A Soft Spot for Lorena

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There is nothing ' absolutely nothing ' about her that says Im No. 1 or suggests that she is the big cheese in womens golf this year. Lorena Ochoa is as much girl-next-door as you can get. If I had my druthers ' if anybody over 50 had their druthers ' I would want to have a daughter, or daughter-in-law, who is exactly like Lorena.
 
I remember vividly a scene earlier this year that sums up the essence of Lorena. It was at a tournament in Orlando on a Wednesday and the LPGA had scheduled a pre-tournament interview for Lorena. There were perhaps 10 writers covering the event that day, though most were out on the course engaged in some other activity.
 
So Lorena came into the media room, and only three journalists were present to question her. I was one ' out of kindness I attended even though my story that day was on Annika Sorenstam, I believe. The moderator opened the floor to questions ' and there were none!
 
We all sat there in embarrassed silence. My questions were all for Annika. Eventually we came up with two or three for Lorena. But the sight of Lorena still sitting on the edge of her chair, painstakingly answering each in her delightful Spanish-tinted brogue, regardless of how trivial ' it was a heart-warming moment that just showed how much of a lady she really is.
 
A prima donna would have walked out in a huff. But no, not this woman.
 
Lorena Ochoa - I can't say enough good things about her, said Cristi Kerr. First of all, shes the absolute nicest person on the face of the earth.
 
What a talent. She has had the best year in golf that we've seen in a very, very long time, and when all of the other top players are playing very well. Player of the Year for her, I don't think there is anybody that deserves it more than her. Incredibly talented, and I just think the world of her.
 
So this is not just about Lorenas golfing skills, though this year she has responded to the demands of fame by winning six times. This is about Lorena Ochoa the person, the esteem she is held by her fellow players, AND her skills as a golfer.
 
Annika was dethroned this year by Ochoa in the race for Player of the Year, and that is by no means a small accomplishment. Sorenstam had won the Player of the Year a record eight times, including the last six in succession. But - Ochoa still considers Annika the No. 1 female golfer in the world, despite the fact that Lorena has a big edge this year in victories.
 
No, no, no - that will never change, you know, she protested when it was suggested that maybe she, Ochoa, had replaced Sorenstam at the top.
 
I respect Annika more than anybody. I admire her a lot. Every time I see her, or I'm around her, I try to learn the most I can. She is the top of the top.
 
Lorena was raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, by parents of privilege. She herself doesnt categorize the family as wealthy, though she did live adjacent to a golf course. Her father is in real estate, her mother an abstract artist. Lorena was exposed to sports of all kinds as a kid' she even joined brother Alejandro in climbing a couple of mountains at the age of 11 and 12. But as a teenager she settled quickly into golf at the country club.
 
And particularly appealing is her practice of seeking out those of Mexican heritage on the golf courses where there is a tournament. She treated them to breakfast at an event in Arizona earlier this year. At the Takefuji Classic, Latino workers building a condominium abutting the course hung a banner wishing Lorena Buena Suerte, or good luck. She walked across the fairway to shake hands with them. She visited the maintenance-shed lunchroom at the Safeway International in Phoenix last year and got a standing ovation from the crew.
 
'I like to pay them back a little bit,' Ochoa said. 'I like to thank them.'
 
And on Wednesday of last week, on her 25th birthday, about 30 of the course-maintenance workers attempted to reciprocate at the ADT Championship in West Palm Beach, Fla. They serenaded Lorena in Spanish, presenting her with a birthday cake.
 
I'm very proud to be Mexican, said Lorena, and every time I see some Mexicans on the course - it could be the workers, or Mexicans that live here. I love seeing the Mexican flag and (seeing them) cheering for me. It gives me extra motivation. It makes me want to do things better and play good for them, so they can enjoy and see me play good.
 
You know, I'm always very thankful for them to come and support me. Every time I have a chance, when I see them, I go and say hi to them and thank them for coming.
 
Annika says she is impressed by all things Lorena. She has just blossomed to become a great player It's fun to see. She is such a nice person and, you know, it nice to see good things happen to her.
 
Karrie Webbs finds it impossible to get upset when she loses to Ochoa. Again, its that wonderful personality, as much as it is the golf skills.
 
Ever since she has been out on tour, she has played very well, Webb began. I think this year is probably just a little bit of maturity, just getting a little bit older, understanding her game. Of the young players, she has got the best balance in her life.
 
She is able to come to the golf course and be a fierce competitor, but shes also very respectful of everyone else she plays with. And when she has her weeks off, it's not 24/7 golf. She gets away from it.
 
And Lorena is the real thing, as genuine as a Mexican piata. She wins her golf tournaments, then she retreats to being just herself. And, she doesnt need to apologize for her modesty.
 
I am 100 per cent happy like this,' she says in all humility. 'I don't like that much attention on myself.'
 
The attention is bound to come after the breakthrough season she just went through. But somewhere down there in Guadalajara, shell be back with her family sitting around the dinner table. Lorena Ochoa may be famous to everyone else, but to herself, shes just a very proud Mexican lady.
 
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