Ochoa wins without holding a trophy

Lorena Ochoa during the first round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Lorena Ochoa during the first round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

This story, filed at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, appeared in the April 9, 2010 issue of Golfweek.

• • •

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Lorena Ochoa is one of those athletes in the unenviable position where there are no moral victories. Unless a trophy is taken home, the tournament is viewed as a missed opportunity.

Ochoa finished fourth at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, by far her best finish of the young season, but far below her standards. That was evident after Ochoa three-putted the 13th hole in the final round. The miscue made it certain that victory was beyond her grasp.

After tapping in for bogey, Ochoa hurled her ball into the green. She had to repair the damage with her ball-mark-repair tool. Ochoa’s frustration, more visible in recent years, is in stark contrast to her off-course demeanor.

Ochoa is one of the most charitable players in golf. She was recognized for those efforts after the Kraft’s second round with the William and Mousie Powell Award. Ochoa used the forum to announce the creation of the Lorena Ochoa Golf Foundation and the opening of the first Lorena Ochoa Golf Academy in the United States.

“We’re going to fix hooks and slices, and we’re going to make people better golfers,” said Jason Taylor, the academy’s chief executive. “We want to make sure the academy is affordable and accessible, with the goal of reaching new golfers.”

The U.S. academy will open later this year in Southern California, with the goal of improving golf’s diversity by reaching new demographics, especially Latinos. Only 5.4 percent of Latinos play golf, the lowest percentage of any ethnic group, according to the PGA. The academy will be at Goose Creek Golf Club in Mira Loma, Calif., in part because of its diverse clientele.

There are three Ochoa academies in Mexico, with plans for more as well as one in China.

Ochoa shot 71-73 on the weekend to slip to fourth. The Kraft marked two years since her last major victory.

Still, it was marked improvement over her previous finishes this year. And despite the early-season struggles, Ochoa seemed enthused about her game.

“It’s important to be happy and . . . I couldn’t be happier,” Ochoa said, “so I think all of those things help to play good golf.”

Ochoa has plenty to be happy about, including her recent marriage to AeroMexico CEO Andres Conesa. But her poor start made it easy to theorize that she still was adjusting to the many changes in her personal life during the offseason. She moved to Mexico City from her hometown of Guadalajara, and Ochoa became a stepmother to Conesa’s three children, who are ages 7 to 14.

Ochoa said she has been “practicing exactly the same” since her marriage. Coach Rafael Alarcon made the one-hour flight from Guadalajara to Mexico City each week to work with Ochoa during the offseason.

Only Ochoa knows how much of an impact all these changes to her personal life have had on her game. Either way, Ochoa detests talking about her personal life.

But it was obvious something was awry in her game.

“You need time for the new stages, for you to adjust, and I see this kind of slow start because of that,” said Alejandro Ochoa, her brother and agent. “You have to adjust to a new house, to a new husband, to a new city, to a new course.”

She finished 18th, 38th and 52nd, respectively, in the first three events. Only one other time since 2006 has she gone three consecutive tournaments without a top-15 finish. That was in July and August of last year. Of course, Ochoa still won her fourth Rolex Player of the Year award.

Ochoa has struggled with distance control because Mexico City is 7,000-plus feet elevation. The ball travels farther in thin air, affecting her transition to sea level.

That wasn’t the problem at the Kraft. It was the putter.

Ochoa made birdie on the third hole in the final round to get within four strokes but three-putted the fifth to fall back. She birdied Nos. 10 and 11, then three-putted the 13th to end her charge.

After the Kraft, Ochoa made a site visit to Goose Creek. Just as she moved from competition to charity, Ochoa has made it clear that she will transition out of golf to focus on family and philanthropy, likely sooner than later.

The popular estimate is after the 2012 season, which would be her 10th on the LPGA, thus qualifying her for Hall of Fame eligibility.

“I don’t have a date in my head,” she said. “I always said I’ll play for 10, 12 years.”

Time may be running out in Ochoa’s quest to add to her 27 victories. But Ochoa’s impact will not end any time soon.

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