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After honeymoon safari, Lopez two off lead at LPGA opener

After honeymoon safari, Lopez two off lead at LPGA opener

Professional golfers travel anywhere and everywhere but often confine themselves to the course, the hotel and the occasional restaurant.

Sightseeing usually isn’t a pleasure taken during business weeks.

Gaby Lopez, however, made up for any lost moments during her honeymoon. The three-time LPGA winner married Santiago Carranza on Dec. 16 in her home country of Mexico. She said it was a 500-person party that culminated with the vacation of a lifetime.

“We went [to] Africa and Spain to see the gorillas, safaris. Egypt. I went to have some really good wine and jamón in Spain. It was a dream come true,” she said Thursday.

Safari, she called “spectacular,” and the highlight of her honeymoon. She shared photos of the excursions on her Instagram page.

“I think sometimes need to get those spiderwebs out of your head from past seasons, we get to play so much golf and it's so many shots, routines, so much intensity, pressure, tension, that I think the time off, it's really important,” Lopez said.

“So, we decided to just really go away from golf and just hit Africa for the first time.”

Now, she’s back to work, competing in the season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions. Lopez went winless in ’23 but is in the field based on her 2022 Dana Open triumph.

She shot 5-under 67 in Round 1 at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club in Orlando, Florida, finishing tied for second with Maja Stark, two shots off Ayaka Fure’s lead.

Lopez won this tournament – a combination of LPGA winners over the last two seasons and celebs – in a seven-hole playoff that extended to a frigid Monday in 2020.

While she didn’t claim a trophy last year, the 30-year-old finished strong. After tying for sixth here, she went six months without a top-10. She then collected three top-10s and qualified for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

“Looking at stats, I think half of the year from last year was very different from the end of the year. I was giving myself a really hard time. At the beginning of the year last year, I changed coaches and I was very – going very technique-wise, and towards the half of the year, towards the end, I really just went back to my old coach (Horacio Morales) and we went back to just kind of doing more feeling rather than positions,” Lopez said.

“I ended up being one of the top players with hitting greens in regulation, and that's something we’ve been looking into. Hitting more greens and greens and greens, and don't get tired and desperate when you're hitting so many greens. You have to be patient with putting, because you're going to miss more putts. I think that's something we were looking at and kind of working on.”

Mission accomplished Thursday. She hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation and made eight birdies and three bogeys.

Lopez played alongside NASCAR legend Michael Waltrip. On the celeb side, Annika Sorenstam (yes, she’s considered a celeb in this event) leads the way with 40 points in the Modified Stableford format (5 points for eagle, 3 for birdie, 2 for par, 0 for bogey and -1 for double bogey and worse). New York Mets second-baseman Jeff McNeil is second, with 38 points.

“I love connecting with some of the celebrities and amateurs that I got to play with in the past years,” Lopez said. “It's such a fun event. Very different, but it's a great warmup for the season.”