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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Look out for the amateurs as ANA Inspiration tees off

   The first major professional championship in 2016 tees off Thursday as the LPGA’s ANA Inspiration gets under way at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club in Mission Hills, Calif.
   In recent years, the ANA has completed its field by inviting top amateur players as well as the winner of a Monday qualifier, the ANA Junior Inspiration.
   With the countdown at 122 days until the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur tees off at Rolling Green Golf Club, that group of amateur players is of particular interest this year. It is possible that one or more of the amateurs who play in the ANA (it will always be the Dinah Shore to me) will turn professional between now and the first day of qualifying for match play Aug. 1 at Rolling Green, but many of them will likely be headed for Delaware County this summer.
   Leading the contingent is the No.-1 ranked amateur player in the world, Duke sophomore Leona Maguire of Ireland. The college players in the field have been playing nearly as much golf lately as the LPGA pros, so don’t expect any rust from Maguire.
   Such is the level of competition on the college scene these days that Maguire has struggled at times this spring. But don’t expect Maguire to be intimidated by the big stage she’s playing on this week.
   Also in the field will be the two finalists in last year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at the Portland Golf Club in Portland, Ore., champion Hannah O’Sullivan of Chandler, Ariz. and runnerup Sierra Brooks of Sorrento, Fla. O’Sullivan is No. 2 in the world amateur rankings and Brooks is No. 5.
   Both are high school seniors and both will represent the United States against Great Britain & Ireland in the Curtis Cup Match in June in Ireland. And both are very likely to be in the field at Rolling Green. O’Sullivan will attend USC next fall while Brooks is headed for Wake Forest.
   O’Sullivan already owns a victory in a professional event, having topped the field in the Symetra Tour’s Gateway Classic as a 16-year-old in 2015.
   A third member of the U.S. Curtis Cup team, Andrea Lee of Hermosa Beach, Calif., earned her way into the ANA Inspiration field by firing a 5-under 67 at the Palmer Course at Mission Hills to top the field in the ANA Junior Inspiration. Lee is headed to Stanford next fall.
   And she isn’t the only member of a powerful freshman class headed for Stanford next fall in the field. Lee’s future teammate, Albane Valenzuela, an 18-year-old from Switzerland, is No. 12 in the world amateur rankings and she, too, will join the Stanford program next fall.
   Rounding out the amateur contingent in the ANA Inspiration field are a couple of current collegiate standouts, Karen Chung of Livingston, N.J. and Bronte Law of England.
   Chung is a junior on the powerhouse USC team that is the No. 1 team in college golf. Law is a junior at cross-town rival UCLA.
   USC, UCLA and Duke each will be missing one of its top players in Chung, Law and Maguire, respectively, for this weekend’s Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic at the University of Georgia Golf Course, but their inclusion in the field for the first LPGA major of the year is a tribute to their respective programs.

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