As LPGA Visits Mexico Ochoas Legend Grows

By Associated PressMarch 12, 2008, 4:00 pm
LPGA Tour _newMEXICO CITY, Mexico -- From a leafy golf course in Mexicos second-largest, sprawling city, Lorena Ochoa has willed her way to the top of the womens game, drawing millions of new fans to an increasingly international sport.
 
In Mexico, admirers point to the Lorena effect to explain how the worlds No. 1 female golfer is putting the sport on the map in a country where green fees are often five times the average daily wage and soccer rules hearts.
 
Shes an icon, said Hector Juarez, editor of the Mexico City-based magazine Caras Golf. Most people in Mexico dont know what golf really is, but they know Lorena Ochoa. Thats a huge gain. Shes giving golf massive exposure.
 
Ochoa, one of 120 active international players on the tour, tees off Friday at the MasterCard Classic in Huixquilucan, Mexico, the first of three LPGA events in the country. Without her, odds are Mexico would not have any LPGA events. One of them is the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. The only other living player whose name is the title of the tournament is Arnold Palmer.
 
The 26-year-old Ochoa is just establishing her dominance in her sixth LPGA season, replacing Annika Sorenstam as the worlds top player last April. Ochoa won her first major, the British Open, in August and set a record for season tournament earnings with nearly $4.4 million last year.
 
Two weeks ago at the HSBC Womens Champions tournament in Singapore, their only meeting this season so far, Ochoa buried Sorenstam by 11 strokes, shooting 20 under par. Sorenstam is not competing this weekend in Mexico.
 
Ochoa, who grew up with her brothers on a Guadalajara golf course, is known as much for her grace as her game.
 
Lorena sets a best-of-class example of not just how to be a great athlete, but how to be a great human being, LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens said. Lorena has given much more to the game than she has taken.
 
Ochoa is one of the youngest golfers to start her own philanthropic foundation, adopting an elementary school for 241 low-income children near her hometown. Foundation director Carmen Bolio credits Ochoa for increasing the number of donors through the Lorena effect.
 
Ochoa and her brother Alejandro, who is her manager, also have opened two golf academies and plan three more this year to train and certify instructors and help students access the countrys cloistered greens.
 
Were interested in growing golf in Mexico in every sense: in the number of players, the number of people who follow it on television, the number of golf courses, Alejandro Ochoa said.
 
Mexico counts 108 million people, but just 50,000 golfers and about 220 courses, according to the Mexican Golf Federation, compared to some 16,000 courses in the United States. About a quarter of the Mexican courses are at tourist resorts, and nearly all others are private, with membership often topping $10,000.
 
Still, more prospects are earning NCAA scholarships, and junior golf participation has swelled 25 percent since 2006 in central Mexico, according to the federation.
 
After all, Ochoa won five straight junior world championships and then had two NCAA player of the year seasons at the University of Arizona.
 
Lorena has opened doors and is blazing a trail for these young players, said Ian Gardner, director of the Mexican golf federation. Weve had more success in the past two or three years on an amateur level than almost ever before.
 
And the flood of media coverage devoted to Ochoa in Mexico is raising awareness of the sport.
 
I remember when they told me I had to cover golf, I practically cried, said Juarez, who has followed Ochoa since 2000.
 
About eight Mexican reporters covered the sport then, he said, while more than 100 do today.
 
But Ochoas reach extends beyond Mexico.
 
Every time I go back home, I see more and more young players with great potential, LPGA golfer Virada Nirapathpongporn, 25, from Thailand, said in an e-mail. Ochoas success goes to show that golf can be played and mastered by anyone, from any country as long as they have that tremendous desire.
 
Ruffin Beckwith, director of Golf 20/20 at the World Golf Foundation, likens Ochoa to Palmer, who got golf out of the country club in the 1950s, causing thousands of public courses to be built across the United States.
 
Forty years later, U.S. golf is stalling, as fewer rounds are played and more courses are closing than opening, Beckwith said.
 
Ochoa could unwittingly reverse that trend, Beckwith suggested, drawing millions of Mexican-American fans who were too young or far away to remember four-time LPGA player of the year Nancy Lopez.
 
On manicured greens from Las Vegas to Florida, Ochoa connects most visibly with countrymen who also earn a living off the game, greeting groundskeepers, restaurant and construction workers, signing flags and programs, and hosting breakfasts just hours before tee time to thank them for their work.
 
To many, she embodies their own dreams and struggles to get ahead, at home and in the world.
 
Mexicans are very proud of you, President Felipe Calderon told Ochoa at the 2007 LPGA Corona Championship in Morelia, Mexico. Lorena represents the Mexico we long to see, a Mexico that refuses to be defeated, a Mexico that fights, a Mexico that opens ways in the world, a Mexico that wins.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - MasterCard Classic
  • Getty Images

    Caddies drop lawsuit; Tour increases healthcare stipend

    By Rex HoggardOctober 18, 2018, 3:33 pm

    After nearly four years of litigation, a group of PGA Tour caddies have dropped their lawsuit against the circuit.

    The lawsuit, which was filed in California in early 2015, centered on the bibs caddies wear during tournaments and ongoing attempts by the caddies to improve their healthcare and retirement options.

    The caddies lost their class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court and an appeal this year.

    Separately, the Association of Professional Tour Caddies, which was not involved in the lawsuit but represents the caddies to the Tour, began negotiating with the circuit last year.

    “I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the APTC.

    In January 2017, Jay Monahan took over as commissioner of the Tour and began working with the APTC to find a solution to the healthcare issue. Sajtinac said the Tour has agreed to increase the stipend it gives caddies for healthcare beginning next year.

