A Soft Spot for 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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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship
ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.
The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.
Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.
''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''
The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.
Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.
Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.
''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''
Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.
Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.
First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.
Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round
CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.
Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.
Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.
“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”
Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.
“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”
Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win
CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.
Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.
“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”
Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.
“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”
Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.
Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey
CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.
This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.
Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.
Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.
“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”
Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.
“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”