[PHOTO: Andrew Redington]

When Nelly Korda won her fifth LPGA event in as many starts, she entered a space only two other LPGA players have ever occupied. In 1978, during her rookie season, Nancy Lopez won five tournaments in a row. Then in 2004-2005, Annika Sorenstam did it.

And now, Korda will forever be mentioned in the same sentence as Lopez and Sorenstam, two of the greatest players in the history of golf. Both Lopez and Sorenstam remember what it was like to be the biggest stories on the LPGA and have advice for Korda as she navigates these barely charted waters.

“I always felt pressure either way, whether I had won or not, because people expected me to win,” Sorenstam said.

Every time she won the pressure grew. There was the pressure from within, but also the expectations of others. Suddenly, every shot was analysed, as was every step. What once felt like a structured routine of playing golf became something different.

“It just becomes so big,” Sorenstam said.

Lopez felt internal pressure, of course, but also felt at ease in the spotlight.

“It was fun for me. I liked the pressure and I liked the attention at a young age,” Lopez told Golf Digest. “I did a lot of press conferences and played a lot of golf, probably when I didn’t want to. I was tired, but it was just really fun.”

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Nancy Lopez signing autographs in 1978. [Photo: Bettmann]
For both players, finding balance was an important skill during the heights of their success. Because with great play comes great expectations.

“The key is to just focus on what’s happening now and not, I did this and, Now I have to do that,” Sorenstam said. “You can’t create a future dependent on what the past was. Whatever it is now is what determines the future.”

To be able to be in the moment, Sorenstam leaned into the positives that came from winning so many in a row: her confidence was peaking.

“You see balls landing in the fairway, you see balls getting on the green and you feel good when you get on the green, you see the holes bigger and just the possibilities of knowing that it can be done,” Sorenstam said. “I remember thinking, I can do this. I’ve done it.”

Sorenstam said that level of confidence put her in a headspace to be able to play good golf: bad shots didn’t put her in a bad mood, negative thoughts were easy to push away. She got to a point where she’d seen herself hit so many good shots, she knew another one was coming. It was inevitable.

“The mindset was so strong, it was easy to overcome a bad shot or two,” Sorenstam said. “I enjoyed it, who doesn’t like playing golf when things are going your way?”

And then there are the expectations off the golf course, too. Fans want to see the stars. Lopez and Sorenstam talked about the added layer of responsibility to be seen and heard, from showing up at tournaments to speaking with the media.

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Annika Sorenstam in 2005. [Photo: Steve Grayson]
Lopez had a hard time saying no, in part because she genuinely enjoyed the attention.

“I would be in the press room forever, I would tell them every deep, dark secret I had,” she said, laughing.

But she also said yes to a lot of things because she understood the responsibility she had being the tour’s top star.

“I had gone to Hershey, Pennsylvania, to try to win my sixth in a row,” Lopez recalled. “I happened to do the cover for Sports Illustrated that same week. So that was one more thing on my plate that I probably could have done without that week because I was exhausted.”

So exhausted, she said she couldn’t think straight.

“I focused for probably 10 or 11 holes, and then when I was thinking about having a quarter pounder with cheese,” Lopez said. “I lost by 10 shots. I wasn’t even close.”

It happened other times in Lopez’s career, too. There were weeks when it would’ve been best for her game to take a week off, but duty called.

“I had commissioners who would call me and say, if I wasn’t signing up for that tournament, Oh, please come and play that tournament,” Lopez recalled.

Korda has already shown that she’s thinking about her schedule and energy. After she won her fifth tournament in a row at the Chevron Championship, she took the next week off. The tour has had many great players since Sorenstam and then Lorena Ochoa right after her, but none have achieved that same level of dominance, for an extended period.

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Photo: Icon Sportswire

“I think the tour is ready for somebody like that again,” Sorenstam said.

“Hopefully we see Nelly take those steps that can really – in addition to her play – put women’s golf in the spotlight that I think we need. I wanted to just kind of pack my bag and hide, but it’s not how it works.”

As Korda navigates her stardom and pursues six wins in a row, Lopez and Sorenstam have similar pieces of advice.

“You’re going to learn how to pace yourself,” Sorenstam said. “Just keep on going, the next tournament you’re going to play is just another tournament. Be as ready as you can be, prepare like you would prepare for any other tournament. Don’t put that extra pressure on it.

“And have fun along the way. I remember I was so focused and so serious. You work so hard and then you can’t necessarily enjoy it. Bring some enjoyment on top of performing well.”

“Enjoy this time, because it seems like not very long ago I was there, but now I’m 67,” Lopez said. “I think she needs to just enjoy what she’s doing, play great and help the LPGA Tour.”