CVIndependent

Wed09182019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

In the words of Peter Allen, “Everything old is new again.”

That lyrical observation was certainly appropriate as the 44th edition of what is now called the ANA Inspiration tournament—you may know it as the Dinah Shore—kicked off on Monday, March 30, with the return of the popular Champions Juniors Challenge, organized by the Southern California Golf Association.

The winner of this one-day amateur 18-hole shootout claims the last spot in the field of the 72-hole LPGA major tournament, which begins this Thursday at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage.

Thirty-three young women from all over Southern California competed in teams of three, and each team was captained throughout the round by a former LPGA tour pro and champion. This year, two Coachella Valley high school students competed: Malia Ebersberger, of Palm Desert, who attends Xavier College Prep; and Jiyoon Jang, of Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert High School.

For Ebersberger, this was her first appearance in this special event.

“It was a 10 for sure! I’m so glad I was able to play in the tournament,” she said.

Her team captain and mentor for the round was Donna Caponi, winner of four LPGA major titles. “I’m so lucky I got her as my captain. She was truly amazing. She’s awesome,” Ebersberger said.

What tips did Caponi share during their time on the course together? “We were checking the wind and the slopes of the greens,” Ebersbeger said, “and she helped me read, like, every putt, because I needed help.”

Overall, how did Ebersberger feel that she played? “I played pretty well,” Ebersberger said. “I just had one bad hole, but other than that, I’m super excited.”

Her father, J.D. Ebersberger, is the director of golf and COO of the Palms Golf Club in La Quinta; he offered some insight into the play of his daughter.

“She played every other sport except golf, and then finally, almost four years ago, she took the game up, and quit all the other sports. She’s really dedicated herself to golf, and I’m real proud of her,” he said.

While Ebersberger finished at 2 over par for the day, seven shots off the pace of winner Haley Moore, of Escondido, Team Caponi took home the overall team trophy.

This was Jiyoon Jang’s second consecutive appearance at the Junior Challenge, and we asked how she felt about her play on this day.

“Terrible. I don’t know why,” Jang said. “I feel like I prepped well for this tournament, and then when I got out there, I just couldn’t control my shots, and then that lowered my confidence, and it’s hard to play well when you don’t have confidence in your own swing.”

What did she pick up this year from her team captain, six-time LPGA major champion Pat Bradley (with whom she was paired last year as well)?

“She’s like literally the most positive, encouraging, motivating person that I’ve ever met,” Jang said. “It was nice to have her encouraging me even when I made a bogey, and I made a lot of those.”

Jang finished at 5 over par for the round.

Does Jang plan on a return next year? She sighed, then brightened quickly and stated, “Yeah, I think so. Yes. Yes. Yeah, there will be.”

See a gallery of photos from the Champions Junior Challenge below.

Published in Snapshot

Promotion is everything when it comes to sports events. Dinah Shore knew that; that’s why, back in 1972, she attached her name, and fame, to a brand-new women’s golf event at the Mission Hills Country Club.

To this day, many still call the LPGA’s first major of the year simply Dinah. Soon, that might be the only name this tournament has.

As of Monday, April 7, what has been known since 2002 as the Kraft Nabisco Championship will cease to exist under that name. The food giant, associated with the tourney since 1982, will not be the title sponsor anymore. Instead, the LPGA will take over the event, and the hunt for a new sponsor will start.

Remember the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, the other famed local golf extravaganza? A while after Hope’s passing, Chrysler dropped out, and the event struggled to regain its former glory. Thankfully, Humana and the Clinton Foundation eventually stepped in, in 2012, as sponsors.

I’ve covered the Kraft Nabisco Championship for 15 years now. I’ve watched the great champions like Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa and Karrie Webb jump into the lake adjacent to the 18th hole after wining the tourney. That victory leap is one of the most notable traditions in the game.

So how do you sell golf history nowadays? I asked Annika Sörenstam, a three-time winner here at Mission Hills, that very question. The now-retired golf superstar is optimistic about the tourney's future.

“I’m pretty sure that the tournament will stay here,” she said. “First of all, this is a major championship. There’'s so much history here. This, I think, is a really an exciting opportunity for a company to be involved with. It's just a lot of positive energy. I’m very optimistic that the things are going to go well here.”

Sorenstam isn’t the only person who is optimistic about the tourney’s future. Tournament director Gabe Codding is optimistic, too—and his job could be on the line thanks to the uncertainty over the sponsor.

“With this year’s event, we’re celebrating the 30-year legacy of Kraft Nabisco as a sponsor, and I was there for 20 years of it,” he said. “This tournament has emerged as the most historic event on the LPGA tour. So right now, it’s all about finding the right partner who loves the location, who loves the history and who loves to be involved with the first major.”

Codding is confident that a new title sponsor will be found, perhaps within six to eight months.

"We will take a time to find the right sponsor, to make sure that the chosen sponsor stays with the tournament for a long time," he said.

As for his future with the tournament, Codding said that he started working at the event when he was barely 18, and is prepared to exit if needed after serving more than five years as the director.

