World No. 1 LPGA star Lydia Ko surprises top junior golfers in LA with golf challenge to launch ANA Inspiration

All Nippon Airways – Japan’s Leading Airline – Brings Together Reigning ANA Inspiration Champion Lydia Ko and ANA Junior Inspiration Golfers for Surprise of a Lifetime

Rancho Mirage, California, March 15, 2017 – The LPGA’s No. 1 golfer and reigning ANA Inspiration champion, Lydia Ko, took time during her off-week to surprise three top AJGA golfers in Los Angeles to officially launch the 2017 ANA Inspiration – the opening LPGA major championship of the season, held at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., March 27 – April 2, 2017.

On International Women’s Day, Ko visited Palos Verdes Golf Club in Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. to surprise the three standout players – Elizabeth Wang from San Marino, Calif. (San Marino High School), Alyaa Abdulghany from Newport Beach, Calif. (Corona Del Mar High School) and Karah Sanford from Escondido, Calif. (Classical Academy High School) – who will compete in the ANA Junior Inspiration later this month for a chance to earn the final starting spot in the ANA Inspiration.

“The ANA Inspiration is one of my favorite tournaments and to have the chance to join ANA to play a part in the inspired journeys of three of the ANA Junior Inspiration qualifiers was an honor for me,” said Lydia Ko. “Jumping into Poppie’s Pond and putting on the ANA Inspiration Champion’s Robe is one of the most memorable moments of my career and I hope my success is an inspiration for the future of the game and I look forward to competing with these talented junior golfers for years to come.”

The juniors have earned entry into the newly upgraded and expanded ANA Junior Inspiration tournament, an official American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) Invitational. The 54-hole tournament will run from March 23-26, 2017 and will be hosted at the same country club venue as the iconic LPGA major tournament. The 40 junior qualifiers will be paired with LPGA Legends during the final round on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course. The 20 person Legend field will be comprised of past ANA Inspiration Champions and Major winners.

Wang, Abdulghany and Sanford were ecstatic to meet the reigning ANA Inspiration champion and the world’s no. 1 player as she joined the trio for a Big Break-style challenge on the driving range and have the chance to chat with her about her game and what inspires her on and off the golf course.

More information on the ANA Junior Inspiration participants.

Alyaa Abdulghany from Newport Beach, Calif. (Corona Del Mar High School)
At No. 3 in the AJGA Rankings, Abdulghany is a three-time Rolex Junior All-American. During her AJGA career, the 17-year-old has earned 12 top-five finishes including one win at the 2016 AJGA Junior at Carlton Oaks. Abdulghany has signed a National Letter of Intent with the University of Southern California and finished T11 at the 2016 ANA Junior Inspiration.

Karah Sanford from Escondido, Calif. (Classical Academy High School)
Sanford is a two-time Rolex Junior All-American and earned her first AJGA win in 2016 at the AJGA Junior All-Star at Morongo. The 15-year-old finished in the top 10 at seven of eight AJGA events she competed in during the 2016 season.

Elizabeth Wang from San Marino, Calif. (San Marino High School)
Wang is a four-time Rolex Junior All-American and AJGA Invitational Champion. The 16-year-old has competed with the AJGA since 2012, earning nine top-5 finishes including four wins. Wang also excels in the classroom and community as she was named a 2016 Transamerica Scholastic Junior All-American.

Reaction from the ANA Junior Inspiration qualifiers on the big surprise:

Alyaa Abdulghany: “Meeting Lydia today was very relatable because she’s just two years older than me and I’m 17. It’s just something to aspire to and it’s really nice. I'm beyond excited to participate in the ANA Junior Inspiration. I have participated in this event for three years now, previously with the SCGA, and the memories and bonds you make with friends and LPGA Legends are unforgettable. Just to have the chance to qualify for a major LPGA Tour event is enthralling.”

Elizabeth Wang: “It was amazing. Lydia Ko has been my role model for a long time. She’s so great at such a young age and to be able to get advice from her it really was an honor. It would mean so much to me if I win the ANA Junior Inspiration and earn a spot in the ANA Inspiration. This even is such a great opportunity for us, and it is such an honor to have a chance to win and be able to play in an LPGA major steeped in so much history.”

