Born Lorena Ochoa, November 15, 1981, in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Addresses: Contact—c/o Monica Morrón, Mar Caspio 2130–24, Country Club CP, 44637, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.
Began golfing as a youth; won 12 of 20 events at the University of Arizona; joined PGA Tour in 2003; won nine LPGA tournaments, 2003–2006; founded nonprofit Ochoa Foundation, 2004.
Awards: NCAA Player of the Year, 2001; NCAA Freshman of the Year, 2001; LPGA Rookie of the Year, 2003; LPGA Player of the Year, 2006; Mexico Female Athlete of the Year, 2006.
Lorena Ochoa's (pronounced lor-AY-nuh oh-CHO-uh) rise to the top ranking in professional women's golf—which Annika Sorenstam of Sweden had long held—triggered celebrations in her native Mexico. "Her ascension to the top spot … generally received dismal display in most American newspapers, perhaps a paragraph here, a brief mention there," Leonard Shapiro wrote in the Washington Post. "But in her native Mexico, where golf remains a very minor sport, it was the stuff of banner headlines for the first male or female golfer from that nation ever to reach such heady heights."
She earned Player of the Year honors after winning six Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) events in 2006, eleven overall nearly midway through 2007. In April of 2007, she assumed the top position under the LPGA's computer system. Before turning pro, she had a standout, two-year career at the University of Arizona.
Ochoa was born and raised in Guadalajara. She took up golf at age five and, with the support of family and friends, excelled at the game before her teens. Her fascination puzzled one of her teachers. "She flat out told me that she wanted to be the best player in the world," Rafael Alarcon, still her mentor, told the Virginian-Pilot's Jim Ducibella. "She was 12." Ochoa also played several other sports as an adolescent, even running track and field and scaling mountains.
Ochoa won an amateur tournament despite having to borrow clubs because her set was mistakenly shipped to the wrong city. She won eight of her ten amateur events before attending the University of Arizona. In her two seasons with the Wildcats, she won 12 of 20 events and twice received National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Player of the Year honors. Ochoa remained in shape with a conditioning regimen that included ten-kilometer (6.2-mile) runs twice a week before her team's 6:30 a.m. conditioning workouts. In later years, Ochoa would scale Mount Iztaccihuati in Mexico (17,343 feet) and Mount Fuji in Japan (12,388 feet).
Ochoa turned professional in May of 2002, and earned enough money on the developmental Futures Tour to earn a regular spot on the LPGA Tour for 2003. In her first season, she finished in the top ten in eight of her tournaments. She finished ninth on the money list for 2003, good enough for Player of the Year honors. "It's been a steady progression to No. 1 ever since," the Washington Post's Shapiro wrote.
In 2004, she became the first Mexican-born player to win an LPGA event. Ochoa captured the Franklin American Mortgage Championship and the Wachovia LPGA Classic. She also recorded her first professional hole-in-one during the opening round of the C.J. Nine Bridges Classic. Ochoa became the fastest LPGA player to exceed $2 million in earnings, though Paula Creamer broke that record two years later; she set single-season records for most birdies (442), rounds under par (75), and rounds with scores in the 60s (51).
She dominated women's golf in 2006, winning six events and finishing second six other times. She was in the top ten in 20 of 25 events, and earned Player of the Year honors. Her diminutive, 5-foot-6, 110-pound frame belies her strength. "She's a marvel, the 24-year-old," Scott Ostler wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle in September of 2006, when Ochoa played at the Longs Drugs Challenge at Blackhawk Country Club in Danville, California. "Ochoa is such a wisp that she would seem to require weighted shoes on a windy course like Blackhawk, yet she rips the cover off the ball."
Ochoa is proud of her heritage, and the many Latino course workers along the tour provide a fan base. "It doesn't hurt her game that every golf course she plays is her home course," Ostler wrote. Ochoa regularly visits club employees early in a given tournament week, before play begins. Ostler, comparing Ochoa's popularity to that of men's star and Mexican native Lee Trevino in the 1970s, wrote: "If I had to estimate the number of golfers on the PGA and LPGA tours who routinely stop by the maintenance shack to shoot the ball with the workers, argue soccer, sign autographs, and thank the boys for their agronomic artistry and their support, my estimate would be: uno."
"I am very proud to be Mexican," Ochoa told the Virginian-Pilot's Ducibella. "I want them to know that I appreciate and understand the hard work they do for their families and a better way of life. They are my countrymen and my friends." The LPGA holds two tournaments in Mexico annually, a testament to Ochoa's popularity. "I've never seen anything like it," fellow player Morgan Pressel said in the Virginian-Pilot. "She handled it so well, and that's why everybody loves her."
Ochoa has also gotten positive media coverage through her openness with television and print reporters, even after a bad day or event. She cried in front of television cameras, for example, after a quadruple bogey in one tournament. "I think she was under pressure a lot early in her career and she faltered a few times," Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez told the Virginian-Pilot's Ducibella, "But when you put yourself there enough times when you're close to the winner's circle, you eventually learn what you can accomplish and you learn your limits. She has become a great player." Lopez herself drew whirlwind media coverage with her success while a young pro in the late 1970s, and has counseled contemporary Korean standout Se Ri Pak—who, like Ochoa, is a national hero in her home country—in coping with the pressures of life on the tour.
Ochoa, who still seeks her first major championship, was at ease while fielding many questions about replacing Sorenstam in the top spot. "In golf, the closer you come to winning, the more grief you get," sports psychologist Bob Rotella of Charlottes-ville, Virginia, told Dubicella. "No one ever says anything about the guy who misses the cut. You have to have your head on straight to get through something like that."
She reached the top, ironically, on a week in which the LPGA Tour was idle. On April 23, 2007, the computer system had Ochoa as number one, a spot Sorenstam had held, officially or by reputation, since the mid-1990s. Sorenstam, though, was 37 years old in April of 2007, has struggled with injuries and has several business interests. Ochoa won her eleventh pro tournament in May of 2007, when her victory in the Sybase Classic in Clifton, New Jersey, raised her pro winnings past $7 million.
Ochoa is a bright, new winning face and a source of pride in her home country. In 2004, she founded the Ochoa Foundation, which funds tuition for 325 children annually to attend La Barranca, a school in Guadalajara for children ages six to 15. Roughly 70 percent of Mexico's population does not finish elementary school. The Washington Post's Shapiro wrote, "Lorena Ochoa is the No. 1 player in women's golf, and don't you like the way she looks as a bright and shining example of a true champion?"
"Lorena Ochoa," LPGA.com, http://www.lpga.com/player_results.aspx?id=519 (May 9, 2007).
"Mexican heritage sustains, energizes LPGA's Ochoa," Virginian-Pilot, http://content.hamptonroads.com/story.cfm?story=124140&ran=85198 (May 9, 2007).
"Ochoa remembers her Mexican roots," San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/09/22/SPGLPLANDG1.DTL (May 9, 2007).
"Ochoa Wins Again; Gap with Annika Grows," Golf.com, http://www.golf.com/golf/tours_news/article/0,28136,1623417,00.html (May 21, 2007).
"Say Hello to the Ochoa Era," Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/27/AR20070427.tif00075.html (May 9, 2007).