ORLANDO, FLORIDA | They all say it doesn’t bother them. Ask any of the players in the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions what it’s like to focus on the LPGA season opener while playing alongside retired baseball and basketball players, actors, comedians and television personalities, and they all say the same things: It’s relaxing; it’s a nice change; the celebrities are not a distraction; it’s an important week and I focus on winning the golf tournament. After a while you’re not sure if they’re trying to convince you or themselves.
It shouldn’t affect you, sure. But like anything new, it has some impact. You’ve likely been reading since kindergarten. It shouldn’t affect your comprehension if you’re reading during a hurricane. But it does. It’s a distraction.
Our defending champion gets that. And she’s honest about it.
“I think I struggled the first year for sure,” Jessica Korda said on Wednesday. “I have a different mindset in the pro-am versus a tournament round. I think that that was what I was struggling with. I obviously wanted to talk to (my celebrity partners) and get to know them and pick their brains. But it's also a golf tournament.”
Korda obviously overcame those struggles in 2021. On Saturday of last year’s Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, Korda shot a career-low 60 playing alongside NFL All Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Fox News host Bret Baier.
“(Early on in this event) I wanted (the celebrity playing partners) to have a fun time,” Korda said. “I don't know, I had this guilt of going back and forth from being super serious or not. Last year I found a really nice balance between the two, because I already knew what to expect.”
That shouldn’t be a problem, at least in the early rounds at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club. Thursday morning, Korda will tee off with Annika Sorenstam, who, for the second year in a row is playing in the celebrity portion of the event.
“Obviously I won't be having those same feelings of, ‘Oh, I'm playing with an amateur or celebrity,’” Korda said. “So, it's going to be great. But it's definitely an adjustment in the head.
“I get to play with a Hall of Famer, an amazing ambassador for women's golf, someone that's pushed the needle for us for such a long time and continues to do so. I'm excited. I've never played with her. I was there at her retirement many years ago at a U.S. Open, and that's really about it.
“I just know Annika from being out here and her presence out her and some Solheim Cups. Yeah, she's been great. Like I said, she's a pioneer for women's golf and it'll be great to be able to play with her tomorrow.”
No matter who it is, Korda has figured out the secret of compartmentalizing the golf and entertainment aspects of this event. Like reading in a storm, she will focus on one or the other, but never both.