Thursday, August 4, 2011

On Lorena by Marta Ostos

Today's blog is a guest entry by a good friend of mine.  This is an article from 2007 that journalist, Marta Ostos, wrote about Lorena Ochoa.  It is a glimpse into what it takes to be great!  Enjoy.
Lorena Ochoa
Where There is a Will, There is a Way
by:  Marta Ostos
2007

The rankings show that Lorena Ochoa is the number one player in the world; and on her fifth year on tour, she won her first major tournament at the age of 25 in St. Andrews. Numbers, statistics, records… all these reaffirm that today, Lorena is the most dominant female golfer in the world. But what lies behind all this math?... A person who had a dream, believed in it, and worked hard to achieve it.

While other five-year old girls played with dolls, Lorena preferred to watch her father and his friends play the game. It didn’t take long for her to grab an adult club and not only watch, but start experiencing it for herself. In a country where less than one percent of the population plays golf, she was at the practice green dreaming of putting her way towards majors. She used to tell everyone that one day she was going to be the number one player of that sport. Obviously, nobody believed her, but she was determined to prove them wrong because she had a will. She was born to make history and break records.

It all started when “a girl from that city...Guadalajara” won the Junior World in San Diego, a tournament that had never been even remotely close to being won by a Mexican. She couldn’t speak a word of English, but she could play golf. She started to appear on the radar of those few people that followed golf in Mexico. The expectations started to grow when she won this tournament five years in a row, broke Tiger Woods’ records as a junior golfer, and her name made the Guinness Book of World Records for those results. A star was emerging, people started to look up to Mexico through Lorena and in Mexico they started to learn about golf. Family and friends started to believe in her and they even offered equipment, flight tickets, and houses to stay in the tournaments in and outside the country.

She had to keep going…and the next step was playing college golf in the United States because in México, Universities don´t have athletic programs for golfers. She finished high school in less than two years so she could play golf and study at the same time. Once she finished, many universities recruited her and offered the Mexican star full scholarships. The problem was, that first, she had to learn to speak English, and then, she had to attain the required scores for the famous SAT admissions test. It took her one year to complete these goals. After three trials she made the grade and chose The University of Arizona as her next step to pursue her maximum goal of being the number one player of the world. Her performance at collegiate level was no surprise, very successful. She only competed for two years, but her accomplishments placed her at the top of the list of all time elite college players. In 20 starts, she won 12 times, finished as a runner up six times and never placed out of the top 10. She won the NCAA Player of the Year Honors both years. Her major was Sports Psychology, a choice made to complement her dream. Her popularity was crossing barriers, many of the Hispanics living in Arizona started to follow her. The gardeners on the golf courses, the cooks at school…they were proud of the successful and charismatic Latin-American.

In Mexico she started to gain national level recognition. In 2001, for the first time, a golfer was presented with the National Sports Award by Mexico’s President. She became the youngest recipient to receive the country’s highest athletic recognition. At that moment, she was still an amateur, so she could not accept the money prize so she donated it to the Mexican Golf Association to support golf in her country. In 2006 she won this award again as a professional. 

Lorena with a Mexican flag. 

After finishing her second year in college, she turned professional. This was the next step to coming closer to her dream. The LPGA season had already started so her debut was on the Futures Tour. She bought a van and drove to all the tournaments with her brother as a caddie and her father as a supporter. In her first event, she finished in second place, won three times and other four runner-ups. She finished number one on the money list after only 10 events. She was named The 2002 Futures Tour Rookie and Player of the Year. With this, she earned her card to play at the LPGA in 2003.

At the same time she was taking off in golf, she never left her other passions behind. She not only loves other sports, but she is very talented in all of them. Name one, and she is always on a good level. In high school she was a star in basketball, she has competed in triathlons, ecothlons, half marathons, and 10K races. She loves nature, fishing, and mountain climbing. All these extra activities through her life have always helped her to train her body and mind to be competitive and strong.

