Players brace for 'sizzling' desert heat at ANA Inspiration

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Palm Springs (United States) (AFP)

Players at this weekend's ANA Inspiration in California may be allowed to use golf carts as officials aim to mitigate the threat of scorching triple-digit temperatures and poor air quality.

The rescheduled second women's major of 2020 tees off at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage on Thursday after the coronavirus forced postponement from its original April 2-5 slot.

The date change means players will have to contend with the ferocious late summer temperatures typical in the southern California desert enclave, where the mercury touched 120 Fahrenheit (48.9 degrees Celsius) on Sunday.

With smoke from blazing wildfires also contributing to poor air quality, it has left LPGA Tour officials pondering the rare step of allowing players to use carts at Mission Hills this week.

Tour officials have already granted caddies the right to use push carts or carts during tournament play.

"We're continuing to monitor both the AQI (air quality index) and the temperature very closely," said LPGA Tour official Heather Daly-Donofrio.

"If it becomes clear from our medical team ... the high temperatures and the AQI converge to a point where we feel that's unhealthy for walking, we have not ruled out carts for players on tournament days.

"In general we've heard from our players that they want to walk, that it's a major championship, and of course in major championships you want to walk.

"But what's most important right now is the health and safety of our athletes and our caddies."

LPGA Tour commissioner Mike Whan said player safety would be paramount, as it had been all through a season disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Obviously we're going to be challenged by the heat," Whan said. "We didn't expect to be challenged by both heat and air quality.

"We'll keep an open mind how we can address that to make sure that in the year 2020 where health has been a priority, that we're not going to take a backseat on health as it relates to this year."

- 'Sizzling point' -

Players meanwhile are bracing for a gruelling ordeal in the desert heat.

Former world number one Lydia Ko, the 2016 ANA Inspiration winner, said she had taken by surprise by the temperatures.

"I normally think like 70s is perfect, 80s is like nice, 90s it's getting hot and 100 you're like, whoa, and then I'm like, this is like three digits and it's over 110," she said.

"It's very hot. It's hot that you touch like the door handle of your car and it's kind of on the slight sizzling point."

World number 25 Austin Ernst said she planned to play with a wet towel around her neck while her caddie would take advantage of being able to use a golf cart during tournament play.

"I'll have a sun umbrella and we're going to put a cooler in the cart, have some snacks in there so you can always manage it as best you can," Ernst said.

"I think you have to drink a lot of water. You have to drink more than you think you do."

Although reigning champion Ko Jin-young of South Korea will not be in California to defend her title this week, LPGA Tour officials say the field, which boasts eight of the world's top 10 players, will be the strongest of any event assembled since the coronavirus shutdown.

Also missing from the field is Germany's Sophia Popov, who won last month's Women's British Open in Scotland. Her exemption for winning the title does not begin until next year and the LPGA did not issue her a special invitation.