Chevron Championship Debuts In Texas After California Run

THE WOODLANDS, Texas (AP) — The Chevron Championship has left the California desert for the woods of suburban Houston, and that means top-ranked Lydia Ko has dealt with some new challenges while preparing for the LPGA’s first major of the year.

“I was sneezing so much. I told that to my husband. ‘I was like, I broke the course record in sneezing,’” Ko said. “But he only heard the course record, and he was like, ‘You must have played great.’ And I was like, ‘No, I meant in sneezing,’ because there’s a lot of pine trees here and I have allergies.”

Ko picked up some allergy medication after her practice round in hopes it’ll keep the sneezing at bay when the tournament begins Thursday. The 132-player field features nine past champions, including Jennifer Kupcho, last year’s winner.

The event will be held at The Club at Carlton Woods for the first time after its long run at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, since 1972 — and as a major since 1983. Known informally as the Dinah Shore after its actress founder, Chevron took over the tournament sponsorship and moved it to the Houston area, where Chevron has a huge presence downtown with some 8,000 employees.

Kupcho responded to the change by taking last week off to arrive in Texas early to get acclimated to this course, which is quite different than Mission Hills. She usually plays the week before a major.

“I think the biggest thing is probably the length of the golf course,” Kupcho said. “It’s really long … In the desert we were hitting pretty short clubs in. All of the par-5s were reachable. Most of them are reachable out here, but I think we’re going to have a lot of long irons into the par-4s, and the greens are definitely a lot trickier versus in the desert they were pretty flat and pretty easy.”

Tournament organizers are trying to maintain some of the history of the tournament. The Dinah Shore was highlighted by Poppie’s Pond, which surrounded the 18th green at Mission Hills. Winners had been jumping into it since 1988.

The Club at Carlton Woods also has water at the 18th hole where the tradition could be continued, and they named the hospitality area near the hole “Dinah’s Place.”

“In Chevron’s perspective, I think they’re very respectful and understanding of all the history that we’ve had … (and) for them to be understanding of how people remember this championship and having the jump to Poppie’s Pond and for them to kind of bring that back and give players opportunities and their team opportunity to do that I think is really cool,” Ko said.

But unlike the pristine blue water of Poppie’s Pond, the Texas water is murkier, leading to debate about whether jumping in would be a good idea. Ko and world No. 2 Nelly Korda said they’d take the leap, while Kupcho seemed less inclined.

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

Stacy Lewis has a leg up on preparations for the majors. She grew up in The Woodlands, about 3 ½ miles from the club, and was on the players’ advisory committee that helped with the move.

“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.”

Ko returned to No. 1 in the world and will try to win a major for the first time since 2016. Korda is fully healthy after missing four months and a lot of momentum last year with a blood clot in her arm that required surgery.

Another player to watch this week is Georgia Hall, the winner of the 2018 Women’s British Open who has finished second in two of her last three tournaments.

“It obviously gives me a lot of confidence,” Hall said. “I’ve been in contention most of the weeks that I’ve played in an event, so really comfortable with being in that position. I think that every golf course every week is very different, as well, and this one — and the greens are especially quite tricky, so I think I can rely on my short game this week, but hopefully I can be in that final group again come Sunday.”