More than 60
course workers have gathered beneath a scattering of palms between the 4th
green and the 5th tee at Reunion Resort & Club outside Orlando. It is
Friday afternoon at the Ginn Clubs & Resorts Open, and these El
Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans and Mexicans form a second gallery,
identifiable by their work clothes, sweat-stained baseball caps and
cocoa-colored skin. As they look out over the fairways and greens they had
painstakingly groomed in the dark, predawn hours, they are searching for one
player in particular-- Lorena Ochoa of Mexico. One of the workers, 32-year-old
Tania Ramos, also of Mexico, is all smiles when Ochoa appears. "We love
Lorena," she says. "She's one of us." � Ochoa has given Hispanics
plenty to cheer about of late. She led the Ginn Open (page G29) for much of the
first two rounds and wound up tied for second, two shots behind Mi-Hyun Kim.
Ochoa had arrived in Orlando on the heels of a wire-to-wire win at the LPGA
Takefuji Classic in Las Vegas. The week before that, she had a runner-up finish
at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, in Palm Springs, Calif., during which she
shot a 62, tying the record for the lowest score in a major championship--only
one highlight in a season that has seen Ochoa become the LPGA's leading money
A gifted player
who joined the LPGA in 2003 after a decorated college career at Arizona, Ochoa
was heralded as the player most likely to knock 67-time winner Annika Sorenstam
from the top of the women's game. But Ochoa, who has four career wins, instead
developed a reputation as a top-flight player who wilts under pressure. The
most storied of her several final-round stumbles occurred during last year's
U.S. Women's Open, at which she came to the 72nd hole one stroke off the lead
only to snap hook her drive into a water hazard and finish with a demoralizing
finally flipped the script--sort of--last month at the Kraft Nabisco. Going
into the final round with a three-shot lead, she bogeyed the 12th, 13th and
15th holes to fall behind but then bounced back with a dramatic eagle at 18 to
edge out Michelle Wie and former Arizona teammate Natalie Gulbis and force a
playoff with eventual winner Karrie Webb. Ochoa says that surviving the rough
moments of that round and sinking a clutch six-footer on the 72nd hole have
imbued her with the confidence she needs to win a major this year.
week, the intense Ochoa also learned something beyond the scope of golf. On the
Tuesday before the tournament she spotted a picture on the front page of the
Los Angeles Times showing more than 500,000 Latinos who had gathered in
downtown L.A. the previous Saturday to protest the deportation of undocumented
immigrants and legislation proposed in Congress that would make their presence
in the U.S. a felony. "When I read about and saw the immigration protests
on TV, I got goose bumps," Ochoa says. "I'm not a political person, but
I'm very worried about this. It's such a hard time right now. There are so many
Mexicans in the U.S. who work hard to support their families here and back
home. They really value the opportunities they get here."
Since then, while
traveling from tournament to tournament, Ochoa has made a point of connecting
with as many Latinos as possible. The rank and file of the grounds and kitchen
crews at the country clubs that host LPGA events invariably break from their
daily labors to cheer their champion--the triumphant young Mexican who
epitomizes the success they seek in a foreign land where opportunity comes at
the expense of isolation from family and culture.
In Las Vegas,
Ochoa went so far as to step off the 12th fairway and shake hands with
construction workers who were building course-side condos and had hoisted a
sign of support on a bedsheet. On April 25, during a practice round at the
Ginn, Ochoa stopped to chat with the gardeners who were planting flowers on
When Ochoa looks
at these workers, she thinks not of border-crossing miscreants who deserve to
be deported, but people with hopes and dreams. And to those she meets, she
comes off not only as an LPGA star but also as a friendly face who can speak to
them in their own language. "She's not conceited," says Jos� Manuel
Ceja, who headed a 25-man Mexican crew that worked on the Dinah Shore course
during the Kraft Nabisco. "Lorena stops and talks to everybody. She asks us
how our families are."
foremost for Ochoa, who comes from a tightly knit clan in Guadalajara, the
second largest city in Mexico (pop. 3.7 million). In this colorful, bustling
place known for mariachi music and charros (cowboys), Ochoa grew up near the
Guadalajara Country Club with her father, Javier, a real estate executive; her
mother, Marcela, an artist; two brothers, Javier, 31, and Alejandro, 29; and a
sister, Daniella, 22.
tremendous popularity in her country accelerated the tour's plans to expand
into Mexico by years," says LPGA chief operations officer Chris Higgs.
March's MasterCard Classic, near Mexico City, and the Corona Morelia
Championship (Oct. 5-8), in the southwestern Mexican state of Michoac�n, were
added to the LPGA schedule in 2005. This year the Corona will be run by Ochoa
Sports Management, the company Lorena set up with Alejandro four years ago.
Ochoa Sports is also developing three private courses in Mexico and building a
public driving range (expected to be completed next year) in her hometown.
Ochoa Sports plans to follow up with a public course. A charitable foundation
Ochoa established 3 1/2 years ago provides lessons and practice rounds to the
children of Guadalajara caddies. "She's a princess in Mexico," says
Gulbis, who was paired with Ochoa at this year's MasterCard. "It's crazy.
She had to have six bodyguards around her."
Ochoa returns to
Guadalajara to recharge at every opportunity. It was there that she recuperated
from an exhausting and disappointing conclusion to the '05 season and
immediately launched into preparations for '06. She spent December--her usual
off-season--running, lifting weights and adhering to a strict diet to reduce
excess body fat. (The 5'5" Ochoa weighs only 110 pounds.) She also took up
yoga, which, she says, has improved her focus and helped her remain calm when
the adrenaline flows during high-pressure situations.