It still seems strange, even eerie, that a year ago this weekend, Coachella Valley hosted what is perhaps the strangest major championship the LPGA has ever seen.
The ANA Inspiration 2020, postponed from April due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was finally played this weekend a year ago. While the event at Mirim Lee crowned a champion in a playoff with Nelly Korda and Brooke Henderson, so much about the tournament was reflected in what the country was going through with the pandemic at that moment.
The tournament had no ticketed fans, and those who live on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club at Rancho Mirage were only supposed to watch from their backyard or shared acres of the course. Of course there were some pants with these restrictions, but not many.
Oh, and there were those temperatures of over 110 degrees, caddies riding in a golf cart (admittedly, few) and a nearby wildfire that covered the desert sky with smoke. On a few days, especially one just before the tournament, the smoke was so thick that it actually kept the temperature low like a thick blanket of cloud and the smoke completely darkened the nearby San Jacinto Mountains.
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Just getting started on the course required a negative COVID-19 test and daily health tests, which is now almost a given. In September 2020 it all seemed new and in some ways scary. Masks and colored bracelets were compulsory. Access to players was restricted for the media, and the logs for entering and exiting the Mission Hills clubhouse seemed to change every day.
It wasn’t much fun for anyone from the gamers to the volunteers, the LPGA staff, or the homeowners.
A year later, things certainly seem to be doing a lot better for both professional golf tournaments and Coachella Valley. But nothing is as it was in 2019.
Back to normal for sport
Please note that the ANA Inspiration last April was played without fans due to the district regulations. But the tournament felt a lot better than it did in 2020, with player access a lot easier and with fewer regulations. However, there were still COVID-19 tests and daily health checkups.
If the tournament was played in Mission Hills today, protocols might allow fans, but only those who were vaccinated or had a recent negative test result. While the tournament was being played and a solid champion was crowned in 2020, the 2021 duel between champion Patty Tavatanakit and runner-up Lydia Ko felt a lot more like a major LPGA event.
We’ve seen fans return to tournaments, most recently at the Solheim Cup in Ohio last weekend. We have heard of very few players who have had to withdraw from tournaments due to positive testing, so fans and players are starting to go about their business again. But the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t want to go away, and the Delta variant is keeping everyone on their toes.
That doesn’t, for the moment, prevent fans from attending high school football games or the rescheduled BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells for October. Yes, these tennis fans are required to provide proof of vaccination, but keep in mind that there was no vaccine at ANA Inspiration a year ago.
The LPGA and the organizers of the IMG tournament did everything they could a year ago to ensure that the ANA Inspiration ran smoothly, and they succeeded in doing so given the limitations of the pandemic. In a way, it was a bit of a miracle the tournament happened and most people will never know what had to be done behind the scenes to play an LPGA event in the desert in 2020.
The sports world and the desert are in much better places a year after the ANA Inspiration pandemic. With the BNP Paribas Open less than a month away and the American Express tournament on the PGA Tour in La Quinta only four months away, everyone must hope that the current surge subsides and fans can support their favorite players at events that are for the desert are important.
In the desert, two ANA Inspirations without a gallery were played, an American Express without a gallery and two postponements of the BNP Paribas Open. A return to normal means that these events are played on time with fans on the courts and along the fairways.
Larry Bohannan is the golf writer for The Desert Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (760) 778-4633. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_Bohannan. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Desert Sun.