ORLANDO, Fla. – The LPGA season-opener is a bona fide home game for a number of LPGA stars, including Lydia Ko, who drove her own golf cart in the pro-am Wednesday at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions.
The former No. 1 understandably chose her honeymoon over this event last season, but is back at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, where she’s been practicing the past two months. Ko and her husband also spend time in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she plays out of The Olympic Club and Lake Merced.
The 35-player field at this year’s TOC includes 12 first-time participants, including World No. 1 Lilia Vu. Last week, Ko played a practice round with fellow Nona members Leona Maguire and Nasa Hataoka, who are also in the field. Players who have won in the past two seasons on the LPGA are eligible.
While the pros compete for a $1.5 million purse on Jan. 18-21, celebrity contestants will play for $500,000 in a Modified Stableford format. Another famed Lake Nona resident, LPGA Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam, will compete in the celebrity division along with NBC’s Dylan Dreyer, U.S. Soccer Hall of Famer Landon Donovan, eight-time NBA All-Star Vince Carter, country music star Chris Lane and World Series Champion John Smoltz, a two-time champion at the TOC.
Sorenstam, a 10-time major winner who lives off the 16th tee at Nona, retired from the LPGA in 2008 but made a return to the competitive scene after turning 50.
“I’ve been so close,” said Sorenstam of winning the celebrity division on home turf. “(Husband) Mike (McGee) has all the stats of all the events I played in. I’ve been knocking on the door, but haven’t really been able to put four great rounds together. That’s what I would love to do.”
While Sorenstam’s legacy in the game is firmly cemented, Ko still has a chance to earn her way into arguably the toughest Hall of Fame in all of sports. Now two points shy of the 27 required to qualify for the LPGA Hall, Ko would get there with two regular-season wins or one major championship victory. This year she’s playing a heavier schedule than recent years, one that rivals her rookie season, in an effort to leave nothing on the table.
“I said if I win twice early in the year, like I might not play the 25 and might be a little bit less,” she said. “I want to give myself as many opportunities as I can, and I think being in the Hall of Fame was not really a big goal of mine, but 2022, it was like a gift of a year that…