Karah Sanford: “It was awesome. I’m a Lydia Ko fan-girl, so it was pretty cool for her to come out and to support us. I can’t wait to head to Rancho Mirage to compete in the ANA Junior Inspiration for a chance to play in the first LPGA major of the season. It would be an amazing opportunity.”

“As the title sponsor of the ANA Inspiration and the Official Airline of the LPGA our vision and ambition for expanding the ANA Junior Inspiration came from a desire to give back to the junior golf community. For ANA, it is vital that our sponsorship inspires not only the players of today but the future stars of tomorrow,” said Mr. Hideki Kunugi, Senior Vice President of the Americas, ANA. “It was an honor for ANA to bring together the reigning ANA Inspiration champion, Lydia Ko, with three of the ANA Junior Inspiration participants who will have the chance to win a spot to compete against Lydia in golf’s first major of the year.”

The ANA Inspiration has a long history of being one of the most star-studded LPGA events of the year with legendary track-and-field athlete Caitlyn Jenner and women’s soccer superstar being part of the championship team of the ANA Inspiration Pro-Am and Olympic champions like Lindsey Vonn, Missy Franklin and Kristi Yamaguchi participating in the 2016 ANA Inspiring Women in Sports Conference – a tradition that will carry over to 2017 with a new set of sports stars.

For more information about the ANA Junior Inspiration including the full field of 40, visit the AJGA tournament website.

About the ANA Inspiration

The ANA Inspiration is golf’s first major and one of the LPGA Tour’s most prestigious events. Previously known as the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the tournament was founded in 1972 by David Foster and Dinah Shore and earned the designation as a major championship in 1983. Contested at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., since its inception, the ANA Inspiration holds the distinction of being the second oldest golf tournament continuously held at the same course. For many, the event is most distinguished by one of golf’s most beloved traditions: the champion’s leap into Poppie’s Pond, located adjacent to the 18th green. In 1988, the first champion’s leap into Poppie’s Pond was taken by Amy Alcott, and since has become one of the most anticipated and memorable traditions in golf. For more information on the ANA Inspiration, please visit ANAinspiration.com or call 760-834-8872. On social media, visit facebook.com/ANAinspiration, twitter.com/ANAinspiration or instagram.com/ANAinspiration. 

About the AJGA

The American Junior Golf Association is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to the overall growth and development of young men and women who aspire to earn college golf scholarships through competitive junior golf. The AJGA provides valuable exposure for college golf scholarships, and has an annual junior membership (boys and girls, ages 12-19) of more than 6,600 members from 50 states and 55 foreign countries. Through initiatives like the Achieving Competitive Excellence (ACE) Grant, a financial assistance program, and Leadership Links, a service-oriented platform that teaches juniors charitable-giving skills, the AJGA fosters the growth of golf’s next generation.

TaylorMade-adidas Golf became the AJGA’s National Sponsor in 2016 after more than 25 years of support. Rolex, which is in its fourth decade of AJGA sponsorship, became the inaugural AJGA Premier Partner in 2004. In 2017, adidas joined the AJGA as a Premier Partner, serving as the Official Apparel and Footwear of the AJGA.

AJGA alumni have risen to the top of amateur, collegiate and professional golf. Former AJGA juniors have compiled more than 830 victories on the PGA and LPGA Tours. AJGA alumni include Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson, Sergio Garcia, Hunter Mahan, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Justin Thomas, Stacy Lewis, Ariya Jutanugarn, Alison Lee, Lexi Thompson, Inbee Park, Paula Creamer, Brittany Lincicome, Cristie Kerr and Morgan Pressel.

About the ANA Junior Inspiration

The ANA Junior Inspiration features forty of the most talented junior golfers from around the world who will compete for the final starting spot in the LPGA’s first LPGA major of the season – ANA Inspiration. In previous years, the ANA Junior Inspiration had extended invites only to female junior golfers from Southern California via a partnership with the Southern California Golf Association (SCGA). In 2016, the tournament was extended by adding invites to 10 female junior golfers from ANA’s North American gateway cities – that number elevated in 2017 to 11 with the addition of Mexico City, ANA’s newest gateway. For the first time in its history in 2017, the ANA Junior Inspiration will become an official American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) Invitational based on AJGA Rankings points, set to take place March 23-26, 2017, at Mission Hills Country Club. For more information, visit the AJGA tournament website.