Golf’s first major on the calendar isn’t at Augusta National. It’s a week before at Mission Hills Country Club in California. Before the men tee off April 9th at the Masters, it’s the women who get championship golf underway at the ANA Inspiration.
Formerly known as the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the ANA Inspiration (April 2-5) is the first of five majors on the LPGA Tour schedule. 2015 marks the first year under its current name, but the tournament itself is in its 33rd years as a major championship.
Here are five players to watch when action gets underway next Thursday.
1. Lexi Thompson
The first player to watch is last year’s champion, 20-year-old Lexi Thompson. Lexi’s 2014 win was her first at a major championship, and her fourth career LPGA win overall. She turned pro five years ago when she was just 15 years old. Ranked 11th in the world, Lexi hasn’t gotten off to a hot start in 2015, with only one top 10 finish in the four events she’s played. Still, the defending champ will be tough to beat.
2. Lydia Ko
At 17 years old, Lydia Ko is the youngest golfer of either gender to be ranked No. 1 in the world. Just a rookie last year, Ko took the LPGA by storm. She won the CME Group Tour Championship and was named LPGA Rookie of the Year. Ko hasn’t skipped a beat in 2015. She won the Women’s Australian Open back in February and has two other runner up finishes. It will be tough to beat Ko next week at Mission Hills, as she sets her sights on her first major victory.
3. Inbee Park
Inbee Park was Lydia Ko before Lydia Ko. At 19 years old, the South Korean became the youngest player in LPGA history to win a major when she won the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open. Since then, she’s racked up five total major victories, and finds herself ranked second in the world, only behind Ko. Park is also playing some of her best golf right now, having just won the HSBC Women’s Champions earlier this month. She won this event two years ago, and will have an excellent chance next week to win again.
4. Stacy Lewis
The 2011 champion will look for her third major victory next week at the ANA Inspiration. Ranked third in the world, Lewis rarely plays poorly at Mission Hills. She was the low amateur the first time she played in 2007, and has two other top five finishes. Still only 30 years old, Lewis is playing arguably the best golf of any of the women on this list. She finished second at Honda LPGA Thailand, third at HSBC Women’s Champions, and second at last week’s JTBC Founders Cup. A win next week wouldn’t shock anyone.
5. Amy Yang
25 year old South Korean Amy Yang is on the cusp of finally breaking through for her first major. Yang has an astounding ten top 10 finishes in majors, but remarkably has yet to find her way to the winner’s circle. Yang has played well at Mission Hills, finishing fourth in 2012 and tenth a year ago. She’s played well so far in 2015, with a second place finish at the Women’s Australian Open and a victory a week later at Honda LPGA Thailand. Ranked 10th in the world, Yang is definitely one to watch for next week to see if she can capture that elusive first major championship.