“The day I know that there’s somebody who can contribute more to the tournament than I can, I'll be ready to step aside. I'll be OK with it!" Codding said.

There are sporadic rumors that the tourney could move to Arizona or even Nevada. However, that’s unlikely to happen.

The tournament’s traditions include a statue of Dinah Shore at the 18th green. How could you move a monument to Dinah—the first lady of golf—and the legacy she created here at Mission Hills to Las Vegas? Let’s hope she will forever stay here, greeting the champions on their way to history. 

Published in Local Issues

As she teed off Thursday morning, April 3, at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, Nicole Castrale had a lot to prove.

The 11-year LPGA veteran and onetime Palm Desert High School golfer needed to show that any physical concerns caused by her September 2013 hip-replacement surgery were behind her. She has been swinging the club again for just three months, after all.

By the end of the day, she had proven a lot, turning in a one-under-par 71 that put her five strokes off the lead and in a tie for 14th place.

“I now have a right hip that works, so it’s nice,” said the Palm Desert resident. “I’ve been able to pick up some speed, which is good, so I’m hitting further off the tee.”

To what did she attribute her opening round success? “I just played real solid,” Castrale said. “I hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens. I didn’t make problems worse, and I just stayed real patient out there.”

Playing just down the road from her home also seems to agree with Nicole. “I’d say it took us 11 minutes to get here this morning. It’s nice to sleep in your own bed,” she said.

Is there added pressure to perform well in front of family and friends? “I always thought this golf course set up well for my game,” she said about the Mission Hills Country Club. “It’s a great course. One of the best we play all year.”

She then admitted that she does tend to force things a bit when playing at home. “My parents are here, and I’ve been here since eighth-grade. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. It’s an easy place to get around. My golf coach is here. I’ve got a great golf course I practice at, Toscana Country Club. It’s just home.”

In fact, family is never far away from Castrale when she’s at work: Her husband, Craig, doubles as her caddie. So how did Craig feel about their first day’s results?

“It’s a great start at any tournament, especially at a major, to get anything under par,” he said. “Long way to go, but definitely nice to have it under our belt and get the afternoon to rest.”

What do the Castrales do in the Coachella Valley when it’s time to kick back and relax?

“Basically, we hang out at our house with our daughter,” said Castrale, laughing. “We’ve gone to The Living Desert, but we’re homebodies.”

Husband/caddie Craig agreed. “I’m just excited to spend as much time as possible with my wife and our daughter and all the family and friends. It’s great.”

Published in Snapshot

Monday marked the beginning of the now 42-year-old LPGA Kraft Nabisco Championship, and the event began with a one-day tournament featuring California’s top young amateur female golfers.

The prize for the winner of the KNC Champions Junior Challenge: the final qualifying spot in the major championship’s field.

This year marked only the third anniversary of this new tradition and offered 39 excited young golfers—selected by a committee of the Southern California Golf Association—a special opportunity. Two of the talented amateurs—15-year-old Jiyoon Jang, of Rancho Mirage, and 17-year-old Mackenzie Raim, of Palm Desert—are locally grown, and both were members of the Palm Desert High School varsity girls’ golf team.

Each team of three players was accompanied by a previous winner of the prestigious Kraft Nabisco Championship, which was founded by Dinah Shore back in 1972. This year’s champion coach squad included, among many others, LPGA legends like Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez, Amy Alcott and Pat Bradley, who mentored Jiyoon Jang’s team as the players made their way around the Arnold Palmer Course at the Mission Hills Country Club.

“These young ladies are the future of our game,” said Bradley, the winner of the 1986 tournament, at the end of the round. “This game has given me so much, and to help these young ladies today was a great thrill for me.”

Jiyoon Jang shot a 3-over-par 75 on the day, and finished in a tie for 17th, five strokes behind the winner.

“I could have made a few more putts and gotten a few more chips, but this was an unforgettable memory for me,” she said after her round. “Pat Bradley said to us on the first tee that it’s not life and death—it’s just a game, honestly. I’m just going to take one shot at a time and just keep going.”

Bradley said she was impressed by the 15-year-old golfer.

“Miss Jang played great,” Bradley said. “I was very proud of her. She missed a couple of putts that I know she thought she’d made, and of course, this game can beat you up if you’re not careful.”

Bradley noted that Jang finished strong. “I was very pleased to see her stay positive, and when she made an eagle on 18, that was her reward for staying positive today.”

Jang said that eagle was the highlight of her round. “I wasn’t really going in to make an eagle. I just hit my fairway wood and tried to keep a smooth tempo. Then when I hit my putt, I just stuck with my line, and it dropped right in the center of the hole. It was really exciting, because Pat Bradley just started cheering and screaming.”

Meanwhile, Jang’s Palm Desert High teammate, Mackenzie Raim, enjoyed an even-par 72 finish, which put her in a tie for fifth. Lilia Vu, of Fountain Valley, was the winner at -2.

All in all, not a bad day for the local challengers. Scroll down to view an image gallery.

Published in Snapshot