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A COUPLE OF weeks ago Lorena Ochoa took time out from being the world's most dominant female athlete to fulfill some of the obligations that come with her success. The LPGA tour had pitched its tent in New Jersey, and Ochoa had been talked into journeying across the Hudson River to help ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, which would be nice publicity for the host tournament, the Sybase Classic. A black town car dropped her at the corner of Wall Street and Broadway, an unlikely destination given that it is the metaphorical intersection of money and fame, and Ochoa cares little for either.
She is not the type to roll with an entourage, and on this crisp morning Ochoa was utterly alone. Upon reaching the drop spot, it occurred to her that she did not know where to go from there, and neither did her driver—Willy, from Queens. After asking a stranger for directions, Ochoa finally navigated the two blocks to the heavily fortified front entrance of the Stock Exchange, which is patrolled by guards wearing mirrored sunglasses and dour expressions. She approached one, saying, "I am here to ring the opening bell, but I do not know where to go." Her hair was pulled back in a tight bun, making her look younger than her 26 years, and her English is accented from having grown up in Guadalajara, Mexico. She could easily have been mistaken for a college kid from abroad hiking the canyons of lower Manhattan. The guard gave her a doubtful look that translated roughly to fuhgeddaboutit.
"I am Lorena Ochoa," she said.
Not even a flicker of recognition.
Eventually Ochoa was rescued by Stock Exchange staffers and ushered inside. In recent years Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods had also rung the opening bell in carefully choreographed appearances that nevertheless created a certain amount of bedlam. The Masters of the Universe at the exchange certainly love their golf, but as Ochoa was given a tour of the trading floor, only a few harried runners took time out from fueling the world economy to ask for an autograph. Afterward Ochoa returned to the corner of Wall Street and Broadway and loitered for 15 minutes while she awaited Willy's return. The city rushed by, but not a single person seemed to recognize her.
Willy finally screeched up, ending Ochoa's excursion to the big city. "That was fun," she said, settling into the backseat of the town car. "Now it is time to go to the golf course." She didn't say it, but it was easy enough to ascertain what she was thinking: Where I belong.
LORENA OCHOA, the golfer, is that rarest of creatures: a superstar athlete who has not been corrupted by the forces of modern celebrity. When not reinventing the LPGA tour in her image, she lives with her parents in Guadalajara, where a wild night out means a dinner party with friends capped by her only vice, chocolate cake. Ochoa remains deferential to her father, Javier; when he visits her at tournaments, it is not uncommon for him to hold her hand as they walk to the 1st tee and send her off with a kiss on the cheek and the sign of the cross on her forehead. The player whom Ochoa has displaced atop the world ranking, Annika Sorenstam, has always marched down the fairways with a queenly detachment, but after every round Ochoa kisses even her playing partners' caddies. Every golf tour is as insular and gossipy as high school, and the cliquishness is exaggerated among the couple of hundred women who make up the LPGA. But even as Ochoa makes a mockery of the competition, having won a mind-boggling 20 tournaments in 54 starts since April 2006, it is nearly impossible to find a fellow player who doesn't gush about her.
"She is by far the sweetest, kindest, most giving person walking the earth," says LPGA veteran Christina Kim, a longtime friend of Ochoa's. "She has that inner light. I think she's been touched by God. Honestly, I'm surprised she hasn't been canonized yet. I'm not exaggerating—she is the greatest thing ever: a cross between Tiger Woods and Mother Teresa."