Nelly Korda and Annika Sorenstam lead respective Tournament of Champions fields. On Sunday, they’ll play together.

The first LPGA Sunday of the season will feature – gasp! – Sorenstam and Korda in the final group.

The first LPGA Sunday of the season will feature – gasp! – leaders Annika Sorenstam and Nelly Korda in the final group. Sorenstam, who leads the celebrity division at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, became the first player to reach No. 1 in the world when the Rolex Rankings debuted in 2006 and Nelly Korda, of course, is the current No. 1. They’ll be joined by 2020 TOC winner Gaby Lopez.

While in some ways it’s a beautiful blend of past and present, both did just win a major last year. Korda broke through with her first at the KPMG Women’s PGA, and Sorenstam won in her debut at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

“She still has so much game,” said Nelly. “Think she shot 1- or 2-under on the back nine. She’s not hitting it as far off the tee, but, gosh, her woods and her iron game into the greens is so good.

“Like on 18, that was an amazing shot.”

Korda leads the LPGA field of 29 by one shot over Danielle Kang and Lopez. At 13 under par for the tournament, Korda carded her 11th consecutive round in the 60s, dating back to last season, when she posted 69 on a cold, windy and rainy day at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club.

“Yeah, felt like I was at British,” said Korda.

Nelly Korda of the United States plays her shot from the 16th tee during the third round of the 2022 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club on January 22, 2022, in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Sorenstam lives off the 16th hole at Lake Nona and normally wouldn’t leave the house on such a dreary day, but she took a champion’s mindset into battle.

“It’s one of those days that normally I wouldn’t be outside,” said Sorenstam, “but because of the tournament you get a little extra fired up and you go out there and try to hit one shot at a time.”

Sorenstam tops the celebrity field of 50 by two with 104 points in the modified Stableford scoring format. Former MLB pitcher Derek Lowe is solo third and U.S. Davis Cup captain Mardy Fish sits in solo third at 100 points.

“I am super excited that I’m leading by two,” said Sorenstam. “I wasn’t really paying too much attention. I know I was kind of going head-to-head there with Derek a little bit, but I didn’t know what the guys in front were doing.”

Frustrated by the length of her drives on Saturday, Sorenstam got friendly with her 5-wood and hybrids and hit several beauties.

“If you start thinking about how long it is and how difficult, then it gets really tiring,” said Sorenstam. “I try to be positive. (Husband/caddie) Mike was really positive, too. He was like, ‘Hang in there. If you can have a good attitude, right there is one or two shots.

‘So just do what you can and then think about the fireplace, and this evening you’ll be warm and cozy.’ ”

There’s plenty of firepower behind Korda, with Brooke Henderson two back in solo fourth and 2021 U.S. Women’s Open champion Yuka Saso three back at 10 under.

Saso became the first Filipino person to ever win a major last summer at Olympic. This season Saso, who lives in Tokyo, is competing under the Japanese flag.

“I’m very proud of my dual citizenship,” said Saso. “Whatever I represent, I’m Filipino. So it was just for passport more, because if I have Japanese passport then I can travel mostly everywhere with no visa, and that will be very helpful for my game, for my career.”

Korda looks to win her eighth career title on Sunday. She won the Gainbridge LPGA at Nona last February.

“The leaderboard is stacked,” said Korda.

Couldn’t have scripted a better start.

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Danielle Kang talks about ‘fangirling’ over Annika Sorenstam, meditating, and mastering golf in the cold

“Never really seen her play in tournament mode, so I was fangirling out there.”

Danielle Kang admits she’s “always uncomfortable.” The five-time LPGA winner is working with her sports psychologist to try and find ways to achieve a few seconds of comfort in her routine, bringing her mind back to the present.

Early in the week at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, Kang stayed with fellow tour pro Amy Yang, who convinced her to meditate and “stare at nothing” for 20 minutes.

“That was different,” said Kang. “I go, 20 minutes? What? She made me sit there. Took my phone away, everything. I don’t know how she does it, but things like that I have to work on.”

Kang said she purposely sought to get back to the present during a long wait on the par-3 13th Saturday at Lake Nona. During much of that downtime, she actually focused on what Annika Sorenstam was up to in the group behind her. Sorenstam currently leads the celebrity division by two points in the modified stableford format.

“Never really seen her play in tournament mode,” said Kang, “so I was fangirling out there.”

