LPGA's Gaby Lopez, Arkansas' Maria Fassi finding success taking after mentor Lorena Ochoa

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LPGA's Gaby Lopez, Arkansas' Maria Fassi finding success taking after mentor Lorena Ochoa

LPGA Tour

LPGA's Gaby Lopez, Arkansas' Maria Fassi finding success taking after mentor Lorena Ochoa

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LOS ANGELES – Gaby Lopez wanted to meet with the kitchen staff before Thursday’s round at Wilshire Country Club. It’s the kind of thing Lorena Ochoa did often on the LPGA Tour.

Mexican players haven’t exactly taken the golf world by storm since Ochoa retired, but players like Lopez and Maria Fassi have taken after the World Golf Hall of Famer in the best possible ways.

“Our big mentor is Lorena,” said Lopez, who is one shot off the lead at the HUGEL-AIR Premia LA Open. “That will never change.”

LEADERBOARD: HUGEL-AIR Premia LA Open

As Lopez followed Ochoa on the LPGA, Fassi followed Lopez to Arkansas.

“One hundred percent, Maria Fassi wouldn’t be here without Gaby Lopez,” said Arkansas coach Shauna Estes-Taylor.

Lopez and Fassi shared the same swing coach, Horacio Morales, growing up. After next month’s NCAA Championship, Fassi will take her place on the LPGA, doubling the number of Mexicans on tour. Fassi earned an LPGA card at last year’s Q-Series and chose to defer, giving herself a chance to finish out her senior year at Arkansas and try to lead the Razorbacks to their first NCAA team title at home in Fayetteville.

Lopez has impressed upon Fassi the importance of rest. Estes-Taylor is preaching the same. On Friday, Fassi flew to Florida to prepare for U.S. Women’s Open sectional qualifying on April 29 in Ocala. She’s trying to space things out, leaving a day early to rest rather than try to cram it all in. Arkansas is doing the same for NCAA regional play. Flying out to Seattle on Friday in an effort to adjust to the time change and feel fresh for their practice round in Cle Elum, Wash.

Fassi and Lopez are similar in the way they show emotion on the golf course. Such fiery passion. Both wear aviators when they play.

Estes-Taylor will never forget when Lopez came into her office as an 18-year-old freshman and told her that she wanted to be the No. 1 player in the world. Lopez was the first freshman to make that kind of statement.

Fassi was the second.

Their styles of play are different. Fassi overpowers most golf courses. On Friday in Los Angeles, Lopez showed off her precision at Wilshire Country Club. She likes tough golf courses because they force her to be more focused.

“I think I’m just very confident with how I’m hitting it and made a few putts drop out there,” said Lopez, “but I think the takeaway is how calm I feel out there and how comfortable I feel out there. I think that’s what every golfer is looking for, just some calmness and peace out there.”

Gaby Lopez plays her shot from the 16th tee during round two of the HUGEL-AIR PREMIA LA Open at Wilshire Country Club. (Photo: Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)

Estes-Taylor said Lopez, like Stacy Lewis, knocked it out of the park with her work ethic in college.

Lopez joined her idol last fall when she became the second Mexican to win on the LPGA at the Blue Bay LPGA in China, playing alongside the top two players in the world in the final round.

She returned to Arkansas last month for NCAA Championship media day at the Blessings. Estes-Taylor enjoyed seeing how much Lopez has matured since she left Arkansas a semester early in December 2015 to try to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. (She made it to Rio and finished 31st)

“They love the game; they love people,” said Estes-Taylor of her Mexican stars. “You just can’t wait to get a hug from them.”

Fassi and her coach developed a detailed plan for the spring semester that included a week off from competition after the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Of course, they couldn’t have known how much she’d need it given a second New York City media tour that included a late-night appearance on Jimmy Fallon.

A rested and determined Fassi claimed the individual title at the SEC Championship and looks to carry that momentum into NCAA postseason play. Fassi was worn down last year in Stillwater, Okla. She won’t make that mistake again.

“She’s ready to finish with an exclamation point,” said Estes-Taylor.

Lopez feels the same about her weekend in Hollywood.

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