Ochoa Irreplaceable

By Randall MellApril 21, 2010, 2:40 am
Lorena Ochoa could frustrate her competition in a way that no other LPGA player could.

The uniquely maddening feeling that came with getting beaten by Ochoa is what Morgan Pressel will always remember about their years together on tour.

“It was very hard to dislike Lorena even though she was beating you every week,” Pressel said. “Lorena’s so competitive, but she could do it with a smile on her face. She’s such a good person and one of the nicest players on tour. She seemed to be friends with everyone on tour. That’s something you don’t always see with the best players in the world.”
Lorena Ochoa
Lorena Ochoa fans were with her at all events. (Getty Images)
Those words stand as a testament to what Ochoa means to the LPGA with news breaking that the No. 1 player in women’s golf will announce her retirement on Friday in a news conference in Mexico City.

Dominant and still beloved by her competition.

Ruthless as a shot maker, magnanimous as a human being.

That’s the tribute fellow tour pros are laying at Ochoa’s feet as they deal with jarring if not shocking news.

“I don’t think anybody close to her or close to the tour is surprised,” Pressel said. “She’s always talked about how she wasn’t going to play forever and about wanting a family. At the same time, you hear it, and the reaction is, `Wow, is this really happening?’”

And after the `Wow,’ there’s sadness.

The world of golf hasn’t been witness to anything like this since Byron Nelson stepped away at the height of his powers a half century ago. Ochoa is just 28, the winner of 27 LPGA tournaments, including two majors. Though she’s qualified on points for the LPGA Hall of Fame, she’ll have to rely on an HOF veteran’s committee and membership vote to gain induction because she'll be lacking 10 years of service by almost three years if she retires this week.

“I’m really crushed,” Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said. “I think the world of Lorena, and I just think this is a big blow to lose the player and the person. It’s detrimental to the LPGA. This isn’t somebody who can be replaced and forgotten. She’s an extremely special player and person.”

We won’t know for certain why Ochoa is stepping away until she tells us Friday, but her fellow tour pros will be shocked if this is anything but Ochoa shifting her priority to her new family and three stepchildren, to her desire to have an even larger family and to the charitable foundations and civic projects that are so important to her and her Mexican homeland.

Why is she leaving now? Her fellow players suspect it’s stunningly simple.

“She may be seeing that her most important life’s work is no longer winning golf tournaments,” Rankin said. “That seems a real possibility.”

Tuesday’s news isn’t shocking because players have seen how Ochoa has struggled to juggle the growing priorities in her life. She married AeroMexico executive Andres Conesa late last year and moved from her home in Guadalajara to Mexico City. She became an instant mom to three children. She is building a new life with her husband, a 14-year-old son and 12- and 7-year-old daughters.

Ochoa also values her foundations, a Mexican-based foundation that funds a school for underprivileged children and a new American-based foundation committed to taking the benefits of golf to Latino and others under-represented in the game.

What separates Ochoa is how she pours herself into every endeavor she undertakes. Companies she endorses don’t get a half-hearted commitment. They get full days with Ochoa. She’s hands on with her foundations.

Insiders have seen Ochoa pulled in too many directions trying to maintain her dominance as a player. They’ve seen her game suffer and her temperament change between the ropes.

“I think Lorena’s heart and brain have been conflicted,” Rankin said.

Players have seen as much for more than a year.

“You could tell over the past year or so that Lorena’s heart wasn’t into the game the way it used to be,” said three-time LPGA winner Brittany Lincicome. “She’s such a sweetheart, but she hasn’t been her normal happy self on the golf course. She’s happy with her family and friends. You can see how she’s 100 percent happy in her marriage.”

Pressel played with Ochoa in Singapore in the season’s second event in February.

“She wasn’t as sharp as we’re used to seeing her,” Pressel said. “She seemed to get more frustrated by her poor shots, uncharacteristically poor shots. You could tell she had a lot of other things going on in her life.”

Val Skinner, the six-time LPGA winner, could see what was happening. The entire world saw it at the U.S. Women’s Open last summer when Ochoa slammed a ball in disgust into the turf coming off a green. She winged a ball in anger into a bush at the Kraft Nabisco last year.

“I have seen her more frustrated, but I also understood it,” Skinner said. “How do you add all these new elements to your life and still be the best player in the world? Lorena’s exceptional, not just a quality performer but quality person. She’s had very high standards and always been able to balance the professional and personal demands.”

If Ochoa felt herself losing her balance, she unselfishly jettisoned the burden most players struggled to give up. We’ll find out Friday, in her words, why it became necessary.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

Getty Images

Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.