Perth’s Minjee Lee will start her first major championship on American soil as a professional tomorrow.
The Golf Australia rookie squad star, who shone on her major debut with a T16 at last year’s Evian Championship in France, will join compatriots Karrie Webb, Katherine Kirk and Sarah Jane Smith in the 113-strong field at the ANA Inspiration in California.
Lee played this event at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage last year as an amateur with impressive rounds of 75, 68, 73 and 72 to finish even par and tied 24th.
But she returns ranked 60th in the world and climbing rapidly with four top-30 finishes in her first six starts on the LPGA Tour, including a T7 at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open which effectively guaranteed her start this week despite two missed cuts in her past two outings.
Formerly known as the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the ANA Inspiration is the first of five women’s majors for the year – and the chance for world No.1 Lydia Ko to break her duck in the big events.
The New Zealander has fired an extraordinary 28 consecutive sub-par rounds, but could lose her top spot on the rankings if she’s beaten by Korean Inbee Park this week.
The defending champion is American Lexi Thompson, but dual champion Webb is confident that she could take a third leap into the famous Poppie’s Pond beside the 18th green despite this week falling out of the world’s top 10 for the first time this year.
Webb, now No.12, hasn’t missed a cut this season and is just showing signs that her dynamic best isn’t far away with some low single rounds in the past three tournaments.
Kirk has slipped just outside the top 100 after missed cuts in her past two starts after her bold showing in her national championship at Royal Melbourne.
Smith, like fellow Queenslander Webb, has several impressive recent rounds and only needs to eradicate the occasional big number to be right in the mix.
The event began in 1972, initially as the Dinah Shore, then became a major in 1983 with Nabisco and later Kraft Nabisco as its sponsors.
ANA only came on board late last year as the new naming rights sponsor after Kraft’s withdrawal.