As for Kang, she trails No. 1 Nelly Korda by one stroke heading into the final round. Kang, who is 11 under for the tournament, lost in a playoff to Nelly’s older sister Jessica at last year’s TOC at Tranquilo. Kang last made a bogey on the 10th hole in her opening round and currently holds a share of second with 2020 TOC winner Gaby Lopez.

Temperatures in the Central Florida area dropped some 20 degrees on Saturday at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club. Kang knows her body tightens up in the cold, and she historically hasn’t performed all that well.

“We can all look at my stats,” said Kang. “I miss the cut almost every year in the British Open.”

In an attempt to change that script, Kang went out and played when it was 40 degrees in Las Vegas and blowing 30 mph.

Danielle Kang of the United States plays her shot from the 11th fairway during the third round of the 2022 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club on January 22, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

“I tried to keep playing because my caddie’s dream is to win the British Open,” said Kang, “so I need to figure out how to play in the cold and warm up as fast as I can in the morning so my driver is not ready to go by the 15th hole.”

Kang said she was “really proud” to see that cold-weather work pay off at Nona.

“During the offseason, it’s being able to try and swing with how many layers I have on, what’s the max, what I’m capable and not capable of doing,” she said. “There are certain shots I can’t do, shots I can’t hit during the cold weather, and I just take them out of my arsenal.

“Those are the things I have to figure out. It’s a little bit more deeper. Even today there were some drives that I hit, I just can’t hit that kind of shot in that wind while I’m that cold, so something I can still work on.”

To get to the swing she and instructor Butch Harmon have worked on, Kang needs her body to be able to produce the speed she needs. Sometimes, Kang said, she gets to the range and her swing is 7 mph slower.

A key to that speed, she said, will be finding good routines on the road, particularly for her workouts.

“I didn’t have injuries last year,” she said, “knock on wood. … Just being able to fire and engage and be efficient.”

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Nelly Korda leads star-packed board at LPGA Tournament of Champions where Annika Sorenstam trails by one in celebrity division

Danielle Kang and Jessica Korda both sit within striking distance.

There was a time on the golf course Friday when Danielle Kang wondered where she’ll put her competitive fire when her LPGA days are over. Here she was playing alongside former MLB pitcher John Smoltz, who takes his golf quite seriously, at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions. Golf is a favorite second sport for so many professional athletes. What if golf is the first love?

Kang trails World No. 1 Nelly Korda by one stroke heading into the weekend at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club. The younger Korda sister paces the field at 10 under while Kang and 2020 TOC champ Gaby Lopez are at 9 under. Last year’s champion, Jessica Korda, sits two back.

Kang also played alongside country singer Lee Brice on Friday, a good friend who does not take his golf seriously. There was a point in the day when Kang told Brice she’d give him $100 if he could hit the green.

“He has really good humor about it,” said Kang. “He gave me his guitar pick and I started making putts, so I kept it.”

ORLANDO, FLORIDA – JANUARY 21: Danielle Kang of the United States looks on from the 18th tee during the second round of the 2022 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club on January 21, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Nelly Korda requests to be paired with former MLB pitcher Derek Lowe each year. Lowe typically comes out to LPGA events in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Naples, Florida, each year. Lowe was there when Nelly won the Meijer last summer.

“Even Jason (McDede) my caddie,” said Nelly, “we’ve grown to be really close since the first year of that event.”

Nelly drained a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to put the finishing touches on a 6-under 66. She enjoys the Lake Nona track in particular, saying it reminds her of her home club in Bradenton, Florida. She won the Gainbridge LPGA there last season.

“I love the golf course, love the layout,” she said. “I love that it’s a good challenge, the rough is pretty thick this year, too.”

Speaking of rough, older sister Jessica described it as brutal around the greens.

“Feels like almost two different types of grasses that are growing against each other in the rough,” said Jessica.

“So just sometimes it’s just really sitting down and you’re trying to hack it out to a green that’s pretty difficult, so leaving myself some 6- to 15-footers for par is definitely the theme on a couple holes.”

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Nona resident Annika Sorenstam knows this is anything but “member’s rough.” She trails former MLB pitcher Derek Lowe by one point heading into the weekend in the celebrity division’s modified Stableford format.

Playing alongside the LPGA’s brightest stars this week reminds the 72-time LPGA winner that her mindset is not what it once was during her prime.

