April 19 (Reuters) –When women’s golf crowns its first major winner of the season on Sunday at the Chevron Championship it will not make the same splash it once did.
The sight of winners celebrating with a joyful leap into Poppies Pond off the 18th green was one of women golf’s most recognisable traditions but a move from its longtime home of Mission Hills Country Club in Palm Springs to The Club at Carlton Woods near Houston has effectively ended the ritual.
In a nod to the past, a small wooden dock has been built into the murky lake that lines the par-five finishing hole at Woodland Hills and the traditional robe and slippers will be waiting but players have been non-committal about taking a plunge.
“I’m not really sure,” said defending Chevron champion Jennifer Kupcho. “I think there might be snakes in the water here, so might be a little interesting.”
While a dock can be quickly constructed, it takes years to build traditions and rarely are they transferable.
But world number one Lydia Ko of New Zealand gave the LPGA and new sponsor Chevron credit for acknowledging the sport’s history and in some small way honouring the tournament’s past.
“I think they’re very respectful and understanding of all the history that we’ve had,” said Ko.
“For them to be understanding of how people remember this championship and having the jump to Poppies Pond and for them to kind of bring that back and give players opportunities to do that I think is really cool.”
The first of the season’s five majors has attracted an elite field that includes the world’s top 20 ranked players, including Ko, who won her second and last major at the Chevron in 2016, number two American Tokyo Olympic gold medallist Nelly Korda and South Korean Ko Jin-Young, the 2019 champion.
Kupcho is back to defend her crown along with all of last season’s major champions Minjee Lee (U.S. Women’s Open), In Gee Chun (Women’s PGA Championship), Brooke Henderson (Evian Championship), and Ashleigh Buhai (Women’s British Open).
The field also includes the winners of the first six events this year won by women from six different countries
Canada’s Henderson captured the LPGA Tour’s opening event and was followed to the winner’s circle by American Lilia Vu, South Korea’s Ko Jin-young, Frenchwoman Celine Boutier, China’s Yin Ruoning and LPGA Tour rookie Australian Grace Kim, who arrives in Texas riding the moment from taking her maiden title last week at the LOTTE Championship.
When play gets underway with the opening round on Thursday at the Jack Nicklaus designed layout the spotlight will not wander far from Ko and Korda.
After missing last year’s Chevron due to injury, Korda is back to full fitness with four finishes inside the top six in five starts this season, including runner-up at last month’s HSBC World Championship.
A win on Sunday would give Ko the two points she needs to become the youngest player to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame.
“It would be pretty cool to get it done in the first major of the year and be in the Hall of Fame, but that’s not what’s important to me,” said Ko. “For me I just want to have a good week.”