    “It took a year and a half, but it turned out to be a good result,” Sajtinac said. “Our goal is to close that window for the guys because healthcare is such a massive chunk of our income.”

    The Tour did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the agreement or the end to the lawsuit.

    Caddies have received a stipend from the Tour for healthcare for some time, and although Sajtinac wouldn’t give the exact increase, he said it was over 300 percent. Along with the APTC’s ability to now negotiate healthcare plans as a group, the new stipend should dramatically reduce healthcare costs for caddies.

    “It’s been really good,” said Sajtinac, who did add that there are currently no talks with the Tour to created a retirement program for caddies. “Everybody is really excited about this.”

    Getty Images

    PGA Tour Latinoamerica moving season finale to Doral

    By Nick MentaOctober 18, 2018, 2:36 pm

    PGA Tour Latinoamérica announced Wednesday that it will play its season finale, the Latinoamérica Tour Championship-Shell Championship, at Trump National Doral from Nov. 29-Dec. 2.

    The limited-field event will feature the top 60 players on the circuit's money list competing on Doral's Golden Palm Course.

    “We are very happy that we will continue playing the Latinoamérica Tour Championship-Shell Championship in South Florida, and Doral is a tremendous community that we know will open its arms to our players and this tournament,” PGA Tour Latinoamérica president Jack Warfield said in a statement.

    The PGA Tour ended its more than 50-year relationship with Doral and the resort's Blue Monster course back in 2016, when Cadillac's title sponsorship of the World Golf Championship lapsed as then-candidate Donald Trump was mounting his bid for the presidency.

    “We continue to stand by our earlier statement, and the statement of other golf organizations, that Mr. Trump's comments are inconsistent with our strong commitment to an inclusive and welcoming environment in the game of golf,” then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in December 2015, referring to Trump's campaign rhetoric concerning Mexicans and Muslims.

    The event was moved to Mexico City in 2017 and renamed the WGC-Mexico Championship.

    The Latinoamérica Tour Championship was staged the last two years at Melreese Country Club in Miami, where David Beckham is currently attempting to build a stadium for his Major League Soccer expansion club, Inter Miami.

    PGA Tour Latinoamérica's release states that the move to Doral "keeps the event in this part of the Sunshine State and allows the tournament to maintain its ties to The First Tee of Miami as a charitable recipient and sponsor." Melreese, the city's only public golf course, is home to the First Tee of Miami, which naturally opposes Beckham's efforts to close the facility and repurpose the land.

    A November referendum will ask voters to decide if the city should negotiate a no-bid lease with Beckham's ownership group, which seeks to create a $1 billion dollar complex comprising of the proposed stadium, youth soccer fields, a park, commercial and retail space, and a hotel.

    Im wins Web.com Player and Rookie of the Year awards

    By Nick MentaOctober 18, 2018, 1:22 pm

    Sungjae Im on Thursday was named the Web.com Tour's 2018 Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year.

    Im won twice on the Web.com this year, taking the season opener in January, The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, and the season finale in August, the WinCo Foods Portland Open, to become the first player in history lead the circuit's money list wire-to-wire.

    Im is the first Korean-born player to win the Web's POY award and, at 20 years old, its youngest recipient.

    In a player vote, Im bested Anders Albertson, Sam Burns, Kramer Hickok and Martin Trainer, 2018's only other two-time winner, for POY honors, and Burns, Hickock, Trainer and Cameron Champ for ROY honors.

    “My first year on the Web.com Tour was an incredibly happy time for me,” Im said, “and it’s pretty surreal that I was able to win the first and last tournament of the season. I honestly thought I would spend about two to three years on the Web.com Tour before making it to the PGA Tour, so I’m happy to have achieved my goal so soon. I’m grateful to have earned the Player of the Year honors and I hope to finish the remainder of the PGA Tour season on a good note.”

    In his first PGA Tour start, Im tied for fourth at the Safeway Open, earning $241,280, a little less than half of the $534,326 he amassed in 25 starts as the Web's regular-season money winner.

    Playing this week's CJ Cup in his native South Korea, Im opened with a 1-over 73 Thursday.

    Getty Images

    Former DJ advisor found guilty in embezzlement case

    By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 18, 2018, 12:38 pm

    A federal jury has found Nathan Hardwick, a former advisor to Dustin Johnson, guilty of embezzling $26 million in funds from his now-bankrupt real estate closing firm, Morris Hardwick Schneider.

    Per Golf.com, citing Law.com, a 12-person jury convicted Hardwick of "one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 21 counts of wire fraud and one count of making false statements to federally insured banks."

    As for where exactly the money went, The Sun News of Myrtle Beach, once again citing Law.com, has the details:

    "The alleged spending included $18.47 million on gambling, private jet travel and women from 2011 through August 2014. The prosecution submitted two binders of documentation as evidence that Hardwick spent $4.39 million on “female social companions,” including one testifying witness who claimed to have met him through SugarDaddy.com."

    "Other alleged expenditures described in testimony include more than $7 million at casinos, more than $3 million with a bookie, $680,000 for a luxury condo at The St. Regis Atlanta, $273,000 on a diamond ring, $186,000 on a deposit for a party on a private island, and $635,000 on a trip to the 2014 British Open for golfing buddies that included a customized jet and round at St. Andrews."

    Johnson in 2014 sued Morris Hardwick Schneider over a $3 million loan he believed to be an investment. Instead, Johnson argued, the money was going to make up for shortages created by Hardwick's embezzlement. Johnson later amended his suit to argue that Hardwick, who previously served on the board of the Dustin Johnson Foundation, was being used as a "pawn" by the firm's other partners. 

    That suit was settled in 2016 for $2 million.