Baldry: Adventures covering the LPGA tour

Ai Miyazato (left) won the Tres Marias Championship on May 2, as Lorena Ochoa said goodbye to the LPGA.

Ai Miyazato (left) won the Tres Marias Championship on May 2, as Lorena Ochoa said goodbye to the LPGA.

My annual year-end column, filled with behind-the-scenes moments and memorable quotes:

From Aloha! to Asia: I started off the year in the Far East, checking out the events in Thailand and Singapore for the first time. Of course, I rode an elephant while in Thailand. These “show” elephants throw darts, play soccer and paint roses. Skipping out on the elephants is like going to Vegas and ignoring The Strip.

Vicky Hurst was asked to participate in a show in Pattaya, where an elephant picked her up with its trunk and carried her across the stage. Plenty of players also took advantage of the free massage tickets they received. A two-hour Thai massage, which stretches the limbs in unusual directions, costs an embarrassingly low $14. 

While American players plead for more events in the continental U.S., these Asian gigs are quite nice. The hotels are first-class and the courses are more than satisfactory. Nearly everything, from the flights to the rooms to the food, is free. The tour used to start its season in Hawaii with two full-field events. If they could add those back in the mix before going to Asia, there would be less griping.

Quiet please!: On Day 1 of the ShopRite LPGA Classic, I was following one of the high-profile pairings of the morning wave. On the 17th hole I started chatting with a player’s mom about the injury she sustained while chopping vegetables. As I looked at her disfigured finger and listened to her talk about the process of reattaching it several times, I got a little woozy. (It’s a good thing I’m sitting while typing this.) The next thing I know my cheek is resting on grass as a man stands over the top of me saying “I know, it’s just embarrassing.” 

It wasn’t until I lifted my head up to see Suzann Pettersen line up her ball that I realized I was at a golf tournament next to a green. Thankfully, I was deep enough in the gallery that no one in the group even saw me fall. And here I’ve always been worried about tumbling into a bunker on national TV.

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Angelita Rodriguez, who is one of many touched by the kindness of Lorena Ochoa.

Gracias, Lorena: Moments after Lorena Ochoa confirmed reports that she’d be retiring after Morelia, I was on the phone with our travel agent booking my flight to Mexico City for her press conference. In between Friday’s press conference at the Morelia event, I flew to Guadalajara to see how Ochoa’s extended family at Guadalajara Country Club was taking the news.

Ochoa grew up in a modest house that sits adjacent to the club’s swimming pool. She could literally open the gate to her home and hit a wedge to the chipping green. Ochoa’s father, Javier, happened to be home when I was touring the grounds. He graciously opened the door and gave me a glimpse into Ochoa’s childhood. 

Her stuffed animals and junior golf trophies are still on the shelf in her tiny bedroom. A crowded storage room has the oversized LPGA card she earned through the Futures Tour mixed in with her brother’s hiking gear. Alejandro Ochoa reached the summit of Mt. Everest the day Lorena won her first LPGA event.

The most inspiring portion of my tour came at the 10th hole snack shop, where I met Angelita Rodriguez. She’s been stuffing Ochoa’s wheat tortillas with pork and guac since she was knee-high. (And those tortillas are amazing, by the way.) What Ochoa did for Rodriguez last year encapsulates the woman the golf world fell in love with the last several years.

Rodriguez’s 8-year-old granddaughter was routinely “rushed” to the hospital to get hooked up to a breathing machine. What’s scary is that she had to rely on public transportation to get to the hospital, which sometimes took up to 30 minutes. Ochoa, recognizing the severity of the situation, imported a breathing machine for their home. 

Now that’s the World No. 1 everyone will miss.

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Paula Creamer kneels at Oakmont's "church pew bunkers."

Answer to a prayer: OK, so we staged this photo. But major props to Paula Creamer for playing along with us on Tuesday at Oakmont. Golfweek cameraman Mike Wolfe and I asked Creamer to give our readers a video tour of the third hole at Oakmont. She also agreed to pose for this still photo in the famed “church pew bunkers.” Creamer loved the photo even more after she hoisted the trophy on Sunday. 

For those looking to relive Creamer’s magical week, check out Wolfe’s Sunday video from Oakmont by clicking here.

Quotes to remember:

“No sorority for me yet, but it’s been fun.” – Michelle Wie, when asked at the U.S. Women’s Open if she was in Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society. 

“I’m practically a make-up artist myself.” – Cristie Kerr on why she didn’t want to use the makeup artist we hired for a photo shoot.

“I was a golf machine, and I didn’t want to be that.” – Grace Park on her pressure-packed life as both an amateur and a pro. Park now leads a more balanced life, but still battles injury.

“I’m too old.” – 29-year-old Anna Rawson on why her modeling career might come to an end. She also plans to take a hiatus from competitive golf in 2011.

“I only have one word for it, but I’m not going to say it on TV.” – Suzann Pettersen on her six runner-up showings in 2010.

“You are beautiful.” – Paula Creamer to the U.S. Women’s Open trophy.

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