From the moment
Lorena Ochoa got her first glimpse of the Old Course at St.�Andrews--under
the light of a full moon a few hours after she had tied for third in the Evian
Masters in France--she had kept a picture in her head of what the following
Sunday would look like. True, she didn't envision the drum-and-bagpipe band
playing Scottish Soldier off the 1st�tee, or a Scottish official watching
the trophy ceremony while wearing a sombrero, or even her teary, giggling
father, Javier, rushing down the steps between the 1st�tee and the
18th�green to spray her with champagne. In almost every other respect,
however, the scene played out just as Ochoa had imagined: There was no rain
(the precipitation had finally stopped a few holes back), and there were
thousands of people surrounding the final green as she made a putt to win the
Women's British Open, the first women's professional event played at St.
Andrews. "It was just the way I had dreamed it," she said. � The first
major victory for Ochoa, the No. 1 player in the world, was not quite as long
in coming as women's pro golf to the venerable Old Course, but it had felt like
an eternity for the 25-year-old from Guadalajara, who had been winless in 24
previous majors. "There were a lot of people saying I couldn't win a
major," said Ochoa, who shot a one-over-par 74 on Sunday to finish at
five-under 287, four strokes better than Jee Young Lee of South Korea and Maria
Hjorth of Sweden, who each had a final-round 71. "I did it, and there's no
more to say." � No longer will she have to politely answer questions about
her failures: at the 2005 U.S.�Open, where she could have taken a share of
the lead with a par on the 72nd�hole but chili-dipped her tee shot into
the water, finishing with a triple bogey and in sixth place; at the 2006 Kraft
Nabisco Championship, where she started the final round with a three-shot lead
but lost in a playoff to Karrie Webb; and again at the U.S. Open in June, when
she was tied with Cristie Kerr with five holes to play but hit a tree with her
tee shot on the 71st�hole, made bogey and came in second. � "It was
one of those special weeks where everything was clear to me," said Ochoa.
"I was happy and comfortable even when I made a bogey. There was no doubt.
I knew on Monday that I was going to win this."
Even for those
golfers who spent most of the week second-guessing blind shots and putts on
tricky double greens, this Women's British Open was a triumph. Though the Old
Course has hosted women's amateur competitions for more than 100 years, no
women's professional event had been played at the Home of Golf. In fact, the
Ladies Golf Union, the body that oversees rules and competition for women and
girls in Great Britain--including the 31-year-old Open, which became a major
only in 2001--had never approached the St.�Andrews Links Trust about
hosting such an event until this one. "Quite simply, the time was
right," says Ladies Golf Union CEO Lesley Burn. "It's a recognition of
where the game is."
groundbreaking, in a lot of players' eyes, was the gesture by the all-male
Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, whose iconic clubhouse sits
behind the 1st�tee of the Old Course. As it does for male pros when the
men's British Open passes through, the R&A offered up its locker room to
the women for the week. "We seem to be moving out of the 1800s and early
1900s finally," declared Webb, an LPGA Hall of Famer.
The old Course
perfectly suited Ochoa, a creative feel player who reminds her caddie, Dave
Brooker, of three-time British Open champion Seve Ballesteros because she has
"all these great little shots." With that arsenal and ideal
early-morning conditions on her side, Ochoa shot a bogey-free, bunker-free 67
in the opening round, which put her two strokes in front and established the
course record for women pros. "It only took her a few holes [during a]
Monday [practice round] for her to realize the usual swing goes out the window
here," said Brooker, an Englishman who has played a lot of links golf.
"You have to chip everything here. It was as if she had been playing here
all her life."
high-ball hitter, Ochoa had no problem lowering her trajectory. That became
particularly important last Saturday, when fierce crosswinds--"normal
St.�Andrews weather," proudly chirped one local--arrived to rattle the
flags and cause balls to shimmy on the greens. The 35-mph gusts, along with the
toughest pin placements of the week, made haggis of the field. Twenty-six
players had rounds of 80 or higher. What the wind couldn't do to blow away the
competition, Ochoa accomplished with her strategy of hitting draws on the way
out and low punch-cuts on the way in. She emerged from the maelstrom with her
second straight round of par and a six-shot lead. "I guess you could say
we're all playing for second," said her playing partner, Wendy Ward, who
shot an 80 on Saturday and finished 23rd. "She doesn't make the mistakes
the rest of us make."
dreich, as the natives say--wet, cold and gray--which was not Ochoa's cup of
tea. "I like the wind, it's no problem," she says, "but when it
gets cold, I don't like that. A little rain, the club slips, things start
made the back nine so wet that Ochoa, who usually plays without a glove, wore
one for several holes. But neither her club nor her lead slipped precipitously.
Even with three bogeys on the back nine, she stayed at least four shots ahead.
Her only flirtation with trouble came on the Road Hole, where she hit her
second shot into the face of one of the course's 112 bunkers--only the third
time all week she hit into the sand. After pitching out left into the rough,
she faced the gaping maw of the Road Hole bunker that had swallowed David Duval
and spit him out four strokes later in the 2000 British Open. As the gallery
looked on in churchlike silence, Ochoa hit "the chip shot of her life,"
said Brooker. Her ball cleared the hazard, caught the downside of the mound and
bounced once before stopping about 10 feet from the hole.
After she had made
a solid tee shot on 18 and walked over the Swilcan Bridge and up the fairway to
a little rise before the Valley of Sin, Ochoa knew there would be no breakdowns
this time. "We did it," she said to Brooker. After sinking a
three-footer for par, Ochoa raised her arms in triumph, jumped into the arms of
Brooker and soaked up a spritz of the bubbly from her dad.
According to the
Links Trust, this would not be the last time the women play in
St.�Andrews. But it would be the last time a woman would win her first
major and become the first of her gender to earn a paycheck at the Old Course
on the same day. Quite simply, the time was right.