As the LPGA Tour moves forward from 51 years of history at Mission Hills Country Club, it is packing a $5.1 million purse alongside whatever tradition can fit in its bags on the journey from Southern California to the Club at Carlton Woods near Houston, where the Chevron Championship will be played this week.
After so many years of battling for a major title under the shadow of the San Jacinto Mountain range, how do players prepare for a new date for the opening major of the year on a new course with a new flow to the schedule leading into the tournament?
Amidst a hectic leapfrogging LPGA travel schedule, most are approaching preparation like any other week on tour.
“It's going to feel different, but you know, it's a different location. It’d be nice to have the same routing all the time, but it's not,” said So Yeon Ryu, the winner of the 2017 ANA Inspiration (before it became the Chevron). "And then that's what we do, so we just need to adopt it.”
Before this season, preparing for the Chevron Championship schedule was quite simple. From 2010 through last year (outside of 2020 when the LPGA had to change its date due to COVID-19), many players competed the week before the major at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, Calif., a little more than 100 miles away. This year, the Lotte Championship in Hawaii was the week before. So, for those who played outside of Honolulu, their travel was a seven-and-a-half-hour flight to Houston instead of a short drive. It's an inconvenient reality that the LPGA faces.
“I hate to say it, but we're used to doing it,” 15-year tour veteran Stacy Lewis said. “We're used to jumping back and forth across the country, and [it’s] just kind of part of it.”
There's less enthusiasm for the extensive travel from the top players in the game. Even with an off week before the Lotte Championship, only four of the top 10 in the Rolex Women's World Rankings teed it up at Hoakelei Country Club. In 2022, seven of the top 10 played at the JTBC Classic.
Those who chose to pass on playing in Hawaii got at least two weeks to prepare in whichever way is best for them.
“Probably going to try to fine-tune everything, tighten up any loose screws around the game and try to dial into my irons, wedges, my long game,” Nelly Korda said after the DIO Implant Open at the start of April. “Honestly, everything. Probably going to be in grind mode the next two weeks.”
The Club at Carlton Woods: Nicklaus
The Woodlands, TX
Given a major's importance and the substantial purse, one might think top players would consider investing in a scouting trip to the course ahead of time. But instead, most opted not to play Carlton Woods during the break. Jin Young Ko stayed at her Dallas residence, watching the Masters and practicing near her home.
Danielle Kang opted for rest, going home for the first time in a while to try to get fully healthy. Ryu returned home to South Korea for sponsorship obligations and was to arrive in Houston at the start of the week.
World No. 1 Lydia Ko chose to take a different scouting trip, playing Pebble Beach, home of this year’s U.S. Women’s Open. The Kiwi started practicing at Carlton Woods this past Saturday.
“Majors sometimes don't feel like seven days like any other week, especially if you're contending or you win,” Ko said. “It's more like two weeks fall right on you.”
It remains to be seen if the Chevron winner will jump in the lake at Carlton Woods, as past winners, inlcluding So Yeon Ryu, did at the Dinah Shore Course.
Chevron’s venue change also means more experienced players lose half-a-century of course knowledge. It felt like a rite to teach the next generation how to navigate the slopes and angles of the Dinah Shore Course. Ryu recalled in 2017, at the start of the week, learning a lot from her practice round with Karrie Webb, who won the then-Kraft Nabisco in 2000 and 2006. They'll rely on their caddies instead of experience to know the course.
“Having been somewhere multiple times versus brand new, course knowledge just is not as easy [to learn].” Kang said, “But I really trust in my caddies with those things, and he does an amazing job. I'm sure he's going to know the golf course better than I do.”
With the Chevron Championship making a new home, the only major played at the same course from 2022 to 2023 is the Amundi Evian Championship, held at the Evian Resort Course every year since it became the LPGA's fifth major in 2013. So instead of players feeling like the tournament is more akin to a KPMG Women's PGA Championship or U.S. Women's Open, where they're held at different courses annually, players focused on the Chevron Championship starting to match the stature of the tour's other domestic majors.
“I think the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is a clear example of it was really hard to leave that New York area where we had the Wegman's and such long history there,” Ko said. “But what KPMG has done to keep elevating that championship, I believe that partners like Chevron and new partners or even partners that have been with the LPGA for a long time, they're going to keep elevating it.”
Building up the new version of the Chevron Championship includes determining what traditions can translate to Carlton Woods. Lewis explained that the pavilion behind the 18th will be named after Dinah. The Dinah Shore Trophy name will remain the same. The LPGA invited Dinah's family to be part of the Chevron Championship. The lake on the front left of the par 5 18th will hopefully serve as an opportunity to replicate the leap into Poppie’s Pond. Should Lewis win her third major title, she plans to jump.
“That was the most important thing to us players, was that Dinah remained a part of the championship," Lewis said.
It's been a variety of roads to prepare for the first version of the Chevron Championship. The week will reveal what traditions may form to prepare for the LPGA's first major as well.