As it has been for the past 50 years, the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage this week is hosting the top female golfers in the world during what is now called the Chevron Championship.
Sadly, this will be the last year that the LPGA major will be played on the world-famous Mission Hills course. Next year, when late March rolls around, the tournament will be played at a “course to be named later” somewhere in Texas, as a condition of the sponsorship deal that Chevron signed late in 2021.
Another major change that’s come along with the new Chevron sponsorship deal is the significant increase in the prize money for the field: It’s jumped from $3.1 million last year, to $5 million this year.
“It’s a bittersweet goodbye, I guess,” said defending champion Patty Tavatanakit, 22, of Thailand, during a pre-tourney interview. “What Chevron did to this tournament, raising the purse and really growing the women’s game—it’s truly what we’re after. … I was at champions dinner, and the Hall of Famer, Juli Inkster, said the goal is to grow the game, and that’s what we’re heading toward, which is a great thing.”
Despite the increase in prize money, there was a very real feeling of melancholy as the 2022 tournament started today; it will continue through Sunday.
American golfing great Lexi Thompson has experienced the best of times and the worst of times at Mission Hills. Her best outcome came back in 2014, when, at the age of 19, she won the tournament with a 14-under-par score, three strokes better than runner-up Michelle Wie. Her worst outcome came in 2017, when she became the main protagonist in a golfing nightmare: A fan watching at home noticed—with the help of extreme TV closeups—that Thompson marked and replaced her ball approximately an inch away from the exact spot where she had picked up her ball on the 17th green during Saturday’s play. Thompson was penalized a total of four strokes—and her 2-shot lead evaporated as she walked off the 12th green on Sunday, when she was informed of the decision. Still, she fought back to finish in a tie with So Yeon Ryu at the end of regulation play. The pair went on to begin a sudden-death playoff, which Thompson lost on the first hole.
Given all that history, Thompson was asked how she viewed her relationship over the years with the course and the tournament.
“I think what’s so amazing is the history behind this tournament,” Thompson told the media. “Jumping into Poppie’s Pond, putting (on) the robe on the 18th green—just the tradition and history behind it. To be able to walk up the 18th green and see my name there (among the other winners), it’s pretty special.”
A reporter in the press scrum then asked Thompson: “Will it feel strange, next April, not coming back here?”
She replied: “Yeah, I’ve played in this event quite a while now—a lot of great memories, a lot of special ones, since I was very young. It’s definitely unfortunate that it will be moving from this special venue at Mission Hills. I think we’re all about a bit bummed out about it. But, at the same time, we’re not losing the event; we’re just losing the location.
“Hopefully, something will happen out of it. Maybe we have another event here. Anything can happen.”