RANCHO MIRAGE, CALIFORNIA | Angela Stanford stood beneath the overhang and waited, watching behind her anxiously and checking her phone. “I hope she’s on time,” the major champion said. “My pro-am is supposed to be at 10:05 but I don’t want to miss her.”
The “her” Stanford was waiting to see like a kid looking for an autograph was Lorena Ochoa, who was scheduled to be on site at the Chevron Championship at 10 a.m. for her first press conference at an LPGA Tour event in years and her first visit to Mission Hills Country Club since she retired in early 2010.
A couple of minutes later, Betsy King pulled up on a scooter. King broke her femur at her brother’s home a year ago and is scheduled for another round of surgery to remove scar tissue and revamp a knee on April 20. Even so, nothing was going to stop her from seeing her dear friend.
They weren’t the only ones. Lizette Salas made it a point to stop practicing and wander over to the tent where Ochoa would be. And Stacy Lewis kept a sharp eye out to see when the woman of the hour would arrive.
A moment later, Ochoa wandered in with her husband, Andrés Conesa, the CEO of Aeroméxico, who drove them from the airport into Mission Hills. Ochoa then hugged everyone in sight, casually apologizing for being a moment or two tardy, but she had been stopped half a dozen times between the parking lot to the putting green. And if there was one thing she would never do, it’s blow off a fan looking to say hello.
“Andrés was like, ‘OK, should I turn left here?’ I said, ‘yes, yes,” Ochoa said, talking about her trip back. “You know, I think (the emotions of returning here) are too much to really feel everything at the moment. But it is so very nice to walk into the clubhouse. The view that you get from the top from the restaurant to the putting green, to see all players practicing and the flags, it’s very, very special. I told Andrés, ‘You know, Gaby (López) is playing this week,’ so to be able to just watch and think about the Mexicans playing (in this major) is even more special.”
The 27-time LPGA winner who won this championship in 2008 by five shots didn’t just come back to catch up with friends and watch some golf. On Tuesday afternoon, the LPGA announced a change to the criteria regarding its Hall of Fame, the most exclusive club in sports. There are no votes for this one. In the past an LPGA player qualified for its Hall of Fame (which is housed at the World Golf Hall of Fame) by earning a minimum of 27 points. You got one point for every official tour victory; two points for every major championship win; a point every time you won the Vare Trophy for low stroke average; and another point every time you captured Rolex Player of the Year honors. But there was one caveat: you had to be an active player for 10 years. That 10-year provision was dropped this week. And Ochoa, who famously retired to get married and start a family after her eighth season, was given a grand welcome into the Hall.
“I was playing when those rules for the Hall of Fame were set up,” King said. “The idea back then was that you wanted to make sure you played well for a sustained period of time. But looking back now, if you got the points in a shorter window, that means you’re even better.”
Ochoa received universal praise for having her priorities in order when she walked away from the game. The Hall of Fame criteria wasn’t a mystery. She knew she was leaving too soon to be eligible. That knowledge made the news of the rule change even sweeter.
“It’s such a big surprise because I did make the decision regardless of the rule or the opportunity to be inducted,” Ochoa said. “So this is just something extra special. In a way, you know, it’s like a present, like a nice feeling knowing that, OK, I completed the circle.
“Some of the media as well as my sponsors and fans, golf fans in Mexico, they always ask me about this, so finally I can say, ‘That’s it. I’m in.’ I think I’ve completed my career with this great honor, so in a way I feel relief and relaxed and happy.”
How she got the news was so typical of Ochoa. Her brother told her that Nancy Lopez planned to give her a call. The family lives outside Mexico City in a town called Valle de Bravo, which doesn’t always have the best cell coverage. So, Ochoa went out into her backyard to take the call.
“I was just walking behind my house with the dog around me and I said, ‘Nancy, how are you?’” she said. “It was a surprise phone call. But I thought we were going to chat about golf or going to play in a golf tournament or exhibition. We caught up a little bit about our lives and I was very happy to hear she was doing OK with COVID and everything. All of a sudden, she said, ‘This phone call is because I’m going to give you super good news. I have good news for you.’
“It was very special coming from her. She was very emotional, and I was very surprised. I didn’t know what to do, how to react. I was like 15 minutes away from going to pick up my kids from school, so I called Andrés and said, ‘Nancy just called me and gave me this great news and I don’t know what to do.’
“I picked up my kids and I said, ‘OK, I got a phone call from my friend with some very special news.’ They didn’t care. They didn’t understand. They said, ‘Mom, can you please put music on?’ I said, ‘OK, this is not going to work. I’m not going to explain.’ ”
“Lorena means a lot to not just me but to the world of golf.” – Lizette Salas
She didn’t have to explain anything in Rancho Mirage. Everyone who hung around to congratulate her already knew.
In addition to the 10-year rule change, the LPGA added a point for winning an Olympic gold medal. And it inducted all the remaining 13 Founders into the Hall, including the two survivors, Marlene Hagge and Shirley Spork, who will turn 95 in May. Spork was there on Wednesday as well, as spry and as sharp as ever. She congratulated Ochoa and then asked the most important question of the day for the new Hall of Famer. “May I see some pictures of your kids?”
“Lorena means a lot to not just me but to the world of golf,” Salas said afterward. “She came in and dominated. The fact that she is now in the (LPGA) Hall of Fame is such a great accomplishment. I want to congratulate her for all the sacrifice, and the blood, sweat and tears that she’s gone through. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here. I came here (to what is now the Chevron Championship) and watched her. She gave me an autographed golf ball. It changed my life. It gave me hope. It gave me that extra drive to pursue my dream. Mexicans can not only play golf, but we can dominate. She means so much to our culture, her country, she has done amazing things.”
Top photo: Carlos Ramirez, Getty Images for Laureus
© 2022 Global Golf Post LLC
If you love great journalism like this, you will love GGP+. Click here and subscribe for just $48 (20% off).
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Tell us how we can improve this post?