The organisers of the second women’s major of the year have admitted they are monitoring temperature and air quality amid fears it could become unsafe for players to walk the course at Rancho Mirage in California.
This weekend’s ANA Inspiration is due to take place with a backdrop of heat in excess of 100F, with smoke also prevalent in the air because of wildfires. It remains possible that players will take to buggies before the event is completed.
“In general we’ve heard from our players that they want to walk, that it’s a major championship, and of course in major championships you want to walk,” the LPGA’s Heather Daly-Donofrio said. “But what’s most important right now is the health and safety of our athletes and our caddies. We have not ruled out carts for players on tournament days.”
It is little wonder Nasa Hataoka, the world No 7, pinpointed a sun umbrella as her most useful accessory of the week.
“It’s hot, you touch the door handle of your car and it’s kind of on the slight sizzling point,” said Lydia Ko, the 2016 champion. “I landed on Sunday and I got some food to go on the way here. I sat on the kerbside and ate, and I felt like I was in a sauna eating super hot food.” Ko, it must be recognised, did say she prefers this scenario to the humidity at her home in Florida.
Caddies have been given unprecedented grace by the LPGA. “This has been the year of health and safety, and with that in mind we will be allowing caddies to take carts,” said a statement issued last week. As things stand, players must walk during their four rounds; but that is subject to change.
“Everybody is aware that we made a decision to allow carts in practice rounds due to the high temperature for both players and caddies,” Daly-Donofrio said. “And then to allow the caddies push carts, or carts during tournament rounds. Something that’s unusual, but nothing is typical in 2020. We felt like it was the best decision to keep our caddies healthy.
“I think since then two things have changed. One, the air quality due to the California wildfires, and we’re tracking those air quality index levels very closely; and two, higher forecasted temperatures for the weekend. We just got our forecast from our meteorologist, and we’re looking at tournament days of 100, 108, 110, and 113.
“We’re continuing to monitor both the AQI and the temperature very closely. While we’re not out there yet, if it becomes clear from our medical team and if the high temperatures and the AQI converge gets to a point where we feel that’s unhealthy for walking … again, we’re not there yet.
“We’re watching the levels very highly. But with the AQI you really can’t forecast out too far. So while the AQI level’s terrible now, for later in the week we really can only do that current day and the next day, because a lot can change between now and then.”
Ko Jin-young will not defend her ANA title having opted to remain in Korea because of Covid-related travel complexities. Mike Whan, the LPGA’s commissioner, hopes to have spectators back at events in early 2021.