Ochoa busy with tourney, charities and child on way

By Randall MellNovember 10, 2015, 1:16 am

Lorena Ochoa won’t be teeing it up in her LPGA event in Mexico City this week, and she won’t be playing the pro-am, either.

Ochoa happily reports there is a very good reason for that: She’s seven months pregnant, due in January with her third child, a boy.

“Every other year the players come here, I have a big belly,” Ochoa told GolfChannel.com with a laugh. “I haven’t practiced or played that much.”

Ochoa’s youngest child, Julia, turned 2 years old last week. Her oldest, Pedro, will turn 4 in December. She and her husband, Andres Conesa Labastida, plan to name their newest child Diego.

While Ochoa won’t be playing this week, her presence will be strong throughout the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. From the clinics to the pro-am to the trophy presentation, Ochoa, who turns 34 on Sunday, will be there relishing all that the tournament means to her and to growing golf in her homeland.

It seems Ochoa’s life is all about nurturing these days, nurturing family, her foundation’s charities and her golf tournament, which turns 8 years old this week. Ochoa continues to pour herself into her causes.

“It’s a very special week,” said Ochoa, a 27-time LPGA winner who retired five seasons ago. “In a way, it makes me feel like I’m back on tour.

“I keep telling Julia and Pedro that my tournament is coming, and my friends are coming. They are getting older and more aware of golf and what I used to do. It’s an exciting week.”

While the Lorena Ochoa Invitational has faced some sponsorship challenges, Ochoa happily reports obstacles are being overcome to keep the event going. Golf isn’t a national sports priority in Mexico, but she has been working hard to secure its future. The event’s contract runs through next year.

“We have a lot of challenges every year, especially this year, with the Formula One race here last week,” Ochoa said. “It was difficult because all the attention went to that. At the same time, we are solid. We struggled a little bit with sponsors, but we were able to make it, and we already have sponsors committed to next year. So, we’ve decided to continue on with the LPGA. We’re in good shape.”

Ochoa was the Rolex world No. 1 when she announced her retirement in the spring of 2010. Today, Alejandra Llaneza is the highest ranked Mexican woman in the world rankings at No. 327. Ochoa is hopeful her event and golf’s return to the Olympics next year will fuel the game’s growth in Mexico.

“We don’t get the attention we would like,” Ochoa said of golf.

Ochoa says having Carlos Ortiz playing on the PGA Tour is a big deal now.

“The girls are getting there,” Ochoa said. “Little by little, they’re getting in position. We have a few on the Symetra Tour and a few in Q-School in December.”

Llaneza is one of three players from Mexico who will be competing in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational on sponsor exemptions. Llaneza won on the Symetra Tour this year and finished sixth on that tour’s money list, earning a return to the LPGA. She was an LPGA rookie in 2014. Also playing on sponsor invites are Margarita Ramos, a second-year Symetra Tour player, and amateur Gaby Lopez, the University of Arkansas standout who was runner-up in the NCAA Women’s Championship last May.

“I think this is one of the main reasons we have the tournament,” Ochoa said. “It really opens a door for these players. It’s important for them to be able to play with the top players, to dream about playing the LPGA and see that they belong.”

This same trio of Mexican women played well in Ochoa’s event a year ago. Llaneza tied for 19th and Ramos and Lopez each tied for 23rd. It may be a limited-field event, but it’s a strong field of 36 players.

“I’d love to see Mexico have a team in the Olympics,” Ochoa said. “I think it’s a realistic goal.”

Ochoa’s foundation continues to do the work she dedicated herself to even before she retired.

La Barranca is continuing to grow. That’s the primary and secondary school Ochoa’s foundation supports for 355 students in the impoverished outskirts of Guadalajara, where she grew up. Ochoa’s efforts have helped fund a recent expansion, with a new roof erected over the school’s basketball court and a music program expanded with pianos, cellos, violins and other instruments provided.

“We are really happy with the way it’s been growing,” Ochoa said. “Now that I have more time to be there, it feels good to see the improvements and what all the hard work is doing.”

Ochoa’s Lorena’s Links Community Programs have grown beyond nine sites in Southern California, where they offer outreach activities to families in schools, parks and at her golf academy in Jurupa Valley. Lorena’s Links reaches youth with programs that include golf but go beyond the game. They’ve expanded to Texas now.

The Lorena Ochoa Invitational is an important part of Ochoa’s vision for her country and the game.

“The LPGA’s been a great support,” Ochoa said. “There’s been real teamwork. They understand how challenging it’s been, but how important it is. We’re going to continue to make it happen. Hopefully, next year, it will be easier.”

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”