Nelly Korda is back, Lydia Ko eyes Hall of Fame at LPGA Chevron Championship

For the first time in more than 50 years, the Chevron Championship isn’t being played this week at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California.

The first major of the women’s golf season has moved to The Club at Carlton Woods in The Woodlands, Texas. With the relocation, many wondered whether one of the most famous traditions in women’s golf — the Chevron Championship winner jumping into Poppie’s Pond — would die.

Maybe not.

The Club at Carlton Woods recently dredged part of a large lake off the 18th green of the Jack Nicklaus Signature Course, submerging pylons about 50 feet out and installed a net to keep alligators away.

While jumping into the Texas pond won’t be nearly as clean as leaping into the self-contained California pool that was chlorinated, whoever lifts the Dinah Shore Trophy on Sunday will at least have the option of getting wet. The club even installed a small dock and ladder to help make it happen. Amy Alcott was the first to do the jump in 1988.

“I think Chevron and everyone involved in the tournament is doing an amazing job to kind of keep the traditions alive,” Nelly Korda told reporters in Texas. “Obviously, changing locations is a little different for sure. But they’re trying their hardest to keep the traditions alive, and for us players, I think that we appreciate that a lot.

“Again, if you win, you still get to jump into Poppie’s Pond and you still get to hoist the trophy, so at the end of the day that’s what matters. They’re stepping in and supporting women’s golf, and I think that’s the big picture that everyone should focus on is that they stepped up and they’re the ones that are supporting us.”

“Hopefully,” she said. “We’ll see. But yes, I would.”

Defending champion Jennifer Kupcho wasn’t so sure.

“I guess we’ll see what comes down to it,” Kupcho said. “I’m not really sure. I think there might be snakes in the water here, so might be a little interesting.”

Stacy Lewis, who won the 2011 Chevron Championship, grew up in The Woodlands. She was part of a players committee that helped Chevron make the transition to Texas. Lewis wanted to make sure that Shore, the celebrated singer, actress and TV personality who is an honorary member of the LPGA Hall of Fame, wasn’t forgotten.

“To me, Dinah is and was the most important thing,” Lewis said. “You can take the leap in Poppie’s Pond and all that kind of stuff, but to me, there’s a reason Dinah is the only nonplaying person in our LPGA Hall of Fame. There’s a reason for that. Chevron crushed it. You see it with the trophy. Dinah’s Place on 18. Everything is about Dinah this week, and that’s what we tried to tell them over and over again is what was important.”

Here’s what to watch in the first women’s major championship of the season:

Eyeing the Hall of Fame

World No. 1 golfer Lydia Ko can cement her spot in the LPGA Hall of Fame by picking up her third major championship victory this week. Ko needs only two points to meet the criteria for induction; she would be the youngest player to do it at 25.

A win in Texas would end Ko’s seven-year drought in majors. She last won this event, then called the ANA Inspiration, in April 2016.

“It is definitely a big goal of mine to be in the Hall of Fame, but I don’t think that’s like my end goal or something that I’m just going to keep chasing towards because I’m just trying to play the best golf I can,” Ko said. “If I put myself in contention and just keep giving myself opportunities, I feel like they’re all going to come naturally.”

As a past champion of the tournament, Ko was given a Bentley courtesy car. She said she was more comfortable driving a Mazda, which she had earlier in the week. Ko didn’t get her driver’s license until 2020 after going to driving school.

“I’m not the world’s greatest driver, and I know if I crash into something, the insurance is going to be a lot higher on the Bentley versus probably most other cars,” Ko said. “Still not a good parallel parker. If I have my destination and there’s like a parallel parking spot right there, I’ll park a mile away so I can get out of that spot.”

Korda’s back

A year ago, Korda was in Los Angeles going through rehab for a blood clot in her right arm. She couldn’t even watch TV coverage of the Chevron Championship until her sister, Jessica, was in contention on the final few holes.

“But other than that, I stayed away from the TV,” Korda said.

Korda, ranked No. 2 in the world, has four top-six finishes in five starts this season. She tied for fifth in the DIO Implant LA Open in her most recent start. She took the past couple of weeks off to sharpen her game. Korda also attended the Masters.

Korda said the Jack Nicklaus Signature Course is a completely different setup than the one they played at Mission Hills. She tied for second in the event in 2020.

“Water is way more in play this week I would say, completely different grass,” Korda said. “This is a Bermuda grass. I don’t know exactly what the grass was in Palm Springs, but the rough isn’t as thick as it would be, let’s say, in Palm Springs. But it’s still a great golf course. You’re still going to have to play really well. I would say there’s more trouble off the tee and the greens are smaller, and if it gets firm, it’s going to play really tough because it is still long.”

Lewis’ homecoming

Lewis, whose parents still live about three miles from the Nicklaus Signature Course, is hoping to celebrate for a second time this week.

On Sunday, her husband, Gerrod Chadwell, led Texas A&M’s women’s golf team to its second SEC championship in Hoover, Alabama. Lewis flew home from Hawaii and watched the final holes of the championship match at her parents’ home.

“Just to see his team get it done, I was stressed out,” Lewis said. “It’s way harder watching than it is playing.”

She had planned to greet the team at the airport in College Station, Texas, but the Aggies’ flight was delayed. She figured it would be too late for her 4-year-old daughter to go. Then she couldn’t resist.

“I had told him that I wasn’t going to come just because it was late, and with Chesnee, I didn’t want to mess up bedtime and all that,” Lewis said. “I just got to thinking, I said, ‘It’s not that often you win an SEC championship, so I got Chesnee out of bed and we went and surprised him at 11 p.m. There were tears, and I think Garrett had, I would say, probably 25, 30 people that ended up showing up to cheer on the girls.”

Adding another trophy this week would be extra special for Lewis, who will captain the U.S. Solheim Cup teams in 2023 and 2024.

“It’s a little strange staying at my parents’ house and coming and playing a golf tournament,” Lewis said. “It’s something that definitely growing up here I thought would never happen, to bring a championship like this to the Woodlands. But it’s been awesome.”

Another first-time winner

There have been seven first-time winners at the Chevron Championship, including three in the past five years: Pernilla Lindberg in 2018, Patty Tavatanakit in 2021 and Kupcho last year. Who might be next?

Thailand’s Natthakritta Vongtaveelap, one of 13 rookies in the field, was runner-up at the Honda LPGA Thailand and tied for sixth at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii last week. She would become only the third rookie to win the Chevron Championship; Juli Inkster (1984) and Tavatanakit (2021) were the others.

Another milestone for Zhang

Stanford sophomore Rose Zhang isn’t in the field this week, but she reached another historic milestone on Wednesday. Zhang, who won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur earlier this month, has now been ranked the world’s No. 1 women’s amateur golfer for 136 weeks. She surpassed the previous record of 135 weeks set by Leona Maguire in 2018.

“It’s an unbelievable honor and a testament to a lot of hard work not just by me but by my team as well,” Zhang said in a statement. “Passing names like Lydia [Ko] and Leona on any list is incredible; they’ve both gone on to have such impressive professional careers and are great role models in golf. I’m grateful for all the support I’ve received and look forward to continuing to pursue my dreams in this game.”

Zhang was competing in the final round of the Pac-12 women’s championship in Phoenix on Wednesday.

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