Friday morning she was busy getting breakfast for her two kids when daughter Ava complained about her foot. After a quick trip to the doctor, Ava returned to the course in a boot to treat a sprained ankle.

“You know, 15 years ago … I made sure I got breakfast and warmed up and made sure I was in good shape,” said Sorenstam. “Now it’s like everybody around us.

“And my assistant got hit with a golf ball on 15 and she fainted, so it was just one thing after another. Not excuses, but the point is there is a lot of roles. You wear a sponsor hat, mama hat, a wife hat, so there is a lot of roles back and forth. Sometimes I really don’t click as quickly as I need to when I change the hats.”

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‘Just bonkers’: See what celebrities are saying about the LPGA’s best at season-opening Tournament of Champions

“Their rhythm is so good. It’s just unbelievable.”

Inbee Park, the most decorated player in the LPGA field at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, is rather fond of opening her 16th season on tour alongside celebrities. There’s less pressure this week, she said, than typical tour events. The seven-time major winner considers it the “perfect” warmup.

“This tournament is a very fun format,” said Park, “so we’re enjoying the different atmosphere and meeting a lot of people. Watching them play is enjoyable.”

Park, who is four strokes back of leader Nelly Korda through two rounds, is one of 29 LPGA players in the field. Winners from the past two seasons are invited to the opener at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club. Among the 50 players in the celebrity division is Annika Sorenstam, the greatest player in the modern era who retired from the LPGA in 2008. Park and Sorenstam aren’t competing against each other. The celebrities vie for a purse of $500,000 and use a modified Stableford scoring format.

Former MLB pitcher Derek Lowe leads Mark Mulder and Sorenstam by one point heading into the weekend.

“I think it’s a little bit more relaxing watching them getting more nervous,” said Park.

See what some of the celebrities in the field had to say about the best female golfers on the planet:

Hall of Famer Karrie Webb set to return to the LPGA after two-year break close to home at Gainbridge

Webb, a seven-time major winner, last played a full schedule on the LPGA in 2017.

Karrie Webb returns to LPGA competition next week for the first time in two years at the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio in Boca Raton, Florida. The 47-year-old Aussie resides just north of Boca in Boyton Beach on the southeast coast of Florida. Webb, a seven-time major winner, last played a full schedule on the LPGA in 2017.

World No. 1 Nelly Korda headlines the field at Gainbridge, which she won in 2021 at Lake Nona. The event moved for one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sixteen of the top 25 players in the world will be at the second event of the season, including Lydia Ko (3), Inbee Park (4), Nasa Hataoka (6), Yuka Saso (8), Danielle Kang (10), Brooke Henderson (11), Lexi Thompson (12), Patty Tavatanakit (13), Ayaka Furue (14), Anna Nordqvist (16), Jeong Eun Lee6 (19), Atthaya Thitikul (20), Ally Ewing (21), Jessica Korda (22) and Ariya Jutanugarn (23).

The field of 120 will compete for a purse of $2 million.

“We are honored to have Karrie Webb joining the field and are excited to welcome the world’s best players back to Palm Beach County for the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio,” said Lesley Baker, executive director for the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio. “We are equally as excited to welcome back fans to the tournament this year and representing Southeast Florida on a global scale, both in person and to television audiences around the world.”

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Annika Sorenstam leads celebrity division on home course at LPGA Tournament of Champions

“She still hits it really far. She bombs it,” said Jessica Korda.

Annika Sorenstam expected that she’d have to account for her finish to son Will once he got home from school. The golf-loving 10-year-old was bummed that he had to miss the opening round of the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions. Will asked for a link to the scoring so that he could sneak a peek during class.

The good news, Will: Mom birdied the first two holes and is leading the celebrity division.

“I was happy I got off to a good start because I know he was watching,” said Sorenstam “But I’m sure when I get home he’s going to say, ‘What happened on No. 3, Mommy? And then what happened on 18?’ ”

Sorenstam, the 2021 U.S. Senior Women’s Open champion, amassed 33 points in the modified stableford scoring format at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, where she lives just off the 16th tee. Four bogeys over the last six holes, however, left a sour taste in her mouth.

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“I mean, first of all, it’s playing longer,” said Sorenstam of the conditions. “I don’t play these tees on my own. I go to the forward tees a little bit.

“But it’s in amazing shape. So nice. Greens are rolling beautifully, obviously faster than normal. The rough is thicker. Seems like the fairways are a little more narrow, too.”

