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.
 
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    The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

    By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

    Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

    Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

    I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

    One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

    So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

    You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

    Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

    I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

    This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

    Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

    On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

    The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

    “What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

    Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

    Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

    Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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    Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

    Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

    Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

    In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

    Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

    After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

    Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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    Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

    Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

    “I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”


    Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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    After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

    Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

    The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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    Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

    By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

    LA QUINTA, Calif. – 

    Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

    Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

    ''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

    Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

    ''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

    Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.


    Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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    Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

    ''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

    Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

    ''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

    The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Web.com Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

    ''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

    Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

    ''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

    The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

    ''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

    He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

    Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

    ''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

    Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

    ''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

    Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.