Duke coach Dan Brooks, Arizona’s Lorena Ochoa earn women’s honors
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
One did the talking on the course, the other did the talking to those who were on the course. In both cases, the intended audience got the message loud and clear.
For their efforts, Arizona sophomore Lorena Ochoa and Duke coach Dan Brooks have been named Golfweek’s 2002 Division I Women’s Player of the Year and Coach of the Year, respectively.
Ochoa was hands down the most dominant college golfer this season – perhaps in history – notching eight victories in 10 events.
She won her first seven events, finished second in the Pac-10 Conference Champion-ship by one shot, won the NCAA Division I West Regional, then tied for second at the season-ending NCAA Championship. Ochoa’s record was an amazing 933-2-3 and she had a 70.13 scoring average, an NCAA record.
“It was one of the best years of my life,” said the 20-year-old native of Mexico. “I grew very much on and off the golf course this past year. It was very good for me, and I enjoyed it a lot.”
Ochoa got a dose of the LPGA during the spring when she played in three LPGA events on sponsor exemptions. She tied for 37th at the Ping Banner Health, tied for fifth at the Welch’s/Circle K and was eighth at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, an LPGA major.
It was Ochoa’s LPGA success, she said, that helped in her decision to turn professional after the season and compete on the Futures Tour. She also has qualified for next month’s U.S. Women’s Open.
“I hated to leave college golf, but it was time for me to move on and try to get better and better,” she said.
The Blue Devils won as many tournaments as a team (eight) as Ochoa did as an individual, but ended with a victory at the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship, the school’s second national title in four years.
But the season didn’t begin as well as it ended for Duke. The Blue Devils played the fall without the senior leadership of 2001 NCAA individual champion Candy Hannemann, who had reconstructive ligament surgery on her right ankle in September. During that span, Duke won only one of its four tournaments, the Tar Heel Invitational.
“I couldn’t be prouder of this team,” Brooks said. “In the fall, there were many things that looked really good to me. The only thing that wasn’t good was that we weren’t winning.”
Once Hannemann joined the lineup in the spring, the Blue Devils won seven consecutive tournaments, including the NCAA East Regional and the NCAA Championship.
At the NCAAs, Duke entered the final round three shots behind leader Arizona, and still trailed the Wildcats by two shots with three holes remaining, but made five birdies in the final stretch to clinch the title.
“It’s just a testimony to a lot of patience,” Brooks said. “The way we played – getting better every day – and to hang in there even in the end when we were down is a microcosm of the whole year.”
Duke was as consistent as any team in the nation and had all five players contribute to the team’s success at different points of the season. Each member of the squad (Hannemann, Kristina Engstrom, Leigh Anne Hardin, Virada Nirapathpongporn and Niloufar Aazam-Zanganeh) won at least once as an individual, including Nirapathponporn’s victory at the NCAA Championship.
“It was neat to have five people, each of who you knew could win any tournament, any week,” Brooks said.