That suits the steady Swede, who retired from the LPGA with 72 titles and 10 majors, and has husband Mike McGee on the bag this week. Four players trail her by one point: Mark Mulder, Chad Pfeifer, Derek Lowe and Jeremy Roenick.

Annika Sörenstam of Sweden plays her shot from the ninth tee during the first round of the 2022 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club on January 20, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Sorenstam played alongside Jessica Korda, last year’s TOC winner, and John Smoltz in the opening round. It was the first time Korda had played a round of golf with the greatest player of the modern era.

“She still hits it really far,” said Korda. “She bombs it. I was pretty surprised because I think I read an article saying she’s hitting it so much shorter, so I was really expecting a lot shorter than what she was hitting.

“She was hitting some great shots. I mean, her putting, like she made some bombs today. Started birdie-birdie and I was like, ‘Here we go. I’m like parring my first seven or eight holes.’

“So it was fun to have kind of a front row to something that I didn’t get to see personally.”

While Sorenstam isn’t as rusty as this time last year, she didn’t exactly come into the week feeling especially prepared as she had a bulging disc in November and then tested positive for COVID-19 after Christmas.

“I got a little bit antsy out there,” said Sorenstam. “I felt better than it really should have been.

“But, you know, new day tomorrow, and hopefully some better shots and some birdies.”

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No. 1 Nelly Korda, Jessica Korda, Yuka Saso and Danielle Kang all chasing leader Gaby Lopez at LPGA Tournament of Champions

They’re all chasing Gaby Lopez early.

One day into the season and LPGA leaderboards are already on fire, picking up from a dynamic end to 2021. World No. 1 Nelly Korda, a winner last year at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, and sister Jessica Korda, defending champion at the Hilton Grand Vacation Tournament of Champions, are within striking distance of leader Gaby Lopez, who opened with a 5-under 67.

2021 U.S. Women’s Open winner Yuka Saso trails by one along Nelly Korda, Ryann O’Toole and Danielle Kang.

Brooke Henderson, Jessica Korda and Pajaree Anannarukarn are two back at 3 under. The field of 29 are joined by 50 celebrity participants, including LPGA Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam, who leads them all in a modified stableford scoring format with 33 points.

Last year’s Tournament of Champions at Tranquilo featured a final round pairing of the Korda sisters plus Kang in a thrilling final round. Jessica ultimately edged out Kang in a playoff.

Lopez, the 2020 TOC winner, bogeyed her second hole of the season, a par 5, but bounced back with six birdies over the next 16 holes. Lopez credited work done on the range with her instructor Wednesday along with the energy her celebrity playing partners provided. She has struck up a friendship with former NFL player Marcus Allen over the years.

“I’m comfortable out there,” said Lopez, “being able to talk just different topics other than golf and what you did in the holidays. But being able to talk about mentality and psychology out there, I mean with the biggest superstars in each event out there, it’s pretty amazing. So I really take advantage of that. I like to grow internally.”

More: Lopez shares important advice from legend Lorena Orchoa

Nelly Korda called her first round of the year a grind, despite opening with a 68 that included five birdies and an eagle.

“I was just kind of spraying it everywhere,” said Nelly, “left, right, you name it.”

She hit hybrid from 222 yards to 4 feet on the 11th hole to record her first eagle of the season. Nelly ranked third in that category in 2021.

After the LPGA’s Florida swing, Nelly said she plans to take off six weeks and will consider that her true offseason. Because she played in the PNC Championship in December with her father,  there wasn’t a whole lot of downtime.

“Everyone was so welcoming,” she said of her time at the PNC. “I was shocked that everyone knew who I was in a sense. You know, like I grew up watching every one of those guys play, so to me, I was a little starstruck that people actually knew who I was.

“It was cool because they also watch women’s golf. I didn’t know that.”

Michelle Wie West opened with a 1-under 71 thanks to a string of three consecutive birdies on Nos. 11-13. This marked Wie West’s first LPGA round since last June.

“I couldn’t get my wedges close today, said Wie West, who recently moved with her family to Los Angeles. “Made a couple stupid errors early on, but overall I’m very proud of how I played today. Hopefully more birdies to come.”

But first, she was off to lounge at the hotel watching the start of “Archive 81,” a Netflix horror series.

