Humble Start for Worlds Best

By Associated PressApril 29, 2008, 4:00 pm
LPGA Tour _newGUADALAJARA, Mexico -- The house where Lorena Ochoa grew up overlooks the swimming pool at Guadalajara Country Club, a playground paradise for a tiny, wiry girl with big dreams.
She would scamper to the tops of magnolia and ceiba trees that crowd the golf course. She would swim and play tennis and hold putting contests for a peso until it was too dark to see the hole.
Lorena liked to play fantasy games'hit it over the tree, between the branches, over the rocks, said Shanti Granada, who began playing golf with Ochoa at age 7. She always stayed to hit practice shots, always with an extra imagination to make practice fun.
From these beginnings rose the best female golfer in the world.
Ochoa, 26, already has met the performance criteria for the Hall of Fame. She has won five times in six LPGA Tour events this year, crushing the competition by a combined 37 shots, and this week in Oklahoma she will try to win her fifth straight tournament and tie a record held by Annika Sorenstam and Nancy Lopez.
A month later, she will be a heavy favorite to capture her third straight major.
Heady stuff for a kid from a country where there are fewer than 300 golf courses and little access to the masses. Rafael Alarcon, though, might have seen this coming.
Ochoa was drawn to Alarcon, a local PGA golfer, when she was about 8. She would stand behind him as he hit balls, peppering him with questions and following him around the course, until he one day invited her to play.
As the trophies piled up'Ochoa won her age division at the Junior World Championships five years in a row'Alarcon asked her once on the practice green why she wanted to know so much about the game.
I want to learn to beat you, he recalls her telling him. I know if I beat you, I can be the best player in the world.
The day before she left Mexico for the University of Arizona, she did just that, by two strokes on the back nine. In her second and final season at Arizona, she won her first eight tournaments.
Now in her sixth full season on the LPGA Tour, there appears to be no stopping her.
Lorena is an amazing golfer and an even more impressive person, said Lopez, whom Ochoa considers a role model. She has become a true superstar so well liked on the tour and so successful at the same time.
This is the essence of Ochoa. She has risen to the top of a sport still dominated by the wealthy in her native Mexico, where green fees often cost five times the average daily wage. Yet she is loyal to the working class on the golf course, and to impoverished children who have never seen the game played.
She has always been sincere and friendly, said Francisco Javier Lopez, who has worked on the Guadalajara golf course for 18 years. Now that shes winning and winning, shes just the same as before, very humble.
Hometown papers call her La Reina'the queen'and praise her as much for her humility as her 280-yard tee shots.
She already has her own charity, sponsoring a school for needy children in the Guadalajara area. On the road, she often takes time to meet with Latino groundskeepers, even helping them cook breakfast just before this seasons first major championship.
And she has vowed to quit the LPGA Tour after 10 years to start a family, always the most important part of her life.
My family is the one that keeps me happy. Its my motivation, she said in March. They make me feel normal, and I love that.
Ochoas parents'her father is a real estate developer, her mother an artist'raised their four kids in a small house overlooking the country club, just 15 minutes from the cathedral and colonial plazas of Mexicos second-largest, sprawling city.
She was 5 when her father put a golf club in her hand, and success soon followed'a state championship at age 6, a national title at age 7, and the first of five straight world championships a year later.
None of that was an accident.
Granada recalls how she and Ochoa were the only girls in a weekly golf class with 15 boys. The two played together everyday after school for the next 10 years, following a detailed practice schedule that Ochoa sketched on notebook paper and carried with her clubs.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday: Putt, 4:00-5:00; Approach, 5:00-6:00; Driving range, 6:00-7:00, Granada recalls, diagramming a replica of the schedule on the country clubs ferny terrace. Everything was perfectly structured.
From a young age, Ochoa learned to seek challenges and conquer her fears. She climbed Mexicos highest volcano at age 12 and completed a three-day mountain ecothon of biking, kayaking and swimming at 14.
Ochoas father hated his kids to sit around, so she dabbled in everything, including swimming, tennis and basketball. But when he told her to pick one sport, she chose her clubs.
Most days after early mornings on the golf course, her father would pop her on the back of his moped and speed her to the Torre Blanca Catholic girls school, dressed in a blue plaid jumper and motorcycle helmet.
Cameras showed up there in the fifth grade, as Ochoa continued winning Junior World Championships. Yet despite the attention, teachers remember a steady, dynamic and fun-loving perfectionist who never sought special treatment and was good at every sport she tried.
Ochoas only teen rebellion was to sneak in to play basketball and volleyball'discouraged by her father, who asked gym teachers to keep her concentrated on golf.
One time she jammed a finger, and it swelled up fat and black and blue. We said, Quick! Ice! Quick! Before her father gets here! Ochoas high school gym teacher, Abigail Faviola Vasquez, recalls. She was always a really positive, natural leader, and when shed come to play, her enthusiasm was contagious. You could tell she was meant for great things.
Before leaving for Arizona, Ochoa asked Alarcon if he would one day be her coach. But first, she worked her way through college alone.
She sometimes struggled to understand professors or write papers in English, but found her stride on the golf course, winning 12 of 20 tournaments in two years and twice earning NCAA Player of the Year honors.
I just remember seeing this little bitty thing and wondering how in the world she can hit the ball so far, college coach Greg Allen said of the 5-foot-6 Ochoa. She had a quiet confidence about her. The belief she has in who she is just sets her apart.
Ochoa, who lived with a Mexican family off-campus as a freshman, was good enough to turn pro after one year but stayed on a second season to mature, winning eight of 10 tournaments. She then clinched the Futures Tour money title to earn a ticket to the LPGA Tour in 2003.
Alarcon and Ochoa then got to work, outlining a five-year plan that included becoming No. 1 in the world.
Along the way, she has hit some bumps, squandering a chance to win the U.S. Womens Open in 2005 by hooking her tee shot into the water on the 18th hole and making a quadruple bogey. That same year, she blew a three-shot lead to Sorenstam in Phoenix, a devastating loss.
But she saw the mistakes as a chance to get better.
Shes so good at learning from experiences and adversity and turning it into a positive, Allen said. Shes such an emotional person'she laughs, cries'but she has really learned to control those things, and that has helped her finish down the stretch.
A Catholic, Ochoa prays daily and crosses herself before every round, often on the first tee. Friends say that faith feeds her confidence, keeping her calm and balancing her other interests in life.
The best thing about Lorena isnt what she does on the golf course, Allen says. The way she cares about people and wants to make their lives better, thats who Lorena really is.
At La Barranca, the Guadalajara elementary school she sponsors, low-income students race to hug her when she visits.
Interest in Ochoa is exploding across Mexico, as thousands of kids and adults crowd courses in ribbons and baseball hats, chanting Lo-re! and running from hole to hole alongside her. This fall, she will become the youngest player to host her own LPGA event there, the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.
Ochoa and her brother already have opened two academies to train instructors and hope to help build public courses, an effort to make golf more accessible.
The country looks to Lorena because theyve identified with her career and whats important to her, Alejandro Ochoa says. Shes an inspiration to keep going, never quit and, despite the circumstances, stay humble and tied to your goals.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - SemGroup Championship
  • Getty Images

