HOFer's Ochoa, Mallon: Mutual admiration society

By Randall MellOctober 25, 2016, 6:00 pm

Almost a week removed from the announcement that they will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame next year, Lorena Ochoa and Meg Mallon are still aglow with the news.

It should be noted they are kindred spirits in how they approached the game and impacted the people around them.

Their legacies go beyond their great triumphs.

Ochoa and Mallon will go down as two of the classiest players ever to play professional golf.

Somewhere in the cosmos, Arnold Palmer must have been saluting them with his classic thumbs-up gesture. Ochoa and Mallon could have been graduates of the Palmer School of Charm and Etiquette, if there were such a thing. They are ambassadors of the game cut from same cloth as Palmer, two of the most adored players in the women’s game.

“I absolutely love Lorena,” Mallon told GolfChannel.com. “I just respect her so much, not only for her play, but what she’s done off the course and what kind of person she is. She’s one of my favorite people that I have ever played with on tour, an amazing ambassador for the game.”

Ochoa was equally effusive in her praise of Mallon, sharing how she cherished Mallon’s advice after joining the tour, and how she cried on Mallon’s shoulder in tough times making the adjustment to tour life.

“I didn’t realize she thought that way about me as well,” Mallon said. “I was touched by that.”

Ochoa, 34, and Mallon, 53, were from different eras, but those eras overlapped.

Ochoa won 27 LPGA titles, two of them majors. She reigned as Rolex world No. 1 for 158 consecutive weeks, still the longest reign atop the women’s rankings. Ochoa also won the Rolex Player of the Year Award four times and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average four times.

Mallon won 18 LPGA titles, four of them major championships, two of them U.S. Women’s Opens.

Mostly, Ochoa and Mallon won the respect and admiration of their peers, even as they were whipping up on them.

Ochoa succeeded Annika Sorenstam as the game’s best player, rising to No. 1 not long after winning the Corona Morelia Championship in her beloved Mexico in 2006, the first of three titles she won there. It says a lot about Ochoa that she counts her first victory in her Mexican homeland as the highlight of her career. While she says she will always treasure winning the Ricoh Women’s British Open at St. Andrews in ’07 and leaping into Poppie’s Pond after winning the Kraft Nabisco in ’08, winning the first time in Mexico resonated beyond a major.

“To be able to share that with my country is at the top of my list,” Ochoa told GolfChannel.com.

Ochoa and Mallon will make their inductions very much family affairs.

They both ended their careers early for the sake of family.

Ochoa retired at 28 to start a family. She’s the mother of three young children today, two boys and a girl.

“I wouldn’t change my life today for anything,” Ochoa said. “I confirm every day the decision to stop playing was the right one.”

Ochoa is still busy promoting the game in Mexico and overseeing the Lorena Ochoa Foundation and the school she started in Guadalajara, her hometown. The LaBarranca School has grown from a small school to one that now houses 360 underprivileged students from first through 12th grade.

Next month, Ochoa will host the ninth annual Lorena Ochoa Invitational, an LPGA event in Mexico City. With two Mexican women making the Olympics this summer, and with news of Ochoa’s induction, there’s a buzz in the buildup to this year’s event that Ochoa’s enjoying.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Ochoa said of her devotion to growing women’s golf in Mexico. “It’s exciting.”

Like Ochoa, Mallon’s focus on family defined the first and final chapters of her career.

Mallon was the last of six children in her family, her sister, Tricia, the fifth. Meg got into the game because she idolized Tricia, and as a youngster tagged along with her sister to play together at Lakelands Golf & Country Club near their Birmingham, Mich., home. With Tricia dying from an abdominal cancer, Meg temporarily left the tour at 45 to help care for Tricia. Meg spent the final 100 days of Tricia’s life beside her. Meg would retire a little more than a year after her sister’s passing.

Mallon’s parents are both gone now, too, but her induction will be a big family affair with siblings and nieces and nephews.

“Typical Irish me, I was told not to tell anybody when I got the news I was going into the Hall of Fame,” Mallon said. “But I had to call my brothers and sisters right away. We all laughed together and cried together over the news. That’s the best part of this, but it makes me miss my parents and my sister too, because they would have been front and center in this.”

They would have enjoyed saluting both Mallon and Ochoa as two of the game’s great ambassadors.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014. 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."