Ochoa enjoying retirement, not seeking a return

By Randall MellNovember 11, 2014, 9:45 pm

Lorena Ochoa still relishes time on the practice range, but it’s so different now.

The joy today is watching her son, Pedro, hit balls on the golf course where her family makes its home in Mexico City. He will turn 3 next month, and Ochoa knows half the fun for her son is hopping into their golf cart, beside her, to make the drive to the range from their house.

Pedro likes to stop and feed the ducks on a pond there after hitting balls.

“We have our routines,” Ochoa told GolfChannel.com in a telephone interview. “We go to the playground after school and to the range. He likes to hit golf balls. He only hits about 10 balls and then he’ll say, 'OK, I’m done, let’s go.'”

Then it’s off to the feed the ducks with his baby sister, Julia.

Pedro may like hitting balls more than his mother does these days.

“I don’t like to practice that much anymore,” Ochoa says. “I don’t play very much.”

With the Lorena Ochoa Invitational set for its seventh annual staging this week, questions arise anew over whether old competitive fires are beginning to burn within Ochoa again. She will tell you that they don’t. She relishes her life as a mother too much. She retired four years ago at 28 as the world No. 1 to start a family with her husband, Andres Conesa Labastida, president of Aeromexico. She doesn’t regret leaving the game for a moment.

Lorena Ochoa Invitational: Articles, videos and photos

While Ochoa could have a spot in her own tournament this week, she’s only teeing it up in the pro-am. 

“I’ll play the pro-am to be with the sponsors and friends,” Ochoa said.

But what about the future? Can she begin to see the day she’ll want to compete for championships again?

“No, I don’t see myself competing again,” Ochoa said. “I’m finished. I may go to play one tournament at some point, to have fun and to see some friends, but I don’t see myself competing again. I’m enjoying this part of my life.”

Last Wednesday, Ochoa’s youngest, Julia, celebrated her first birthday. Pedro helped wake her up with a birthday song.

“Julia’s a happy girl,” Ochoa said. “She laughs a lot, and she’s starting to walk. Pedro’s talking now, and he’s a really good brother. It’s amazing, and I feel blessed.”

Ochoa can’t envision taking time away from them to re-commit to competition at the highest level.

“Everyone asks if I miss playing,” Ochoa said. “I don’t really miss it. If I’m not able to practice and do it the right way, I don’t want to do it anymore.”

Ochoa won the last of her 27 LPGA titles five years ago at the Navistar Classic, but her name still resonates on tour.

“She’s one of the names you still hear players on tour talking about,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said. “I don’t know how much communication players still have with her, but she’s in our fabric. The respect for Lorena is through the roof. I don’t know a player who wasn’t a little wowed playing with her.”

Ochoa’s passion for the game continues to be sharing its benefits with countrymen, families and juniors. That’s why she’s so excited about all the changes to her tournament this year.

While staging the first six tournaments on the golf course where she grew up in Guadalajara was special, she sees the event’s move to Mexico City this year as an important step for the tournament and her country. It is being played at the Club de Golf Mexico in the heart of Mexico City, where Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer teamed together to win the World Cup of Golf in 1967.

“I couldn’t ask for a better place to play the tournament,” Ochoa said. “The course has held big events before, and the members are excited for us to be there. It’s in beautiful shape, and I think the players are going to like it.”

Ochoa’s event faced some challenges last year at Guadalajara Country Club, when the local government pulled funding, causing the event to lose its television deal. With the move to Mexico City, Ochoa believes her tournament has secured a strong future.

“Playing in Guadalajara was a dream come true for me,” Ochoa said. “I wanted to share my experiences with my community and all the club members there, but it seems right to move to Mexico City now, to make the tournament even better and more important. There are so many clients and businesses and golf courses here. With the tournament televised around the world, we’ll be showing Mexico to the world. It’s good for Mexico City and the country.”

Ochoa’s event has a contract to play in Mexico City through 2016. Ochoa Sports Management, headed by Lorena’s brother, Alejandro, operates the tournament.

“Everyone’s on board, sponsors, the government,” Ochoa said. “Everything’s going smoothly. We aren’t worried about the future of the tournament. We have a three-year deal and hopefully we’ll be here a lot longer.”

Whan said the tournament’s ability to secure television coverage was key.

“For a long time, they’ve had four big sponsors and each of them has wanted the event in Mexico City, because that’s where they’re based and where all their customers are, where the hub is,” Whan said. “Alejandro told me a long time ago, if I ever tell you I need to go to Mexico City, it means I’m finally doing what my sponsors asked.”

Lorena remains intricately involved in her charities, including the school her foundation built in Guadalajara. The Lorena Ochoa Foundation is the primary beneficiary of her tournament. The foundation’s mission is to provide opportunities for children and adults in family-based health, fitness and educational programs in Mexico and the United States. She built the Lorena Ochoa Golf Academy in Jurupa Valley, Calif., and has established Lorena’s Links golf programs at six sites in Southern California.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.