    Lesson with Woods fetches $210K for Harvey relief

    By Will GrayDecember 13, 2017, 2:51 pm

    A charity event featuring more than two dozen pro golfers raised more than $1 million for Hurricane Harvey relief, thanks in large part to a hefty price paid for a private lesson with Tiger Woods.

    The pro-am fundraiser was organized by Chris Stroud, winner of the Barracuda Championship this summer, and fellow pro and Houston resident Bobby Gates. It was held at Bluejack National in Montgomery, Texas, about an hour outside Houston and the first Woods-designed course to open in the U.S.

    The big-ticket item on the auction block was a private, two-person lesson with Woods at Bluejack National that sold for a whopping $210,000.

    Other participants included local residents like Stacy Lewis, Patrick Reed and Steve Elkington as well as local celebrities like NBA All-Star Clyde Drexler, Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates and Houston Astros owner Jim Crane.

    Stroud was vocal in his efforts to help Houston rebuild in the immediate aftermath of the storm that ravaged the city in August, and he told the Houston Chronicle that he plans to continue fundraising efforts even after eclipsing the event's $1 million goal.

    "This is the best event I have ever been a part of, and this is just a start," Stroud said. "We have a long way to go for recovery to this city, and we want to keep going with this and raise as much as we can and help as many victims as we can."