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Which Korda sister is the favorite at Lake Nona? Cases are strong for both Nelly and Jessica at the season-opening Tournament of Champions

Both Korda sisters collected a win at Lake Nona last season.

Nelly Korda and Jessica Korda have joked around that both are defending this week at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club. Jessica won last year’s Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions (previously the Diamond Resort at Tranquilo Golf Course), and soon after, Nelly won the Gainbridge LPGA at Lake Nona.

When asked how she felt about her game coming into this week, Jessica, who got married in December, said, “About the same as every year that I start. I have no idea. I work hard in the off-season. I haven’t really played a ton. I definitely enjoyed the break and my body needed it, so I just tried to start out with less expectations and try to just put one foot in front of the other.”

That Sunday in Orlando proved the highest point of Jessica’s year on tour, especially with Nelly playing alongside her on Sunday at Tranquilo. But for Nelly, the victory at Nona was just the start of a break-out season that included a major, an Olympic gold medal, and the No. 1 ranking.

“Obviously, I’m hungrier for more,” Nelly told Golf Channel on Tuesday, “but in a sense of focusing just on that No. 1 spot, I’m not too focused on that. I mean, rankings come and go. Someone is probably going to have a better year or play well and you’re going to lose that ranking.”

Among the highlights of Nelly’s remarkable season was playing alongside her father, Petr, in the PNC Championship and meeting Tiger Woods for the first time.

“I didn’t know I was being recorded,” said Nelly of a video taken of her and Woods. “I look like such a fangirl, and then it blew up. It went viral. So it was really funny.”

It got better the next day when Woods, her childhood idol, used her Butter Putter tool on the practice green. Nelly told her caddie: “Do not wash that.”

Speaking of greats, Jessica will compete alongside Annika Sorenstam for the first time on Thursday at Lake Nona. Sorenstam is competing in the celebrity division for a second straight year. Last year, Sorenstam made the cut at Lake Nona, her home course, during the Gainbridge in her first LPGA start in more than a dozen years. She’d go on to win the U.S. Senior Women’s Open later that summer.

“I’m excited,” said Jessica. “I’ve never played with (Annika). I was there at her retirement many years ago at a U.S. Open (2008), and that’s really about it.”

Jessica said moving from Tranquilo to Lake Nona is essentially going from a resort course to a championship course. While Jessica shot 60 at Tranquilo in the third round, she struggled on the greens at Nona, noting the large number of subtle breaks and dips. Jessica tied for 31st at the Gainbridge.

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Jessica’s 60 was only the fifth in LPGA history and it happened alongside the NFL’s Larry Fitzgerald and Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier. The LPGA star said she didn’t even realize she was on track to shoot 60, wondering from No. 13 on why Fitzgerald kept picking up his ball to get out of the way.

“I was like, ‘Why aren’t you finishing? I don’t understand why you’re not finishing,’ ” said Jessica. “Then I think I made the eagle on 17 and he just about tackled me after that. I realized like looking up at the leaderboard – I think that was the first time I had seen a leaderboard ­– that I was moving up, and then I kind of looked at my scorecard and I was like, Oh, there is a lot of circles on here.”

Fitzgerald chunked his tee shot on the par-3 18th into the hazard but refused to tee up another, Jessica said, because he was so nervous.

“He wanted it more than I did I think almost,” said Jessica, who took a picture alongside Baier and Fitzgerald with her scorecard when it was over. She gave the golf ball to her father, who was celebrating a birthday.

What to expect this time around?

“First tournament of the year,” said Jessica, “it’s kind of a free-for-all … we’ll see.”

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Michelle Wie West on her recent move to Los Angeles, a new puppy, a nanny and teeing it up on the LPGA for the first time in six months

Wie West on her baby: “Even the reason why I’m playing is because of her.”

Michelle Wie West has new digs, a new nanny, a new puppy and the goal to play freely. Life has been somewhat of a whirlwind of changes in recent years for the one-time prodigy and she enters this week’s Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions as somewhat of a surprise entry.

For starters, Wie West, 32, hasn’t won on the LPGA since 2018. The TOC typically invites winners from the previous two seasons and last year, Wie West missed the event while still on maternity leave. Because the 2020 season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, winners from the previous three seasons were invited to the event in 2021.

