Ochoa Irreplaceable

By Randall MellApril 21, 2010, 2:40 am
Lorena Ochoa could frustrate her competition in a way that no other LPGA player could.

The uniquely maddening feeling that came with getting beaten by Ochoa is what Morgan Pressel will always remember about their years together on tour.

“It was very hard to dislike Lorena even though she was beating you every week,” Pressel said. “Lorena’s so competitive, but she could do it with a smile on her face. She’s such a good person and one of the nicest players on tour. She seemed to be friends with everyone on tour. That’s something you don’t always see with the best players in the world.”
Lorena Ochoa
Lorena Ochoa fans were with her at all events. (Getty Images)
Those words stand as a testament to what Ochoa means to the LPGA with news breaking that the No. 1 player in women’s golf will announce her retirement on Friday in a news conference in Mexico City.

Dominant and still beloved by her competition.

Ruthless as a shot maker, magnanimous as a human being.

That’s the tribute fellow tour pros are laying at Ochoa’s feet as they deal with jarring if not shocking news.

“I don’t think anybody close to her or close to the tour is surprised,” Pressel said. “She’s always talked about how she wasn’t going to play forever and about wanting a family. At the same time, you hear it, and the reaction is, `Wow, is this really happening?’”

And after the `Wow,’ there’s sadness.

The world of golf hasn’t been witness to anything like this since Byron Nelson stepped away at the height of his powers a half century ago. Ochoa is just 28, the winner of 27 LPGA tournaments, including two majors. Though she’s qualified on points for the LPGA Hall of Fame, she’ll have to rely on an HOF veteran’s committee and membership vote to gain induction because she'll be lacking 10 years of service by almost three years if she retires this week.

“I’m really crushed,” Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said. “I think the world of Lorena, and I just think this is a big blow to lose the player and the person. It’s detrimental to the LPGA. This isn’t somebody who can be replaced and forgotten. She’s an extremely special player and person.”

We won’t know for certain why Ochoa is stepping away until she tells us Friday, but her fellow tour pros will be shocked if this is anything but Ochoa shifting her priority to her new family and three stepchildren, to her desire to have an even larger family and to the charitable foundations and civic projects that are so important to her and her Mexican homeland.

Why is she leaving now? Her fellow players suspect it’s stunningly simple.

“She may be seeing that her most important life’s work is no longer winning golf tournaments,” Rankin said. “That seems a real possibility.”

Tuesday’s news isn’t shocking because players have seen how Ochoa has struggled to juggle the growing priorities in her life. She married AeroMexico executive Andres Conesa late last year and moved from her home in Guadalajara to Mexico City. She became an instant mom to three children. She is building a new life with her husband, a 14-year-old son and 12- and 7-year-old daughters.

Ochoa also values her foundations, a Mexican-based foundation that funds a school for underprivileged children and a new American-based foundation committed to taking the benefits of golf to Latino and others under-represented in the game.

What separates Ochoa is how she pours herself into every endeavor she undertakes. Companies she endorses don’t get a half-hearted commitment. They get full days with Ochoa. She’s hands on with her foundations.

Insiders have seen Ochoa pulled in too many directions trying to maintain her dominance as a player. They’ve seen her game suffer and her temperament change between the ropes.

“I think Lorena’s heart and brain have been conflicted,” Rankin said.

Players have seen as much for more than a year.

“You could tell over the past year or so that Lorena’s heart wasn’t into the game the way it used to be,” said three-time LPGA winner Brittany Lincicome. “She’s such a sweetheart, but she hasn’t been her normal happy self on the golf course. She’s happy with her family and friends. You can see how she’s 100 percent happy in her marriage.”

Pressel played with Ochoa in Singapore in the season’s second event in February.

“She wasn’t as sharp as we’re used to seeing her,” Pressel said. “She seemed to get more frustrated by her poor shots, uncharacteristically poor shots. You could tell she had a lot of other things going on in her life.”

Val Skinner, the six-time LPGA winner, could see what was happening. The entire world saw it at the U.S. Women’s Open last summer when Ochoa slammed a ball in disgust into the turf coming off a green. She winged a ball in anger into a bush at the Kraft Nabisco last year.

“I have seen her more frustrated, but I also understood it,” Skinner said. “How do you add all these new elements to your life and still be the best player in the world? Lorena’s exceptional, not just a quality performer but quality person. She’s had very high standards and always been able to balance the professional and personal demands.”

If Ochoa felt herself losing her balance, she unselfishly jettisoned the burden most players struggled to give up. We’ll find out Friday, in her words, why it became necessary.
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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.