    Getty Images

    LPGA schedule features 34 events, record purse

    By Randall MellDecember 13, 2017, 2:02 pm

    The LPGA schedule will once again feature 34 events next year with a record $68.75 million in total purses, the tour announced on Wednesday.

    While three events are gone from the 2018 schedule, three new events have been added, with two of those on the West Coast and one in mainland China.

    The season will again start with the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic on Paradise Island (Jan. 25-28) and end with the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla., (Nov. 15-18).

    The LPGA played for $65 million in total prize money in 2017.

    An expanded West Coast swing in the front half of the schedule will now include the HUGEL-JTBC Championship in the Los Angeles area April 19-22. The site will be announced at a later date.

    The tour will then make a return to San Francisco’s Lake Merced Golf Club the following week, in a new event sponsored by L&P Cosmetics, a Korean skincare company. Both new West Coast tournaments will be full-field events.

    The tour’s third new event will be played in Shanghai Oct. 18-21 as part of the fall Asian swing. The title sponsor and golf course will be announced at a later date.

    “Perhaps the most important aspect of our schedule is the consistency — continuing to deliver strong playing opportunities both in North America and around the world, while growing overall purse levels every year,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement. “There is simply no better [women’s] tour opportunity in the world, when it comes to purses, global TV coverage or strength of field. It’s an exciting time in women’s golf, with the best players from every corner of the globe competing against each other in virtually every event.”

    While the Evian Championship will again be played in September next year, the tour confirmed its plans to move its fifth major to the summer in 2019, to be part of a European swing, with the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

    The Manulife LPGA Classic and the Lorena Ochoa Invitational are not returning to the schedule next year. Also, the McKayson New Zealand Women’s Open will not be played next year as it prepares to move to the front of the 2019 schedule, to be paired with the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.

    The U.S. Women’s Open will make its new place earlier in the summer, a permanent move in the tour’s scheduling. It will be played May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek Golf Club outside Birmingham, Ala. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (June 28-July 1) will be played at Kemper Lakes Golf Club on the north side of Chicago and the Ricoh Women’s British Open (Aug. 2-5) will be played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England.

    For the first time since its inception in 2014, the UL International Crown team event is going overseas, with the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea, scheduled to host the event Oct. 4-7. The KEB Hana Bank Championship will be played in South Korean the following week.

    Here is the LPGA's schedule for 2018:

    Jan. 25-28: Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic; Paradise Island, Bahamas; Purse: $1.4 million

    Feb. 15-18: ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open; Adelaide, Australia; Purse: $1.3 million

    Feb. 21-24: Honda LPGA Thailand; Chonburi, Thailand; Purse: $1.6 million

    March 1-4: HSBC Women's World Championship; Singapore; Purse: $1.5 million

    March 15-18: Bank of Hope Founders Cup; Phoenix, Arizona; Purse: $1.5 million

    March 22-25: Kia Classic; Carlsbad, California; Purse: $1.8 million

    March 29 - April 1: ANA Inspiration; Rancho Mirage, California; Purse: $2.8 million

    April 11-14: LOTTE Championship; Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii; Purse: $2 million

    April 19-22: HUGEL-JTBC Championship; Greater Los Angeles, California; Purse: $1.5 million

    April 26-29: Name to be Announced; San Francisco, California; Purse: $1.5 million

    May 3-6: Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic; The Colony, Texas; Purse: $1.3 million

    May 17-20: Kingsmill Championship; Williamsburg, Virginia; Purse: $1.3 million

    May 24-27: LPGA Volvik Championship; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Purse: $1.3 million

    May 31 - June 3: U.S. Women's Open Championship; Shoal Creek, Alabama; Purse: $5 million

    June 8-10: ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer; Galloway, New Jersey; Purse: $1.75 million

    June 14-17: Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Purse: $2 million

    June 22-24: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G; Rogers, Arkansas; Purse: $2 million

    June 28 - July 1: KPMG Women's PGA Championship; Kildeer, Illinois; Purse: $3.65 million

    July 5-8: Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic; Oneida, Wisconsin; Purse: $2 million

    July 12-15: Marathon Classic presented by Owens-Corning and O-I; Sylvania, Ohio; Purse: $1.6 million