“Before I committed,” said Wie West, “I texted Marina (Alex), ‘Hey, what’s up with this event? Do I really want to play in it? Something I should do?’ ”

Alex raved about the tournament’s celebrity component, and said it’s a fun way to celebrate a victory. Wie West recently teed it up with former tennis player Mardy Fish, last year’s winner of the celebrity portion of the TOC, and said he’s the best celebrity she’s ever played alongside. John Smoltz topped the celebrity field in 2019 and 2020.

This year’s event will be staged at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club and boasts a field of 29 players, including last year’s champion Jessica Korda and her sister, World No. 1 Nelly Korda. LPGA players will compete for a purse of $1.5 million with the winner’s portion of $225,000. The 50 celebrities compete in a modified stableford format for $500,000.

Michelle Wie arrives at Omega San Francisco Grand Opening VIP Celebration at de Young Museum on November 18, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images)

Wie West and husband Jonnie West, son of NBA legend Jerry West and an executive with the Golden State Warriors, recently moved from San Francisco to the Los Angeles area.

“Yeah, I guess we moved down south,” said Wie West during a pre-tournament press conference, “warmer weather I guess. But, yeah, it’s been a big change.”

Wie West, who signed with Excel Sports Management at the start of 2022, said she hasn’t put down roots yet as far as a membership near her new home, but noted that Hillcrest lets her use the range. She’s trying to nab a membership at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, California, a Robert Trent Jones, Sr. design that underwent a $10 million renovation in 2017. Rees Jones spearheaded the renovation of his father’s work.

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As for time spent working on her game, Wie West said daughter Makenna is at an age where she runs around so much that she had to quit taking her to the range. That’s where the new nanny has been a “game changer,” allowing Wie West to get out to practice around two to two and a half hours each day.

“I’m not at the stage of my body where I can go and beat balls for four hours anymore,” she said. “So, yeah, definitely always taking into consideration my body and my wrist, neck.”

As for the new puppy, the Wests got another sheep dog like Gatsby and named her Daisy.

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Life is full for the businesswoman, wife, mom and competitor, who more than anything wants to be a good role model for Makenna. Last year the Stanford grad came back from maternity leave and competed in six events, making the cut in her last two. Her last competitive round on the LPGA was the KPMG Women’s PGA in June. When asked about this year’s schedule, Wie West said she hasn’t yet decided.

“Before her, golf was my number one priority,” she said. “I ate, slept, breathe everything golf. Now it’s her. Even the reason why I’m playing is because of her.”

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Mexico’s Gaby Lopez, a past Tournament of Champions winner, reveals one of Lorena Ochoa’s secrets to success on the LPGA

The key to handling pressure situations? Be brave.

Gaby Lopez backed up behind the tee markers a smidge on the seventh playoff hole at the season-opening Tournament of Champions two years ago at Tranquilo Golf Course, striking a solid 3-hybrid exactly as she’d drawn it up in her mind on the 197-year par-3 18th. It was chilly that morning and the conditions played to her favor as Lopez poured in a 25-foot birdie putt to claim her second LPGA title.

Compatriot Lorena Ochoa, a World Golf Hall of Famer, mentor and friend, has talked to Lopez about the importance of linking nerves with positive emotion.

“There are a couple little secrets,” said Lopez, “but probably one of them is being very brave and positive out on the golf course when you are in such a pressure situation.”

Lorena Ochoa of Mexico tosses her ball marker on the 16th green during her second round match at the HSBC Women’s World Match Play Championship at Hamilton Farm Golf Club on July 7, 2006.

Ochoa, who won 27 times on the LPGA from 2004 to 2009, told Lopez the more nerves she felt, the better she played. Lopez has tried to copy that mindset.

“When you see Jin Young Ko, you see Nelly (Korda), you see all the top players are really embracing the moment,” said Lopez, “and for me it has been just linking a very good situation for me in the past with what I’m presenting in the moment.”

While the name and venue are different at this week’s Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, Lopez can still draw on many of the intangibles from her victory two years ago. She likes to journal, and when she looks back on that week she remembers feeling very certain of her decisions in the heat of battle.

“When you’re under pressure, you hit it where you want to hit it instead of what you want to avoid,” said Lopez.

“It’s really easy to say, but when you’re in the moment and you have the wind and you have the lie that’s uncomfortable, being able to refocus and get yourself very centered to say, ‘Hey, that is exactly what I want to do,’ when you do it and it happens, it just brings so much inner fears and inner force that it just makes you much stronger.”

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