Ochoa busy with tourney, charities and child on way

By Randall MellNovember 10, 2015, 1:16 am

Lorena Ochoa won’t be teeing it up in her LPGA event in Mexico City this week, and she won’t be playing the pro-am, either.

Ochoa happily reports there is a very good reason for that: She’s seven months pregnant, due in January with her third child, a boy.

“Every other year the players come here, I have a big belly,” Ochoa told GolfChannel.com with a laugh. “I haven’t practiced or played that much.”

Ochoa’s youngest child, Julia, turned 2 years old last week. Her oldest, Pedro, will turn 4 in December. She and her husband, Andres Conesa Labastida, plan to name their newest child Diego.

While Ochoa won’t be playing this week, her presence will be strong throughout the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. From the clinics to the pro-am to the trophy presentation, Ochoa, who turns 34 on Sunday, will be there relishing all that the tournament means to her and to growing golf in her homeland.

It seems Ochoa’s life is all about nurturing these days, nurturing family, her foundation’s charities and her golf tournament, which turns 8 years old this week. Ochoa continues to pour herself into her causes.

“It’s a very special week,” said Ochoa, a 27-time LPGA winner who retired five seasons ago. “In a way, it makes me feel like I’m back on tour.

“I keep telling Julia and Pedro that my tournament is coming, and my friends are coming. They are getting older and more aware of golf and what I used to do. It’s an exciting week.”

While the Lorena Ochoa Invitational has faced some sponsorship challenges, Ochoa happily reports obstacles are being overcome to keep the event going. Golf isn’t a national sports priority in Mexico, but she has been working hard to secure its future. The event’s contract runs through next year.

“We have a lot of challenges every year, especially this year, with the Formula One race here last week,” Ochoa said. “It was difficult because all the attention went to that. At the same time, we are solid. We struggled a little bit with sponsors, but we were able to make it, and we already have sponsors committed to next year. So, we’ve decided to continue on with the LPGA. We’re in good shape.”

Ochoa was the Rolex world No. 1 when she announced her retirement in the spring of 2010. Today, Alejandra Llaneza is the highest ranked Mexican woman in the world rankings at No. 327. Ochoa is hopeful her event and golf’s return to the Olympics next year will fuel the game’s growth in Mexico.

“We don’t get the attention we would like,” Ochoa said of golf.

Ochoa says having Carlos Ortiz playing on the PGA Tour is a big deal now.

“The girls are getting there,” Ochoa said. “Little by little, they’re getting in position. We have a few on the Symetra Tour and a few in Q-School in December.”

Llaneza is one of three players from Mexico who will be competing in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational on sponsor exemptions. Llaneza won on the Symetra Tour this year and finished sixth on that tour’s money list, earning a return to the LPGA. She was an LPGA rookie in 2014. Also playing on sponsor invites are Margarita Ramos, a second-year Symetra Tour player, and amateur Gaby Lopez, the University of Arkansas standout who was runner-up in the NCAA Women’s Championship last May.

“I think this is one of the main reasons we have the tournament,” Ochoa said. “It really opens a door for these players. It’s important for them to be able to play with the top players, to dream about playing the LPGA and see that they belong.”

This same trio of Mexican women played well in Ochoa’s event a year ago. Llaneza tied for 19th and Ramos and Lopez each tied for 23rd. It may be a limited-field event, but it’s a strong field of 36 players.

“I’d love to see Mexico have a team in the Olympics,” Ochoa said. “I think it’s a realistic goal.”

Ochoa’s foundation continues to do the work she dedicated herself to even before she retired.

La Barranca is continuing to grow. That’s the primary and secondary school Ochoa’s foundation supports for 355 students in the impoverished outskirts of Guadalajara, where she grew up. Ochoa’s efforts have helped fund a recent expansion, with a new roof erected over the school’s basketball court and a music program expanded with pianos, cellos, violins and other instruments provided.

“We are really happy with the way it’s been growing,” Ochoa said. “Now that I have more time to be there, it feels good to see the improvements and what all the hard work is doing.”

Ochoa’s Lorena’s Links Community Programs have grown beyond nine sites in Southern California, where they offer outreach activities to families in schools, parks and at her golf academy in Jurupa Valley. Lorena’s Links reaches youth with programs that include golf but go beyond the game. They’ve expanded to Texas now.

The Lorena Ochoa Invitational is an important part of Ochoa’s vision for her country and the game.

“The LPGA’s been a great support,” Ochoa said. “There’s been real teamwork. They understand how challenging it’s been, but how important it is. We’re going to continue to make it happen. Hopefully, next year, it will be easier.”

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”