and to walk — walking between holes will have the field extending plenty of energy through every step they take.
Length will be an issue, the par-72 is sitting at 6,824 yards but could be playing even longer depending on the day and weather conditions. Round one conditions should be fairly mild, with slight winds and temperatures in the low 80s. There is some rain in the forecast that will cool things down by Sunday.
Major championships are won with putting, but for the players who aren’t heavy hitters, every other part of their game better be fine-tuned. Bogeys are to be expected, so I think it’s fair to assume that this won’t be a tournament where we see 20-under par taking the prize, something in the 10 to 12-under may be more realistic.
All Rolex Rankings top-20 are in the field this week and they mean business. For obvious reasons, Jennifer Kupcho has garnered a lot of attention as the defending champ, and Nelly Korda, who missed last year due to her recovery from a blood clot.
But don’t forget that Jin Young Ko, who won the event in 2019, and had a lackluster season in 2022 due to an ongoing wrist injury is ranked No. 3 and she’s coming off a win in Singapore last month.
The rookies are also in the mix this week, making their major debut! Coming off a win just last week, Grace Kim is looking to build that resume. In just two LPGA starts she has a made cut in LA and a win after a pretty dramatic showdown in Hawaii last week. All eyes will be on the rookie and how she holds her own.
See the full list of players here.
What’s remaining the same
Now that we’ve identified what’s changed this year, let’s highlight some of the things that are staying the “same”.
The champions dinner, a decade-long tradition that includes players like Amy Alcott, Juli Inkster, Stacy Lewis, Dottie Pepper, Brittany Lincicome, Sandra Palmer, Morgan Pressel, Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson and Pat Hurst, has become a highlight for the first major. This year’s menu was inspired by Jennifer Kupcho and featured her favorite food — mac and cheese.
It may not be Poppy’s Pond, but there is water off of the 18th green — which player will have the opportunity to take a leap and do you think she actually will?
And to honor the 40-year history of Mission Hills, the Chevron Championship winner will still get to hoist the Dinah Shore trophy.
To quote Harry Styles, “You know it’s not the same, as it was,” is extremely applicable to this week. We deeply miss Dinah Shore and what it meant to us. In a game that ebbs and flows so much, it remained constant, but I think this championship with this sponsor is a step in the right direction.
If you recall, after the tournament last year, a loyal reader reached out to me and expressed her concern about moving the championship to Texas, where harmful legislation toward women and the LGBTQ+ community is consistently enforced. This concern hasn’t wavered and still remains a valid critique of the tour and of Chevron. Both things can be true: Chevron is a good sponsor for the LPGA and they are doing a lot of things right AND the venue being hosted in Texas isn’t a great look. Hopefully, a compromise can take place. Not every U.S. Open is hosted at the same course every year, so why force the Chevron Championship to do the same? Or if the desire is to find a permanent home to replace Dinah, involve the fans and the players don’t leave it to leadership, make it something interactive!
There’s still much to iron out, but nevertheless, this will be an amazing week of championship golf!
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Five at The IX: Jennifer Kupcho is ready to defend her title
Q. Last night was the Champions Dinner, of course, semi-prepared by your influence. Take us through what last night was like for you. I know we talked a little bit off camera about the mac and cheese portion.
JENNIFER KUPCHO: Yeah, that was my request, mac and cheese, my favorite food. Yeah, it was absolutely awesome. Thomas Keller did a great job, great food. Absolutely amazing. I think just the way that Chevron puts that on for us, it’s really special for all the champions, and it’s definitely something to look forward to every year.
Q. What is the difference in this golf course from where you were in the desert?
JENNIFER KUPCHO: I think the biggest thing is probably the length of the golf course. It’s really long, I would say. In the desert we were hitting pretty short clubs in. All of the par-5s were reachable. Most of them are reachable out here, but I think we’re going to have a lot of long irons into the par-4s, and the greens are definitely a lot trickier versus in the desert they were pretty flat and pretty easy.
Q. This is the first week you’ve come back where you’re defending somewhere. What has that experience been like?
JENNIFER KUPCHO: Pretty different. It’s been different for me, as well, because usually I play before the week of a major, and I took last week off, came here early, so I think that’s kind of helped with the transition of trying to figure out everything that I need to do before I can step foot on the golf course.
Q. You kind of touched on this as far as being the defending champion, but what’s it like, you’re the defending champion but it’s like, wait a minute, this is a whole different course. Everything is different.
JENNIFER KUPCHO: Yeah, I think it’s definitely different. Obviously it’s the first thing for this championship, but it’s also normal for the British Open, KPMG and the U.S. Open, they change every year. You’re defending at a different course every year. Obviously I haven’t won those, but it’s the same process as that kind of thing.
Q. Could you compare yourself as a player the Tuesday before last Chevron Championship to today?
JENNIFER KUPCHO: I think I was in a bit of a panic last year, actually. I was struggling hitting the ball, so I had a little bit of a panic, calling my swing coach, working with the Ping rep, trying to figure out what was going wrong with my swing and hitting the ball, and I would say I’m a little bit more relaxed this year. Feel like I have my feet under me and ready to go.
Q. I’m curious as well about kind of the historical significance of the win last year and everything that happened. I know you talked a few minutes ago about how time moves on, and just like the other majors on the schedule, sometimes you go to different venues, but as you’re looking farther and farther in the rear view of that big win, given the ending of it all at that particular golf course, does that still mean something to you, to be the last champion there?
JENNIFER KUPCHO: Yeah, absolutely. To have that is really special to me. Obviously growing up I always wanted to be able to take that leap into Poppies Pond, and I loved Mission Hills, being able to play there the couple of years before, as well. It was just a really cool place for me and where I felt really comfortable. So to be able to say that I won there and be the last champion there is really special.
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