Thanks in part to this unofficial Spanish-speaking mentoring program, Arizona's women's team has turned into an international powerhouse. Sergio Garcia's younger sister, Mar, joined the squad in January after Ochoa promised to show her the ropes. "I was worried about leaving Spain because I didn't know anyone here and don't speak English very well," says Mar. "When I met Lorena, I felt this strange connection, and now she helps me with everything."
During the first round of the Circle K, Garcia uncorked an ear-piercing "Ochooooo!" after her teammate stuck an approach to 10 feet on the 18th hole. The exuberant freshman then ran under the ropes and slapped Ochoa's back as she approached the green. "I support Lorena. Our teammates, they're not here. They're bad teammates," said Garcia, giggling. Actually, Cristina Baena was at the course, but she opted to follow older sister Marisa, a former Arizona standout who finished 16th last week. The rest of the Wildcats were either in class or working on their own games. Ochoa didn't miss the rooting section. On the course she wears a game face that would make Ben Hogan proud.
"These two weeks are very important for me," she said on the eve of the Circle K. "When I turn pro, I want to make sure I can be Number 1. I want to be a top 10 player my rookie year. If I don't think I have an opportunity to win every tournament I enter, then I'm not ready to turn pro."
Ochoa's ambitions have been elevated by expectations in Mexico, where she's already a superstar. In November, President Vicente Fox awarded her the Premio Nacional del Deporte (National Sports Award). When she returns home, television crews wait for her at the airport and tail her around the Guadalajara Country Club.
Ochoa, who grew up in a five-bedroom house next to the club's swimming pool, took her first golf lesson at age five. Three years later she was Mexico's top junior, and beginning in 1990 she set a record with five straight victories at the girls' Junior World Championships at Torrey Pines, near San Diego. ( Tiger Woods owns the boys' record, with four in a row.) "In Mexico the masses don't even know what golf is, but if you ask any taxi driver in Mexico City, he'll know who Lorena Ochoa is," says Rafael Alarcon, her longtime coach in Guadalajara. "There have been a few good players in the past, like Esteban Toledo, but Lorena is the first woman to come out of Mexico."
Ochoa may wind up as the LPGA's next Nancy Lopez, but she could be a poster child for the X Games, too. Among her hobbies are snowboarding, wakeboarding, Alpine climbing and mountain biking. She also competes in half marathons and triathlons. Ochoa's love for the outdoors was born at her family's three-bedroom retreat in Talpalpa, a town 100 miles west of Guadalajara in the Sierra Madre mountains. She grew up camping, hiking and horseback riding with her brothers Javier, 26, and Alejandro, 25, and her sister, Daniela, 18, all adventure athletes.
Alejandro spent last winter climbing mixed routes in Patagonia before returning to the U.S. last month to caddie for Lorena. An amateur mountaineer who competed in the 2001 Eco Challenge in New Zealand, Alejandro is the youngest Mexican to summit at 8,000 meters without oxygen (Mt. Cho Oyu in the Himalayas). In 1999 he talked Lorena into joining a four-member team to race in a four-day ecothon in Guadalajara. Then 17, she was the youngest person in the field of 144 athletes. "The last day we each had to swim five kilometers in a lake," Alejandro says. "It was brutally windy, we're swimming against the current, and the water was so cold that three teams dropped out because of hypothermia. Lorena was 10 meters behind us. She was crying, asking me not to leave her behind. I screamed, 'Keep swimming!' She stopped crying, and we finished 2� hours later."
While her teammates question her sanity, Ochoa insists that extreme sports have helped her gain an edge on the competition in golf. "Ecothons and marathons are all mental," she says. "It's about pushing yourself as far as you can. Sometimes I ask myself why I play golf when I like to do so many outdoor things, but golf is more complete. It's hard to do well, and I like the challenge of managing my mind."
For all her accomplishments, Ochoa is still occasionally humbled by the game. Following the first round of the Circle K, she walked out of the scoring tent visibly upset and muttering about her mediocre putting. The sky had turned purple, and after giving a hug and a kiss to Javier, Marcela and Daniela, she turned to Allen. "Could have been a 66," he said. Ochoa nodded and wiped away tears. It had already been a long, exhausting week, but this indefatigable student-athlete remained resolute. "I'll do better," Ochoa vowed. "I belong out here."