Thu, May 01, 2008 - Page 20 News List

Family propelled Lorena Ochoa to top women’s golf

AP , GUADALAJARA, MEXICO

Mexican golfer Lorena Ochoa, left, jumps into the lake with her father Javier Ochoa, center, and an unidentified person in the traditional plunge alongside the 18th green after her victory at the LPGA Kraft Nabisco Championship golf tournament at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, on April 6.

PHOTO: AP

The house where Lorena Ochoa grew up overlooks the swimming pool at Guadalajara Country Club, a playground paradise for a tiny, wiry girl with big dreams.

She would scamper to the tops of magnolia and ceiba trees that crowd the golf course. She would swim and play tennis and hold putting contests for a peso until it was too dark to see the hole.

“Lorena liked to play fantasy games — hit it over the tree, between the branches, over the rocks,” said Shanti Granada, who began playing golf with Ochoa at age 7.

“She always stayed to hit practice shots, always with an extra imagination to make practice fun.”

From these beginnings rose the best female golfer in the world.

Ochoa, 26, already has met the performance criteria for the World Hall of Fame. She has won five times in six U.S. LPGA Tour events this year, crushing the competition by a combined 37 shots, and this week in Oklahoma she will try to win her fifth straight tournament and tie a record held by Annika Sorenstam and Nancy Lopez.

A month later, she will be a heavy favorite to capture her third straight major.

Heady stuff for a kid from a soccer-loving country where there are fewer than 300 golf courses. Rafael Alarcon, though, might have seen this coming.

Ochoa was drawn to Alarcon, a local PGA golfer, when she was about 8. She would stand behind him as he hit balls, peppering him with questions and following him around the course, until he one day invited her to play.

As the trophies piled up — Ochoa won her age division at the Junior World Championships five years in a row — Alarcon asked her once on the practice green why she wanted to know so much about the game.

“I want to learn to beat you,” he recalls her telling him. “I know if I beat you, I can be the best player in the world.”

The day before she left Mexico for the University of Arizona, she did just that, by two strokes on the back nine.

Now in her sixth full season on the U.S. LPGA Tour, there appears to be no stopping her.

“Lorena is an amazing golfer and an even more impressive person,” said Lopez, whom Ochoa considers a role model. “She has become a true superstar ... so well liked on the tour and so successful at the same time.”

This is the essence of Ochoa. She has risen to the top of a sport still dominated by the wealthy in her Mexico homeland, where green fees often cost five times the average daily wage. Yet she is loyal to the working class who care for the golf course and to impoverished children who have never seen the game played.

“She has always been sincere and friendly,” said Francisco Javier Lopez, who has worked on the Guadalajara golf course for 18 years. “Now that she’s winning and winning, she’s just the same as before, very humble.”

Hometown papers call her La Reina (the queen) and praise her as much for her humility as her 256m tee shots.

She already has her own charity, sponsoring a school for needy children in the Guadalajara area. On the road, she often takes time to meet with Latino groundskeepers, even helping them cook breakfast just before this season’s first major championship.

And she has vowed to quit the US LPGA Tour after 10 years to start a family, always the most important part of her life.

“My family is the one that keeps me happy. It’s my motivation,” she said in March. “They make me feel normal, and I love that.”

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