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