    July 26-29: Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open; East Lothian, Scotland; Purse: $1.5 million

    Aug. 2-5: Ricoh Women's British Open; Lancashire, England; Purse: $3.25 million

    Aug. 16-19: Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim; Indianapolis, Indiana; Purse: $2 million

    Aug. 23-26: CP Women's Open; Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; Purse: $2.25 million

    Aug. 30 - Sept. 2: Cambia Portland Classic; Portland, Oregon; Purse: $1.3 million

    Sept. 13-16: The Evian Championship; Evian-les-Bains, France; Purse: $3.85 million

    Sept. 27-30: Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Purse: $1.8 million

    Oct. 4-7: UL International Crown; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $1.6 million

    Oct. 11-14: LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $2 million

    Oct. 18-21: Name to be Announced; Shanghai, China; Purse: $2.1 million

    Oct. 25-28: Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship; New Taipei City, Chinese Taipei; Purse: $2.2 million

    Nov. 2-4: TOTO Japan Classic; Shiga, Japan; Purse: $1.5 million

    Nov. 7-10: Blue Bay LPGA; Hainan Island, China; Purse: $2.1 million

    Nov. 15-18: CME Group Tour Championship; Naples, Florida; Purse: $2.5 million

    Newsmaker of the Year: No. 4, Jordan Spieth

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 13, 2017, 1:00 pm

    Dismissed because he’s supposedly too short off the tee, or not accurate enough with his irons, or just a streaky putter, Jordan Spieth is almost never the answer to the question of which top player, when he’s at his best, would win in a head-to-head match.

    And yet here he is, at the age of 24, with 11 career wins and three majors, on a pace that compares favorably with the giants of the game. He might not possess the firepower of Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, but since he burst onto the PGA Tour in 2013 he has all that matters – a better résumé.

    Spieth took the next step in his development this year by becoming the Tour’s best iron player – and its most mentally tough.

    Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

    Just a great putter? Oh, puhleeze: He won three times despite putting statistics (42nd) that were his worst since his rookie year. Instead, he led the Tour in strokes gained-approach the green and this summer showed the discipline, golf IQ and bounce-back ability that makes him such a unique talent. 

    Even with his putter misbehaving, Spieth closed out the Travelers Championship by holing a bunker shot in the playoff, then, in perhaps an even bigger surprise, perfectly executed the player-caddie celebration, chest-bumping caddie Michael Greller. A few weeks later, sublime iron play carried him into the lead at Royal Birkdale, his first in a major since his epic collapse at the 2016 Masters.

    Once again his trusty putter betrayed him, and by the time he arrived on the 13th tee, he was tied with Matt Kuchar. What happened next was the stuff of legend – a lengthy ruling, gutsy up-and-down, stuffed tee shot and go-get-that putt – that lifted Spieth to his third major title.

    Though he couldn’t complete the career Grand Slam at the PGA, he’ll likely have, oh, another two decades to join golf’s most exclusive club.

    In the barroom debate of best vs. best, you can take the guys with the flair, with the booming tee shots and the sky-high irons. Spieth will just take the trophies.


    Masters Tournament: Return to the 12th; faltering on Sunday (T-11)

    Spieth pars 12, but makes quad on 15

    Spieth takes another gut punch, but still standing

    Article: Spieth splashes to worst Masters finish


    U.S. Open: 1 over usually good ... not at Erin Hills (T-35)


    The Open: Unforgettable finish leads to major win No. 3 (1st)

    Spieth survives confusing ordeal on 13

    Photos: Spieth's incredible journey on 13

    Take it, it's yours: Spieth gets claret jug

    Chamblee: Spieth doesn't have 'it' - 'he has it all'

    Article: Spieth silences his doubters - even himself


    PGA Championship: Career Grand Slam bid comes up well short (T-28)

    Article: Spieth accepts that Grand Slam is off the table


    AT&T Pebble Beach

    Article: Spieth rising from 'valley' after Pebble Beach win

    Travelers Championship

    Spieith wins dramatic Travelers in playoff

    Watch: Spieth holes bunker shot, goes nuts



    Photos: Jordan Spieth and Annie Verret


    Photos: Jordan Spieth through the years

    Getty Images

    Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 13, 2017, 12:30 pm