As a kid on that that practice green, she dreamt of playing at the LPGA against the best in the world, and now she was one of them. All she had battled, all the sacrifices, and all the sunrises and sunsets she watched while playing golf, were worth it. By being at the LPGA, she was on the right track to become the best player in the world. In 2003, her first year on tour, she was recognized as “Rookie of the Year”. She did not win any tournaments, but placed number nine on the money list.

Lorena was born to be special, and therefore, many significant achievements in her career have come at the right times and in the right places. In 2004, her second year on tour, she finally won the first tournament everybody was waiting for. Lorena received a call on Sunday early morning in Tennessee before playing the last round of the tournament. She was told that her brother Alejandro had just reached the summit of Mount Everest a few hours prior. With that motivation, Lorena conquered her first tournament with a very dramatic 18th hole. She became the first Mexican to win a tournament on the LPGA tour. A great day for Lorena’s history, for the Ochoa family, and for México! That same year she conquered her second victory.

In 2005, her third year on tour, she only had one victory and 4 runner up finishes. At that precise moment, for many, Lorena was a great player but not close to be the number one since it was clearly Annika Sorenstam´s era. She was consistent enough to finish fourth on the money list. It appeared as a bad year, but it made her a stronger and more mature player. It was a year of patience, consolidation, and change.

In 2006, Lorena came back with a different caddie, adjustments to her swing, physically and mentally prepared to take Annika’s crown. She had six victories, including her first one in her home country. She claimed her first Rolex Player of the Year Award, the lowest scoring average (Vare Trophy) and she finished as the leader of the money list earning more than 2.5 million dollars. Still, she finished second on the World Ranking, but at a minimal distance from Sorenstam who had been dominating golf for the past 10 years. Lorena´s Era was coming…

Finally, this year has been the start of Lorena´s dream. After 20 years of holding that picture in her mind, and after successfully conquering all stages of her career, she was named the world’s number one player in April 2007. She was at her home course practicing with her coach Rafael Alarcón when she received the news. In May she won her first trophy with that title and all she needed to confirm her greatness was to win a Major. She had played 23 majors without a win, with 13 top ten finishes and 2 runner ups. 

Lorena with her teacher, Rafael Alarcon

The wait was worthwhile. She conquered her first major tournament “at the right moment and at the right place”. She was the first woman to win a major at golf’s birthplace, St. Andrews, Scotland. The British Open title was on her mind from day one, her name was on top of the leader board all week. She made many people cry when we saw her crossing the historical Swilcan Bridge with her arms raised. And then…hugging her British caddie, celebrating with her father and friends, Mexican flags, champagne…a victory that not only makes golf history, but makes many people and a whole country believe.

She is definitely the best athlete Mexico has had, she is a role model and an icon for success. Every Mexican is proud of her and even if they don´t know about golf, they know her and respect her. She has a strong compromise with her country and helps fund education with her personal “Lorena Ochoa Foundation”. She wants to promote golf in a country where there are no public courses, so she inaugurated three Academies where everybody can go and practice, sometimes, even for free. A signal of what she means is that Felipe Calderon, Mexico’s President, has personally called her twice this year. First, to congratulate her when she was named number one player in the world, the second time while she was in Scotland to recognize her British Open victory. Additionally, he attended the trophy ceremony at the Morelia Championship held in México this past April. He frequently says that: “Lorena represents the eagerness of Mexicans and the Mexico we want to see, a Mexico that is not defeated by adversity, a country that fights, that takes a step onto the world, a winning Mexico”.

And that is not all… Besides being the most dominant player of the word, she is charismatic, funny, passionate, friendly. Also she is the best daughter, an incredible sister and the best of the friends. She is the best hero you could ever have.

And this story…is to be continued. For her, this is just the beginning, there are many records still to be broken and many dreams still to come true. 
The author, Marta Ostos, with her husband, Luis Torres Septien Warren

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