Hello Michelle Wie. Goodbye Annika Sorenstam. Good luck tournament sponsors. Look out Lorena Ochoa.
That’s where the LPGA Tour stands entering the season-opening SBS Open at Turtle Bay, a US$1.2 million event launching a year with fewer events and less prize money than last year thanks to global economic setbacks for sponsors.
The 54-hole event starts today and finishes on Valentine’s Day, somewhat appropriately for top-ranked Ochoa, since the 27-year-old Mexican star is engaged to marry AeroMexico chief executive Andres Conesa in December.
“Golf is my priority. My personal life? I think it will be more a motivation than a distraction,” Ochoa said. “And I know it’s my last season before I get married so I have to finish good.”
The Oahu event was won last year by Sorenstam, the Swedish superstar who retired at the end of last season, taking with her the brightest star power of any name player on the women’s golf circuit.
Ochoa has vowed to play through marriage and even pregnancy, a relief for the LPGA.
“I think I’m going to be playing golf for the next four or five years. I’m not going to retire any time soon. I promise that I’m going to keep playing,” Ochoa said. “He’s very supportive.”
Ochoa said she is ready to face the challenge from the next generation of women’s golf stars, including Wie, Taiwan’s Yani Tseng (曾雅妮), American Paula Creamer and South Korean sensation Shin Ji-yai.
Tseng, last year’s LPGA Rookie of the LPGA, is ranked second in the world. The 20-year-old sensation won the LPGA Championship and was ranked 133rd in the world a year ago, but is now Ochoa’s top rival.
“I think that’s great. I’m really excited by that,” Ochoa said. “It will be great for the fans having some new faces. I think it will be a great year, probably the best year for the tour.”
While Ochoa has become the woman to beat, the top attention getter could be Wie, who is playing in her first LPGA season as a tour member after years of playing in events on exemptions after displaying her skills as a teen prodigy.