Lorena Ochoa’s Hall of Fame career remains confusingly in limbo as she prepares to host her annual LPGA event in Mexico City next week.
Five-and-a-half years after announcing her retirement, nobody seems certain what her Hall of Fame status is or whether she will actually be inducted.
Ochoa isn’t sure, either.
“I have no idea,” Ochoa said when GolfChannel.com asked her in a telephone interview what she knew about induction plans. “I’ve heard no news. I did my best as a player, and it’s not in my hands. I have no idea how the rules work or about any new changes or the possibility for me to be inducted.”
The LPGA Hall of Fame is separate from the World Golf Hall of Fame, and the LPGA’s may be the most difficult to get into in mainstream sports. In the 65-year history of the LPGA, only 24 players have been inducted into its Hall of Fame. Nobody has made it in eight years, since Se Ri Pak was inducted in 2007.
Remarkably, as of today, Ochoa still hasn’t satisfied the LPGA Hall of Fame’s rigorous criteria, even though she has far surpassed the demanding points-based requirements. Notably, Ochoa, 33, is happily retired and expecting her third child, a boy, in January.
While Ochoa accumulated 37 Hall of Fame points, exceeding the 27 required, she did not meet the tour membership requirement for induction. LPGA Hall of Fame criteria state that inductees “must” have been an “active” member for 10 years to be eligible for induction. Ochoa was an active member for only seven full seasons before announcing her retirement early into her eighth season in 2010.
Ochoa won 27 LPGA titles, two of them major championships. She won four Rolex Player of the Year awards and also won the Vare Trophy four times for low scoring average. A player earns one HOF point for an LPGA victory, two for a major championship, one for a Rolex POY award and one for a Vare Trophy.
If Ochoa had played full time through the 2012 season, she would have automatically been inducted in 2013.
Though Ochoa is three years short of the active membership requirement, she can still become eligible for induction via the LPGA Hall of Fame veterans category. A player must be retired or inactive five years to be eligible for nomination by the veterans committee. Ochoa met that requirement this year. If the veterans committee nominates Ochoa, her name will then be forwarded to the LPGA player membership for a vote. If 75 percent of the membership that responds to the ballot approves, Ochoa will win induction.
There’s a big problem with that, though.
The LPGA Hall of Fame veterans committee isn’t actively assembled and hasn’t been for a number of years. That’s why Ochoa’s in Hall of Fame limbo.
The 12-member veterans committee is supposed to include two members of the LPGA Hall of Fame, three members of the media, two members of the “golf industry” at large, one active player, one retired player and select members of the LPGA Board, LPGA executive committee and Tournament Owners Association.
No player has been inducted via the veterans category in 13 years.
No player has been inducted after a nomination of the veterans committee since LPGA founder Marlene Hagge was selected in 2002. Hagge, Donna Caponi and Judy Rankin are the only Hall of Famers inducted through the veterans category.
So what’s going on?
LPGA chief of tour operations Heather Daly-Donofrio said the LPGA’s focus helping the World Golf Hall of Fame develop new guidelines that include a new female ballot led to the dormancy of the LPGA’s veterans committee. The World Golf Hall of Fame unveiled its new criteria last year with Laura Davies being inducted off the female ballot. Davies has been sitting just two points shy of the LPGA Hall of Fame for more than a decade.
“Our focus has been working with the World Golf Hall of Fame in a feeling that’s now a great avenue for recognizing the accomplished careers of many more LPGA players who wouldn’t get into the LPGA Hall of Fame off points,” Daly-Donofrio said. “That’s why we haven’t had an active veterans committee the last couple years.”
LPGA commissioner Mike Whan serves on the World Golf Foundation, which oversees the World Golf Hall of Fame and its Selection Commission. Daly-Donofrio is a member of the Selection Commission’s subcommittee, which submits finalists for World Golf Hall of Fame consideration.
The World Golf Hall of Fame’s selection process for its next class of inductees will begin in the spring of next year with the class expected to be announced in October. Ochoa, who turns 34 next week, became eligible for World Golf Hall of Fame consideration this year. The WGHOF requires players to be 40 or to be at least five years removed from “active” tour membership.
While the World Golf Hall of Fame’s new female ballot has created speculation the LPGA might merge its Hall of Fame process with the World Golf Hall of Fame’s, Whan has publicly stated his tour membership wants to keep its Hall of Fame separate and intact.
Daly-Donofrio said she expects an LPGA Hall of Fame veterans committee to be reassembled sometime in the first quarter of next year.
“With Lorena’s accomplishments and the points she was able to earn in such a short period of time, she’s definitely on our radar,” Daly-Donofrio said. “I’m sure once the veterans committee is reassembled, and we start conversations, she will be looked at, as well as other players. Ultimately, that will be the decision of that committee.”
Ochoa’s brilliant career should be a lock for LPGA Hall of Fame induction once a veterans committee is reorganized. She also ought to be a lock to be among the next World Golf Hall of Fame inductees.