LPGA misses big opportunity with Lorena Ochoa Match Play not on TV

Michelle Wie Lydia Ko Lorena Ochoa Match Play Orlando Ramirez-Golfweek

LPGA misses big opportunity with Lorena Ochoa Match Play not on TV

LPGA Tour

LPGA misses big opportunity with Lorena Ochoa Match Play not on TV

MEXICO CITY – First of all, it’s difficult to criticize anything that has Lorena Ochoa’s name on it. She’s a beacon of joy, a pro’s pro who cares the most about those who have the least. Being around her again this week is a reminder of all that we’ve missed these past seven years. And it’s wonderful that an event remains in Mexico to honor what she has meant to this game and inspire the next generation. Not to mention help her foundation continue to educate the poor.

But how is the LPGA’s first match-play tournament since 2012 not on TV? How is any LPGA event not on TV? And how is live scoring so maddeningly unreliable?

“I think it’s extremely disappointing,” said Angela Stanford, who defeated Inbee Park May 5 to advance to the Round of 16. “This could really be a great platform not only for Lorena and Mexico, but us too. I don’t know who dropped the ball on that, but whatever money they were trying to save, ultimately it hurts us, it hurts everybody.”

It is all about money, of course. LPGA commissioner Mike Whan told Golfweek last March that it cost $1 million to broadcast an event in Mexico. For events in the U.S., it’s $750,000. Whan said all parties involved want Ochoa’s event on TV, and that it’s coming.

Citibanamex, AeroMexico and Delta are the sponsors of Ochoa’s event. There simply wasn’t enough money in the budget of TV.

“I wouldn’t be continuing this if i didn’t believe this was a growth plan,” he said.

Not only are LPGA fans being robbed of watching the tour’s marquee players – particularly ones unable to participate in the Solheim Cup or the UL International Crown (i.e. Lydia Ko) – take part in a different format, they’re also missing a special Hall of Fame celebration scheduled for this weekend.

Ochoa will join Annika Sorenstam, Juli Inkster and Se Ri Pak for a two-day exhibition that will take place in between the double rounds on Saturday and Sunday. Ochoa retired abruptly in 2010 and hasn’t competed in her own event since she started making babies. The exhibition was planned to celebrate not only the 10-year anniversary of this event, but also Ochoa’s upcoming induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Even Cristie Kerr thought about going out on Saturday to watch the four legends compete in between rounds, but thought she ought to save her legs.

“I think we deserve to be on TV,” said Kerr. “I mean, you’ve got big names here playing in this exhibition, too. Who wouldn’t want to see that?”

The Jutanugarn sisters squared off against each other for the first time in match play as professionals. Around 30 people were on the first tee to send them off. Most of the front nine, however, was incredibly quiet. A couple local TV reporters and the Jutanugarn sisters’ mother, Apple, were pretty much the only people who witnessed the first half of the day’s best matchup.

Ariya Jutanugarn Lorena Ochoa Match Play

May 4, 2017; Mexico City, MEX; Ariya Jutanugarn putts on the first green during the first round of the Lorena Ochoa Match Play at Club de Golf Mexico. (Orlando Ramirez–Golfweek)

Ariya, last year’s LPGA Player of the Year, is using driver for the first time this season here at Club de Golf Mexico. On the par-5 second hole, she ripped driver 85 yards past her big sister.

Fans would’ve enjoyed that.

On the par-3 fifth hole, the sisters stared at the shiny BMW on the tee box. Ariya won a car in Thailand in 2013, and the family uses that car back home. At their home in Orlando, Fla., however, the sisters don’t have one yet.

“I tell her every time she needs to make one,” said Ariya. To be fair, Moriya has made two aces, including on the 13th last week in Texas, but neither were on the free car holes.

The pair looked relaxed all day, walking alongside each other down the fairways. It was “weird” they said, but not stressful. Moriya jokingly told Ariya the night before she was going to make her putt everything out; Ariya said she planned to slow-play her. (Ariya played at her usual quick pace.)

Moriya, ranked 53rd in the world, took Ariya (No. 3) to the 18th hole. Ariya made a 20-foot putt for birdie on the last to close the match, 2 up.

On Thursday night, both sisters booked flights home to Orlando. Only Apple will stick around to watch “May” carry on.

“I can cheer her on on the phone,” Moriya said, smiling.

Many of the LPGA’s most popular players advanced to the Round of 16, including World No. 1 Lydia Ko, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, Charley Hull and one of the hottest players on tour, Kerr. The fact that this event isn’t televised serves as a reminder of how far the LPGA has yet to go.

Brooke Henderson Lorena Ochoa Match Play

May 4, 2017; Mexico City, MEX; Brooke M. Henderson plays a shot from the second tee during the first round of the Lorena Ochoa Match Play at Club de Golf Mexico. (Orlando Ramirez–Golfweek)

“I just really wish people would invest more in the LPGA,” said Kerr, “because we are a great product. We take care of our pro-am people; we take care of our sponsors.”

Club de Golf Mexico is an oasis in the heart of Mexico City, a beautiful gem. What goes on here this week should be shared with the world.

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