2005: LPGA - Ochoa’s Mexican standoff
What was supposed to be the best week of Lorena Ochoa’s life turned into one of the most difficult. Instead of basking in the glory of the LPGA’s first event in Mexico in 30 years, the young Mexican sensation stood in front of media on the eve of the inaugural MasterCard Classic, tears streaming, and expressed her displeasure with the event.
The ensuing three days were what Ochoa had dreamed of since she first picked up a golf club at age 5 in Guadalajara, roughly 350 miles from Bosque Real Country Club. Ochoa’s success is why the LPGA has two tournaments in Mexico this
year. This was supposed to be her week to play her game in front of her people. Yet somehow she couldn’t help but feel incomplete.
Ochoa’s biggest beef was with LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw and the Mexican Golf Federation. Ochoa, 23, claims that Votaw left her out of the planning of the event and that she found out it was a done deal through the media at last year’s U.S. Women’s Open.
“I tried to communicate that I wanted to be involved in the tournament but the commissioner never showed any interest,” Ochoa said March 3. “One of my biggest dreams was to bring an LPGA tournament to Mexico. But, with the way I found out, I knew I was out of everything.
“In fact, (Votaw) told me that I would be forced to play because of the simple fact that it’s in my country.”
In Votaw’s defense, MasterCard approached him with an offer he couldn’t refuse, saying that since it pulled its sponsorship from a Champions Tour event at Bosque Real it wished to sponsor an LPGA event at the same location. Ochoa told Votaw the golf course was at a high altitude, very hilly, difficult to walk and not spectator friendly. She suggested that there were easier, more accessible places to play but says all suggestions fell on deaf ears.
“I’m sorry she feels this way,” Votaw said. “At a time that is appropriate for Lorena, I will sit down and talk to her about any issues she may have. I am not going to talk to her through the press.”
Once Ochoa believed that she would have no input into the MasterCard event, she turned her focus to the Mexican Golf Federation and asked if it would be interested in helping her form another LPGA event in Mexico, to be called the Mexican Women’s Open. It was another Ochoa vision to help develop a true Mexican Open, in which the Mexican Women’s Amateur champion would be invited and qualifying would be held for Mexican professionals.
According to Ochoa, the Mexican Golf Federation said it would help in any way possible. Only two weeks later, at a news conference to announce the birth of the MasterCard Classic, the Mexican Golf Federation added the slogan “1er. Abierto Mexicano Femenil” to the bottom of all banners. Translation: First Mexican Women’s Open.
“To me it was a big surprise,” Ochoa said. “I feel like with the things I’m doing, helping golf be more popular in Mexico, that I should have the honor to host the tournament. Apparently they didn’t care, they kept me from having that honor.”
Mexican Golf Federation officials say they did all they could, considering the organization’s infrastructure.
“We don’t have the services to organize and pay for a tournament as big as this one,” said Francisco Fuentes Hungler, president of the Mexican Golf Federation. “We made an agreement with Bosque Real, they organized and named the tournament.
“I hope in following years to add her name. I’m sure the board will work very hard to name the tournament the Mexican Ladies Open hosted by Lorena Ochoa.”
Ochoa will have more of a connection with the second Mexico event, the Corona Morelia Championship, set for April 21-24 at Tres Marias Residential Golf Club in Morelia. Her brother Alejandro is the tournament director.
Ochoa often is quiet and unassuming, not the type to speak out of turn, fly off the handle or cause controversy. At this early stage in Ochoa’s career, she seemingly would have more to lose than to gain by speaking out against Votaw, a powerful figure in women’s golf, and the Mexican Golf Federation, the premier governing body for the country. Ochoa, however, was so passionate about the circumstances that she couldn’t keep it bottled inside.
“If we were going to do this, we should have done it right,” Ochoa said. “We should have all worked together but I was always left out.”
No matter who is at fault, the communication should have been better. Something surely could have been done to prevent Mexico’s brightest golf star from being its most disgruntled. If the LPGA is to become a truly global tour, it must utilize Se Ri Pak in Korea, Karrie Webb in Australia, Laura Davies in England and Ochoa in Mexico. Shunning those who are willing to help does no good. If the PGA Tour were staging an event in Fiji, it’s a safe bet the organization would talk to Vijay Singh.
If there was concern that the Mexican gallery would look unfavorably toward Ochoa for being so vocal, those doubts were extinguished by the thousands who showed up to watch her every shot (she finished fifth). Their heroine played her heart out. They appreciated her; she appreciated them.
“Lorena’s one of the best golfers in the world and her country is here with her, supporting her,” said Juan Rodriguez, a 39-year-old real-estate developer who, with his two children, followed Ochoa during the first round. “It’s such an honor to see her. We feel so proud, all of us.”
Never was that more apparent than on the 54th and final hole. When Ochoa’s approach landed 12 feet from the pin, the gallery gave a thunderous ovation. Those cheers, however, weren’t nearly as loud as the ones that followed when she sank the birdie putt.“It was amazing,” Ochoa said. “I didn’t think
this many people would come, but they came, supported me and I thank them very much. I wouldn’t change this day for anything.”
Ochoa was so overwhelmed by her final standing ovation that she began to cry. This time, however, they were tears of joy.