RANCHO MIRAGE, California – Lorena Ochoa was out walking behind her house in Valle de Bravo, Mexico, with her dog when Nancy Lopez called. Ochoa thought the call, organized by her brother, was going to be about her foundation or playing in an exhibition. After a brief catch-up, an emotional Lopez told Ochoa that she was going into the LPGA Hall of Fame.
A dozen years after Ochoa retired, the LPGA Hall of Fame committee voted to remove the 10-year playing minimum that blocked one of the greatest players in tour history from receiving its highest honor.
A stunned Ochoa, 40, didn’t know what do to. Her husband was at work in Mexico City, and it was time to pick up the kids from school. She tried to explain to her three children, ages six, eight, and 10, what had happened.
“They didn’t care. They didn’t understand,” said Ochoa, tilting her head back with that infectious laugh.
“Mom, can you please put music on?” came the request from the backseat.
Perhaps another time.
It’s a sweet story, especially given that school pick-up lines are among the million little reasons Ochoa chose to leave the LPGA after amassing 27 titles, including two majors, in seven seasons.
Ochoa, who arrived at Mission Hills on Wednesday to meet with the media, said she thanks God to this day that she was strong enough to make the choice to walk away, regardless of the rule. She likened the news that she’s in to a present.
“Some of the media as well, or my sponsors or fans, golf fans in Mexico, they always ask me about this all the time,” said Ochoa, “so finally I can say, that’s it. I’m in. I think I completed my career with this great honor, so in a way I feel relief and relaxed and happy, and just this is going to be great.”
Of course, Ochoa’s wait for the Hall pales in comparison to the woman who came over on Wednesday afternoon and asked to look at a picture of her kids. LPGA founder Shirley Spork, still spry at 94, is one of eight LPGA founders who are finally being inducted as honorary members of the tour’s Hall of Fame.
Of the 13 founders, only five were already included. Spork, a local desert resident, is one of two founders still living along with Marlene Hagge, who was already in the LPGA Hall.
Spork heard the news earlier this week from LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan and said she was surprised.
“It’s a great honor,” said Spork. “I feel I’m very deserving of it, having developed the (LPGA) teaching division from 0 to 1,700 people.”
Spork, who still gets out and plays nine holes, asked Ochoa if she planned to tee it up today at Mission Hills. Ochoa, who recently played in a mixed event in Portugal in which she tied for 10th alongside Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Levet, said she needed to get home.
Ochoa said she was “responsible” going into the event and did adequate preparation. Even with little media onsite and few fans, Ochoa admitted to being quite nervous.
“I started thinking, I cannot imagine being in an LPGA tournament,” said Ochoa, “like a big one or a real LPGA tournament crowded with the media and me trying to play good. Too much.”
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Fellow Mexican Gaby Lopez annually asks Ochoa to partner with her in the LPGA team event, the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational. This year, Ochoa said she will have to tell her once again that she isn’t going to play.
But that’s not a no forever.
“I don’t want to say no because maybe two, three years I will come and play with Gaby and have a good time,” said Ochoa. “I do see maybe playing in the senior, you know, in the Senior Tour, just coming back and playing couple tournaments just to enjoy.
“My kids are going to be older and maybe they understand a little bit more than today, so we’ll see.”
Stacy Lewis was one of several players who came over to greet Ochoa near the putting green as she met with the press. Lizette Salas declared that she was speechless.
“She did so much for this game when she played,” said Lewis. “When she retired we had three events in Mexico; we still have players from Mexico on this tour.”
Lorena Ochoa of Mexico and caddie Greg Johnston walk across a bridge on the second hole during the third round of the Tres Marias Championship at the Tres Marias Country Club on May 1, 2010, in Morelia, Mexico. (Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images)
While Ochoa isn’t out at LPGA events much, she’s still having a great impact on the next generation in her country through the IGPM, Impulsando al Golf Professional Mexicano. Currently there are 14 Mexican women in the program. Ochoa is part of three to four fundraisers a year that help pay for caddies, coaching, equipment, medical costs – whatever is needed.
“We’re very close to them,” said Ochoa, “because all of them are so particular, so they have different necessities. Once a year we get together for four or five days. I invite them to my home and spend time with them to see how are they feeling, how are they with their families, if they are happy, what are their goals for the year, how are they going to start the year or the changes that they’re making, if it’s working or not.
“And they call me, and we keep in touch and they ask me. I try to help them a little bit to make, I guess, less mistakes and be a little bit easier, and in a way to feel that they belong to something. They were part of the family, and all the Mexicans get together and support each other.”
It is the ultimate founder-like mentality. Ochoa became the first Mexican player to reach No. 1 in the world and lit a fire in minds of boys and girls across her country to take up a new sport. She now works to help the next generation continue what she started.
Spork and Ochoa practically bookend this tour, and no Hall of Fame that bears its name would be complete without them.