AUSTIN, Texas – Patty Tavanakit felt a mixture of pride and sadness when she arrived at Mission Hills in California for the first LPGA Tour major of the year.
It was a thrill to see her name on the wall of champions. The former UCLA star from Thailand went wire-to-wire last year in the ANA Inspiration for her first major title.
“Proud to put my name there,” she said Tuesday. “I actually took a picture with it. Just a nice feeling. I mean, makes me love this place even more regardless how I do this week.”
And that leads to the sadness.
This is the final year at Mission Hills, a course packed with more tradition than any other in women’s golf. It was known for years (and still is in some circles) as the Dinah Shore from when it began in 1972 to getting major championship status in 1983.
Amy Alcott started the tradition of jumping in Poppie’s Pond that surrounds the 18th green in 1988. Whoever wins this year will be making the final leap.
Chevron has taken over as title sponsor and is moving the tournament to Houston in 2023, when it will be held in May. Without new sponsorship, the tournament might not have survived. Chevron already is raising the prize money to $5 million this year and investing $1.2 million over six years in the LPGA Foundation.
Tavatanakit says Hall of Famer Juli Inkster spoke at a champions dinner of growing the women’s game, and this was a step toward that.
“I love coming back here,” she said. “But we’re evolving and changing, and we always look forward to what’s new.”
The May date will be new, and Tavatanakit can speak to experience how that will make a difference. Three years ago, she was eligible for the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the first LPGA major of the year.
She was forced to choose and turned down her one chance to compete at the home of the Masters. She was at UCLA. It was either fly across three time zones or drive to a major.
“If I were to go back in time I would still do that with my full heartbeat,” she said. “It was just a tough decision, but that was where it was laying out for me. ... I want to have the experience of playing in majors and just the nerves.”
While it paid off with a major title two years later, Tavatanakit is happy that other women won’t be forced to choose given the later spring date for the Chevron Championship.
“I’m really happy that no one have to pick and choose between Augusta and a major, because it is a tough choice," she said.
BOOKING A TEE TIME
Sam Burns was looking to play golf, so he called the head pro at a private club and arranged for a tee time. That all sounds routine, except this was Augusta National.
Burns qualified for his first Masters last March when he won the Valspar Championship, which last year was held after the Florida swing. Augusta National the last week in February is nothing like it will be next week, but it was a memorable day.
“Honestly, I tried to be a spectator and take the place in,” Burns said. “I got to do it with my dad, which was really cool.”
His previous time on the grounds was as a spectator 10 years ago during the Monday practice round.
As for that phone call? He said he called the shop and asked for the head pro.
“Hopefully he would say, ‘Yeah, you can come,’” Burns said with a laugh.
He will be among the 19 first-timers at the Masters, including amateurs.
WRONG SIDE OF 50
At least this time Cameron Tringale had a club in his hand.
Tringale was in position to finish last year at No. 50 after he tied for second in the Zozo Championship and tied for seventh in the Houston Open, his final event.
But in the final official event of the year, Takumi Kanaya closed with a 66 to finish alone in third in the JT Cup on the Japan Golf Tour. When the final ranking was published, Kanaya was at No. 50 and received a Masters invitation.
Tringale had another chance last week in the Dell Technologies Match Play, the final week for Augusta National to invite the top 50 among those not already eligible. Tringale was No. 51 and needed to win his group to assure being in the top 50. As it turned out, going 1-1-1 would have been enough. But he lost to Will Zalatoris and Viktor Hovland.
Tringale wound up going down a spot to No. 52. He is not playing the Valero Texas Open this week. The Masters will have to wait for another year.
Tringale's lone Masters appearance was in 2015, when he tied for 38th. He at least earned a pair of crystal goblets from an eagle on the 13th hole of the second round.
Dottie Pepper has spent nearly two decades talking for a living as a golf analyst for NBC and now CBS. Rarely have words taken on so much importance to her.
Pepper last year released her book, “Letters to a Future Champion,” a touching tribute to longtime coach George Pulver in which she shares letters they exchanged from the time she was a junior in Saratoga Springs, New York, to reaching the LPGA Tour.
Now she has a self-narrated audio version of the book. The decision was partly inspired because her grandmother has macular degeneration and cannot read comfortably.
“It was definitely a unique experience to narrate my words, some that were written 40-plus years ago,” Pepper said. “But I hope listeners will be able to better build a connection by hearing me tell my story in my own voice.”
With Scottie Scheffler going to No. 1 in the world, Tiger Woods in 2009 remains the last player to stay at No. 1 the entire year. ... U.S. Solheim Cup captain Stacy Lewis has picked Morgan Pressel to be an assistant for the matches in Spain next year. ... Along with becoming title sponsor of the first LPGA major of the year, Chevron is investing $1.2 million over the next years to the LPGA Foundation to support opportunities for girls and women in golf. ... The Zurich Classic is beefing up its field for the PGA Tour's lone team event. Along with having Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland, another team will feature Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele. Cantlay and Schauffele were 2-0 together in the Ryder Cup. Morikawa and Hovland were opponents and halved their singles match. ... The WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play has not had a champion win all seven matches since Dustin Johnson in 2017. ... Scheffler is the first player since Johnson to have won three times in the year before getting to the Masters.
STAT OF THE WEEK
The leading five players from the women’s world ranking are from five countries — South Korea (Jin Young Ko), United States (Nelly Korda), New Zealand (Lydia Ko), Australia (Minjee Lee) and Thailand (Atthaya Thitikul).
“I don’t feel like No. 1 in the world. I feel like the same guy I was four months ago, and I hope that doesn’t change.” — Scottie Scheffler.
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