On Thursday, Lorena Ochoa reached another important milestone in her career. The world's No. 1 female golfer saw the completion of an idea and a desire that captured her imagination when she was a little girl.
The Guadalajara Country Club in Mexico, her home course and the place that saw her grow as a golfer, hosts the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, her own personal tournament, this week.
"I believe this is everyone's dream, a dream that I have held for many years, and now the moment has come. Independently of what the results are, this will be something exceptional, super nice, super positive, and all of us are going to enjoy it very much," Ochoa said.
Ochoa sat down with ESPNDeportses.com for an interview that ranged from her dominance on the golf course to the glare of the spotlight on her personal life to her return home to play in her inaugural tournament.
Sutcliffe: How did you picture that first outing, that first strike of the ball this Thursday, here where all your dreams started when you were a little girl playing golf?
Ochoa: "There are two funny things to consider. For starters, I never played a tournament in my own club; I've always played on my days off, relaxing, or training, having a lot of fun. I never stood on the first hole feeling the pressure of so much emotion, so much adrenaline, so many people. This is something that I prepared for."
Sutcliffe: How do you see this tournament lasting in the long run?
Ochoa: "I'd like it to last many years. I am not sure of how much more I will be able to play, or what it is that I want for my future. We have a long-term commitment with the LPGA. We want this to be not only the best tournament in Mexico, but on the entire LPGA schedule, which is played all over the world. I believe it is a special gift to be able to have only 36 players in it, to have the support of the Tour, the unconditional support of Rolex, which is the highest you can go as far as golf is concerned. We have all these weapons and we have to take advantage of them, aside from being responsible and doing things right, because the tournament that we are starting may last for a long time and become a part of history."
Sutcliffe: On a course that you know so well, how can someone do some damage here at Guadalajara Country Club? How do you go about having a good round here?
Ochoa: "I believe that every player is capable of coming out here and planning a good strategy for this golf course, but at the same time I also think that the most important advantage will be knowing how to handle the rough and work your way through around the greens. There are a few greens that are more sensitive or firmer in certain positions. These are things that I know because I've played here all my life. In a way, I do have an advantage, but the biggest advantage, I believe, is the support of the crowd. If everyone is focused on my game, if they cheer whenever I make a putt or a birdie, I think that would be the best support, and that's why I want to invite everyone to come out here and support me."
Sutcliffe: What's your best score on this course?
Ochoa: "I remember having made 28 and 29 in one round or a total of 62 back when I was 13, 15, 16, doing it in different occasions. Today, I don't have an official score here, whenever I am in Guadalajara I simply practice, fool around, try to make shots. Lately I have been playing, I've shot 5 under par, then it's difficult to know what would be the scenario in this tournament, but of course I already have a strategy, I feel well prepared and I believe we will do things very well."
Sutcliffe: How did you manage to finally have Annika Sorenstam confirm her place in the tournament?
Ochoa: "Speaking of the friendship that has always bound us together, when she said that her presence in this tournament would be compromised by her schedule, travels, and other commitments with her sponsors, I understood 100 percent. But then, she came to me three weeks later and said 'Lorena, I would l love to play in your tournament, I am doing everything possible, I am trying to work with my schedule and my sponsors.' I simply replied that I would love to have her, that I'd be honored to have her. The following week I was with her and she told me to count her in that she would be there with me because I had been the best player, the one that has the best shot to become the best, the No. 1, just like her, and that she wanted to support me. I will forever be grateful for that."
Sutcliffe: The perception of the press and the fans seems to indicate that 2007 has been better for you than 2008. But how do you perceive the difference between this season and last season?
Ochoa: "The numbers say it all; this has been my best season. Watching the entire situation, with all the things that have happened this year, without a doubt 2008 has been the best year because it's been more challenging, and I've also had several complicated situations, a lot of mental and physical wear, lots of stress, pressure from the media and sponsors. I believe that this has become so difficult and the results continue to go well, which means I have been able to handle it and find that balance that's so important. I continue to learn. It doesn't make sense to compare the first half of the season with the second, or last year with this one because the scenarios are so different. I am a different person. I've matured and learned. I have other priorities. I am growing into a different stage of my life, and for that it is important to stay as the No. 1 player in the world."
Sutcliffe: Experts are quick to say that most of Ochoas' errors take place on the green and with her short game, because she moves her head a lot, but Lorena is fast to clarify that.
Ochoa: "I am not going to go into a lot of detail, but the head movements come naturally since I am five years old, and there's no way to change something so natural, there's no way to fight it. There are more important things for me to work on at the green, things that I can improve in my putt, like not moving my knees and my hip so much because sometimes all it takes is a small displacement to make your head movement more constant and your shot more inconsistent, this is what we're working on. My head won't stop moving, I will simply work more with my body center and have a position that is more firm and always centered on the same axis."
(In 2008, the success that Ochoa has enjoyed on the course has also attracted attention off it, as tabloid hounds have focused on her personal life. Since news broke of her relationship with Andres Conesa, general director of Aeromexico, it seems that the pressure has gotten to Ochoa. But the world top-ranked player says her personal life and her professional life remain separate.)
Sutcliffe: How do you assimilate the tension, the pressure of the press, when it has nothing to do with your sport?
Ochoa: "I don't feel the tension; I've always said that when a sportsperson is having good results, all eyes are on her or him. I've always said that I would live my personal life away from the spotlight. This is important to me. It's very private. But it's also important that they know my feminine side, the social part, the foundation and the different activities that I like to do outside the golf course. I share all this with pleasure because I am not only Lorena the golfer, I am also Lorena the normal person, someone who enjoys different things, and I like people to know that, because it makes me be who I am. It's a part of an athlete's life, I accept it, I share it, and I thank them for their understanding."
Sutcliffe: What's your take on those comments made about your relationship, the ones that have been made public? A lot of people say that you are very happy, but it has also affected you.
Ochoa: "I simply don't have an opinion on all the comments made about me. There are many comments made by people and the media. I am at peace. I have been saying since I was 16, 17, 18 years old how important it is to find a balance between the professional and the personal life. It is impossible to play well if you're not emotionally balanced. The sentimental part is extremely important, and I have always tried to be emotionally attached even if at a distance, which is complicated, but I am very happy. I believe that everyone that feels good at home, within a relationship, works better, and when you have problems your results will show it. I am well, I am very happy, and that helps me to play better golf, I assure you."
Sutcliffe: Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, the two best players in history, says that stability outside the course makes you play better.
Ochoa: "That's a fact, and it is valid not only for a romance, but also with family problems, difficulties, bitterness, or accidents, or some kind of bad feeling, all that makes you lose balance and the results are not good. Then, it is always important to give yourself a little time to be happy, to be well and to develop in the best possible way."
Sutcliffe: Finally, what would an 8th victory mean for Ochoa at the Guadalajara Country Club in 2008?
Ochoa: "You've said it all. It would be the best thing ever. I feel very well. I am at peace. I am going to enjoy every day, not only Sunday, and you will see that we'll be in the hunt during the final round."
John Sutcliffe covers golf for ESPNDeportes.com