Once again, the first women’s golf major of the season tees off with The Chevron Championship. Yet on Thursday, that tee is moving some 1,580 miles from its Californian desert roots.
After a 51-year stay at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, the LPGA Tour’s opening major is taking up new residence at Carlton Woods in The Woodlands, Texas, under a sponsorship deal with energy company Chevron.
The Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course – personally designed by ‘The Golden Bear’ – will play host to a stellar 132-player field boasting 29 major winners, including defending champion Jennifer Kupcho and world No. 1 Lydia Ko.
How to watch
US viewers can watch the first and second rounds on the Golf Channel, with coverage running from 10 a.m. CST until 7 p.m. CST. The Golf Channel will then show live coverage of the weekend’s final two rounds from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m CST before the action moves over to NBC from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. CST.
In the UK, Sky Sports Golf will broadcast the opening two rounds live from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. BST and 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. BST before coverage switches to Sky Sports Mix for the Saturday and Sunday rounds from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. BST.
A move to The Lone Star State marks merely the latest – albeit the most substantial – development to a tournament that has seen plenty of change over the years.
Founded in 1972 as the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle – a nod to co-founding actress and singer Dinah Shore – the event wasn’t upgraded to major status until 1983. Since retitled The Nabisco Championship, The Kraft Nabisco Championship and the ANA Inspiration, Chevron’s deal with the tournament was announced in 2021, ushering in a new name, a new location and an increased prize purse of over $5 million.
In waving goodbye to Mission Hills, the event also said farewell to one of its most famous traditions – the Poppie’s Pond leap, a trend started by Amy Alcott in 1988.
Almost 34 years to the day, Kupcho became the final ‘Lady of the Lake’ with her dive into the waters beside the 18th green after her maiden major triumph in 2022.
However, a lake along the boundaries of the par-five 18th green at Carlton Woods offers Sunday’s champion the opportunity to regenerate the tradition.
World No. 20 Kupcho will face stiff competition in her bid to retain her crown. All of the world’s top-20 ranked players will headline a glittering field who have accumulated 41 major wins and 247 titles between them, according to tournament organizers.
A two-stroke advantage over US compatriot Jessica Korda sealed an impressive victory for Kupcho at last year’s event, having shared the lead from the close of the first round.
The victory lifted Kupcho, who had arrived as the world No. 53, from a grueling rut of form. The 25-year-old returns to defend her title in a more comfortable place.
“I think I was in a bit of a panic last year,” Kupcho told reporters Tuesday.
“I was struggling hitting the ball, so I had a little bit of a panic, calling my swing coach … trying to figure out what was going wrong with my swing and hitting the ball.
“I would say I’m a little bit more relaxed this year. Feel like I have my feet under me and ready to go.”
New Zealand’s Ko arrives as the player to beat, with three wins in her last eight starts consolidating her place at the summit as she seeks to end a seven-year wait for a third major after victory at Mission Hills in 2016.
Victory would come with the added bonus of ushering the 25-year-old into the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame, with Ko just two points – or one major win – shy of meeting the point threshold for entry.
“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,” Ko told reporters.
“I just want to have a good week and put myself in position, and if I have a chance at it and be the one that’s holding the trophy at the end of the week, that’s pretty awesome. But I don’t think that’s going to be my driving force going to any of these events this year.”
A win for world No. 2 Nelly Korda, who missed last year’s event due to a blood clot in her arm, would see the 24-year-old American add to the maiden major title she won at the 2021 Women’s PGA Championship.
Should she win, Korda has promised to take the plunge into the waters at the 18th green, a tradition she is glad to continue despite the change of scenery.
“I think Chevron and everyone involved in the tournament is doing an amazing job to kind of keep the traditions alive,” she told reporters.
“Obviously, changing locations is different for sure, but … if you win, you still get to jump … 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.”
World No. 10 Georgia Hall, England’s highest ranked player, touches down in Texas in imperious form. With two runner-up finishes in her last three starts, the 2018 British Open champion hasn’t placed outside the top-15 in any 2023 event.
“I don’t think I have a weakness in my game at all, and I think that’s partially why I’ve been very consistent,” Hall told reporters.
“I think my mentality is the strongest part of my game, and that’s the key to why I play well. It’s just a combination of the last year or two of hard work and stepping it up another level.
“Now, it’s just coming all together very nicely, and I’m glad the hard work is paying off.”