Ochoa Opens New Season in Hawaii

By Associated PressFebruary 15, 2007, 5:00 pm
2006 SBS OpenKAHUKU, Hawaii -- Lorena Ochoa is finally back where she feels most at peace -- on the golf course as one of the gals.
'Right now, I'm just like any other player. We start from the bottom,' she said, as she prepared for the season-opening SBS Open, which starts Thursday.
Ochoa, however, is hardly just another player. She won six tournaments last season en route to becoming the first player not named Annika Sorenstam to win the LPGA player of the year since 2001.
Lorena Ochoa
Lorena Ochoa hopes to build on her big 2006 season. (Wire Images)
Life hasn't quite been the same since then.
The 25-year-old is a national hero in her native Mexico where she's been busy meeting the president, conducting countless interviews and signing deals with new sponsors. She recently opened two golf academies with plans for a third.
'There's just so many things to do outside the golf course,' she said. 'It was tough. But it's something that you have to learn to do.'
Ochoa earned $2,592,872 last year, more than double her 2005 earnings, to win the money title and become just the second player in history to surpass the $2 million mark in a season.
She had six second-place finishes, including a runner-up at the SBS, and 20 top-10 finishes while leading the tour in birdies, eagles, rounds in the 60s and greens in regulation.
'It will be a big challenge to do what I did last year, but at the same time I still have room to improve and there are thing I could do better,' she said.
Ochoa said she's been spending hours working on her short game.
'I'm not going to put a lot of pressure on me. I'm going to think the same way: Just try to be consistent every week and hopefully the results at the end of the year are the way I want,' she said.
All that remains for Ochoa is a major victory. And she's getting close. Ochoa finished in the top 20 in all four majors last year.
'I think I have better chances this year because experience counts a lot and hopefully this is the year for me. We'll see,' she said.
Ochoa said she loves sharing her success with Mexico and only feels 'positive pressure' from a nation of supporters.
'I represent them with my heart,' she said.
After her breakthrough season, she spent time with her family and friends in Guadalajara before getting back to golf.
'I spent 20 days on the beach doing nothing,' she said. 'Nothing related to golf. No hitting balls. No interviews. Nothing with my sponsors. It was very relaxing. I think it was good to charge me and get energy.'
Nine of the 10 money leaders are entered in the SBS. The only player missing is Sorenstam, who is scheduled to make her debut in Mexico next month.
Last year, Joo Mi Kim got her first LPGA Tour win with a birdie on the second playoff hole to beat Ochoa and fellow South Korean Soo Young Moon.
Kimberly Kim, who last year became the youngest champion of the U.S. Women's Amateur at age 14, is playing on a sponsor's exemption this week and the Fields Open next week at Ko Olina.
The 15-year-old grew up in Hilo, Hawaii, and now lives outside of Phoenix.
Fellow island teen, Michelle Wie, has a left wrist injury that will keep her away from golf for at least a month. Wie finished tied for second in the inaugural SBS in 2005 and skipped last year's event.
While the SBS begins play for most of the field, Karrie Webb already seems to be in midseason form.
The seven-time major winner is coming off a two-week Australian sweep. She won her third Women's Australian Open title two weeks ago at Royal Sydney and added her sixth Australian Ladies Masters victory Sunday at Royal Pines.
'You hope the game is still there after being away from tournament golf after a couple months but to win twice was a little unexpected, but I'll take it,' she said.
There wasn't too much time for celebration. She left her hotel at 3 a.m. to catch her 5 a.m. flight to Hawaii.
The 32-year-old Australian is coming off one of her best seasons with five titles including the Kraft Nabisco Championship, where she beat Ochoa in a playoff. Webb went over $2 million in earnings for the first time to finish second on the money list to Ochoa.
'It was probably the most rewarding year of my career,' Webb said. 'I think it's the one I appreciated the most.'
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    McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

    By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

    One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

    McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

    It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

    McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

    Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

    Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

    Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

    The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

    The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

    Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

    The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

    A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

    Getty Images

    Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

    Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

    Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

    South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

    Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

    The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



    Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

    By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

    It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

    Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

    Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

    "We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

    Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

    Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

    Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.