The Chevron Championship: Reality bites as field balance up fond farewells with need for change

The first major championship of the year takes place for the final time at Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage, California.

What separates professional golfers from the rest of us?

The ability to regularly biff a ball around the course in less than 72 shots is one (absolutely critical) factor.

Brutal realism is a rather less exulted part of the elite golfer skill set: they understand that the scorecard doesn't paint pictures.

In a sense, that notion extends to this week's Chevron Championship and the first Major Championship of the year's farewell to its long-time venue Missions Hills.

Those of us on the outside are painting pictures of what a sad wave goodbye it is. The players, on the other hand, while fully aware of such nostalgia, also appreciate the importance of the bottom line.

"It's a bittersweet good-bye," said defending champion Patty Tavatanakit. "Having to move this event out of California, out of the desert, it's sad. I love coming back here.

"But we're evolving and changing, and we always look forward to what's new. What (new sponsor) Chevron have done to this tournament, raising the purse and really growing the women's game, it's truly what we're after, what everyone is after.

"I was at Champion's Dinner last night and Hall of Famer Juli Inkster said the goal is to grow the game, and that's what we're heading towards, which is a great thing."

Stacy Lewis was on the same page: "This tournament is our tour. It's the LPGA. When you ask someone about the LPGA they know this place, and they know the jump in the pond (at the end). That's what everybody knows."

The 2011 champion also knows the tournament history. When launched as the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner's Circle in 1972 it was, immediately, the richest event on the schedule and a huge leap forward for the women's game.

"We're at a point now where purses are getting bigger, and this is where it started," said Lewis. "Colgate came on board and started that movement.

"So it is a sad week personally for me that we're leaving, but I think Chevron is going to take this thing to the next level and we're going to take traditions with us and do it right."

And Danielle Kang added further detail, noting that pro golfers are not only always interested in the bottom line figure on the scorecard, but also in expenses every week.

"I'm lucky enough to not worry about some of the cash prices and things like that," she said. "Let's kind of look at it from a broader perspective. I'm one player. How about the average tour players?

"I made the cut last week but I didn't break even. That's me budgeting. I have to drive, rent a car, get a hotel room. Luckily enough for me I'm sponsored by BMW that provides for me the car. That saves and we have to think about all these things.

"So I really support whatever it needs to make the tour better moving forward for the girls to work, make a living, and not worry about making a cut and not breaking even."

What else did the leading contenders have to say ahead of the first round? Let's start with the defending champion.

Patty Tavatanakit

"At Majors I tend to be a little bit more in tune with what I'm doing. I want to here more than just a regular event. I would say my game, if anything, was better than last year. Just a matter of the execution here and there."

Lydia Ko

"My game is very different to when I won here. I'm hitting it a lot longer off the tee than when I played and won in 2016, and the course has changed, too. I think in the last couple years they brought the fairways in, the greens are pretty firm as well and the rough is quite juicy.

"Just trying to make sure that my ball striking is a bit more consistent, and I know that my confidence rides a lot alongside that."

Jin Young Ko

"I have great memories here, so I'm happy. I just trying to hit straight driver or everything, but this course fairways are narrow, so we need to keep the fairway. That's why I love this course, I love to play this course. Major competitions are a motivation itself. That makes me a lot more focused, yeah."

Lexi Thompson

"It suits my game because I'm able to play it aggressively. I'm able to hit a lot of drivers which I love doing. So I get to play to my strength, but really just finding the fairways out there is key. The rough isn't too high right now but I'm sure as the week goes on it'll get higher."

Minjee Lee

"I think it's a ball-striker's course, so I think as long as you're driving it well, you have good iron shots in, you're going to have pretty good looks for birdie. I think that's where I have good strengths in my game, so I feel quite good around here.

"I don't really feel too much different as a person (since winning a major). I think golf-wise I'm just a little bit more confident, a little bit more belief there I think. Something that I probably don't really think about too much, but it's just a little bit more subconscious."

Danielle Kang

"I've been playing pretty solid. I didn't play well last week though. My game is still not exactly where I want it to be. I was testing a lot of stuff that I wanted to test last week to be ready for this week. Sometimes over-preparing and overdoing some of the things that are already good is tough to balance. It's hard. It's tough."

Yuka Saso

Q: "Every time we've seen you this year you're just hitting it on a frozen rope."

A: "What is frozen rope?"

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