A Different Winner This Week on LPGA


Stanford International Pro-AmAVENTURA, Fla. -- Lorena Ochoa wont win on the LPGA Tour this week. James Blake, however, has a chance.
Having decided that four wins in successive weeks'a feat not seen in 45 years'was enough, Ochoa is skipping the inaugural Stanford International Pro-Am, which begins Thursday just north of Miami.
Even without the tours overwhelmingly dominant player, theres no shortage of star power. Annika Sorenstam, Suzann Pettersen, Paula Creamer and South Florida natives Morgan Pressel and Cristie Kerr are in the field, along with an array of celebrities, including Blake and fellow tennis star Ivan Lendl, baseball Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt and actor James Caan.
The pros will play 72 holes; the celebs, 54, which will surely provide enough time for some embarrassing moments.
Its going to be different, Sorenstam said.
And she wasnt even talking about the fact that someone other than Ochoa will hoist a winners trophy on Sunday afternoon.
Ochoa has won 10 of her last 15 starts, including the last four by a combined 26 strokes. Sorenstam won four straight starts, albeit not in consecutive weeks, in 2001, so she can certainly understand why, even in Ochoas absence, why the Mexican remains the talk of the tour this week.
I wish you would ask me how it would feel to try to go to five in a row, I miss those times and hopefully I get that later this year. Its obviously a great time for Lorena. I hope shes enjoying it. Theres pressure, but then by the end of the day, its fun.
Theres pressure and fun awaiting the amateurs this week as well.
Take Caan, for example. He was an Academy Award nominee for his role in The Godfather, and still gets plenty of questions about his work in Misery and Brians Song.
Yet when he gets to the tee box with partner Christina Kim on Thursday morning, he might not be quite ready for action.
Ill be more nervous than I was in any of those former things that you mentioned, said Caan, who quipped that he plans to take shots of valium every two or three holes.
Mingling with low-handicappers'and, yes, even high-handicappers'is a regular happening on the mens and womens tours, where deep-pocketed amateurs shell out big cash for the chance to spend a day playing alongside a pro on the Wednesday before a tournament begins.
Those are usually low-stress events.
But the pros are vying this week for a $300,000 winners check, so theyll have their own games to worry about.
Normally in the pro-ams, I try and help, Kerr said. I give tips and try and teach, Hey, you should grip it more like this or try this with your technique or stay still with your putting. But this is going to be different. Its going to be, I think, a little awkward for the amateurs, because theyre going to want to feel like they dont want to mess us up. And were going to try and stay out of their way as well.
Blake, the No. 8 mens tennis player in the world, could be contending for top honors this week on the clay in Monte Carlo. Instead, hes playing on grass at Turnberry, teaming with Creamer, currently fourth in the womens world rankings.
He feels more than a little outside his comfort zone.
Im a little scared because its the first time Ill be playing with a gallery, said Blake, who carries around a 13 handicap and plays two or three times a week when hes not entered in a tennis tournament. And I dont think the gallery will be ready for the slice like mine.
Creamer asked Blake to be her teammate during a chance meeting in a mall where they bumped into one another. Theyve paired up once before, at a member-guest event on a course where Blake is a member.
Its going to be fun. Im going to have a great time, I know that, Blake said. Shes one of the best golfers in the world. Ive played with her a couple of times before and its fun just to see how good those guys are. Suck up my pride a little and lose badly to a girl.
Se Ri Pak was among the early entrants who withdrew; Kelli Kuehne will take her spot in the field. Two courses will be used for Thursday and Fridays rounds; only the Soffer Course, which is slightly longer and probably considerably tougher than the Miller Course, will be used on the weekend. Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez, who missed the cut in all six of her LPGA starts last year, is in this weeks field.
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