Lorena Ochoa’s Extraordinary Invitational
Lorena Ochoa was one of the last week-in and week-out dominant players on the LPGA Tour, Mexico’s own answer to Annika Sorenstam, if you will. What she did after retiring from the Tour is equally remarkable. Opting for family, she opened her heart, invitational tournament, and foundation to underprivileged children. Now that we’ve known her for a while, I can’t help but think, “Isn’t that just the sort of thing Lorena Ochoa would do?” Yes, it is precisely what Lorena Ochoa would do – take something remarkable, make it utterly exceptional, and help everyone she can possibly help along the way.
Ochoa’s personal touch on all of this has created a special aura around her tournament, the Lorena Ochoa Invitational – and everything else about the event seems to be following suit, with a special quality and a week full of surprises.In fact, the Invitational has been described by some members of the media as a “small major,” and perhaps it will eventually go even higher in the coming years. The field is small, limited to the best 36 players in the world, but in true Ochoa fashion, also open to several Mexican golfers, including Alejandra Llanez, Margaraito Ramos, and Gaby Lopez, all from Mexico City. They are immersed in a field that includes Feng, Pettersen, and all the others most likely to fill up the top third of any week’s leaderboard. The invitational is said to have become the most important sporting event in Mexico, high praise, considering that golf, according to Ochoa a few yeears back, was a minor consideration in the country at one time.
And why would the chosen course for the invitational be any less special? The Guadalajara Country Club course is one of the finest in the country, and a little different from most of the others. Designed by Texan John Bredermus, it features a lot of green, and large oaks over the more common palm trees and mangrove forests. It opened in 1942.
The Ochoa Invitational has become a prestigious money-maker, but where does all that money go? All sort of directions, as it turns out, and mostly toward kids who are having a rough time of it breaking through to a life with opportunities. This ideal is represented ably by La Barranca Educational Center, and an active golf academy, among other institutions.
The tournament was the site of Michelle Wie’s first victory on tour, and in 2013, Lexi Thompson iced her nerves and rolled one in to win the week. But this year, we can add Christina Kim to the list of surprises. She’s back with a honed game and a new attitude that favors Sunday. It’s a variation on the new, more relaxed Michelle Wie strategy, one prone to enjoying the time more than wrapping yourself up in knots, and oriented to playing well on Sunday, with slightly less emphasis on the weekdays. Kim makes the turn into the final round this year with a 5 stroke lead at 14 under, and her intent to “channel my inner Lorena” is an excellent decision.
Kim has turned thirty this year, and describes the next phase of her career as Act II. Golf is no longer the sum total of what she is, but of what she does. The unburdening of a great deal of anxiety comes with such a decision, when one no longer needs to ride the weekly successes and failure train as a means of self-validation.
Kim didn’t talk all that much about how she’s playing, claiming that she’s “here to enjoy myself,” and soaking up the beauties of Mexico – and oh yes, after she’s finished her vacation in one of the most beautiful tourist spots of the Western world, she might also win a very special golf tournament, founded by a very special woman.