The LPGA kicks off its season Thursday at the Welch's/Fry's Championship in Tucson, Ariz. We spoke to Lorena Ochoa -- the 2003 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year -- to get insight on her goals for 2004, her success at an early age and her thoughts on playing in a PGA Tour event.
The 22-year-old sensation started playing golf at age 5 and became an eight-time national champion in her native Mexico before moving onto the University of Arizona. She started turning heads when she set an NCAA record in the 2001-2002 season with eight consecutive wins.
Ochoa turned professional shortly thereafter, competing on the Futures Tour where she quickly won three times and finished No. 1 on the money list. Her stellar play earned her exempt status for the 2003 LPGA Tour. She continued her success by posting eight top-10 finishes including two second-place finishes in her first year. She missed only one cut in 24 events ending the year ninth on the money list.
Here's what Ochoa had to say during our Q&A session:
Congratulations on a fantastic rookie season. What was last year like for you?
Ochoa: It was a tough year. A lot of new things for me especially all the traveling and being at different golf courses every week. I think that takes a lot from you, that you get very tired.
What in your game have you worked on in the offseason?
Ochoa: We first analyzed my whole year and the things I need to improve and the things I need to change or do better either inside or outside of the golf course. And you know one of the main, I guess, problems last year was because I was playing so many rounds of golf because I needed to practice and know all of the different golf courses. I forgot and didn't spend as much time around the green, either practicing my putts or chipping. You know, I didn't have as much time to practice. And now this year I really want to pay attention and do that and make sure that I practice my putt and my chip before I go to the course and after I finish playing. So in meantime I putt confident.
What was it like traveling week to week? What did you do at nights?
Ochoa: (Laughs) I have a really good friend, Marisa Baena. She's been very nice to me. She helped me a lot to make friends, and we were roommates for maybe six or seven times during the year. We both are very relaxed. We like to read a lot. We like to watch movies. You know, go to dinner early and spend a lot of time resting. It was nice to be with her.
Will you travel with her again this year?
Ochoa: I will, yeah. This year I have friends coming. I have five rookies (who are) really good friends of mine. Candy Hanneman from Brazil, she plays at Duke. Larua Myerscough, she was my teammate in Arizona. Reilley Rankin from Georgia. And Meredith Duncan from LSU. She won the U.S. Amateur. And Paula Marti from Spain. So we are all around 22, 23, 24 (years old). We're good friends so I'm excited to have people my age, and being friends (makes it) a lot easier to go and practice.
What would be some of your goals for the season?
Ochoa: Well, my first goal is to make sure I do that chipping and putting every day so I think that is something under my control. I want to improve my putting average -- you know, get it down one stroke. If I do that I know I could improve my place on the money list. My goal right now is to be in the top five. I understand how hard it is, but I need to go higher than I did last year. And we'll see, with the experience I got last year it probably will be a little bit easier for be to be playing better. And more important, I want to go week by week and make sure that I do the things I need to do to be rested and keep practicing hard.
What was it like growing up and playing golf in Mexico?
Ochoa: I grew up playing with boys. So I used to play with boys older than me and we played in the state tournaments. I always go a higher category up. (The boys) have become really good friends of mine and they have helped me a lot. Now, it is amazing how big golf is in Mexico and how many little girls are playing not only here in Guadalajara but in the whole country. It is very nice to see that.
And a lot of that can be contributed to you.
Ochoa: (Laughs) I am trying to help.
You were so successful at a very young age in Mexico. What do you attribute that to?
Ochoa: I think I always knew what I wanted to do and how far I wanted to go. And I owe everything to my family. All the support they gave me. And all of the support they give me right now is amazing. My parents never stopped me to do anything. Never. Never. Never. They always supported me, you know. They were open-minded and if you want to do that, do that. And they never restricted me or anything. The education that I received from my parents, it was very special.
Are the golf courses different in Mexico than the U.S.?
Ochoa: No. I think they are pretty much the same. The only difference is first we don't have public golf courses so it's hard to play. You need to be a member of a club. And that was amazing when I went to college and I had the opportunity to practice on 10 different golf courses. It was something amazing to me because here I was used to practicing on one golf course all my life.
How did you decide to attend the University of Arizona?
Ochoa: It was very easy, actually. It's really close to Mexico. The weather was great. They were ranked No. 1 at that time when I got recruited, and Marisa Baena went to Arizona. Her sister, Christina Baena, is a really good friend of mine and she was there at the time. So having someone that spoke Spanish that I knew and having Arizona ranked No. 1, it was an easy decision for me.
Well, you didn't speak any English when you first moved to the United States.
Ochoa: No, nothing.
How did you make such a difficult transition?
Ochoa: It took me six months of studying English five hours a day,having an Arizona tutor. I took a course for the SAT and (a test to prove she could speak English). I did those a couple of times and I didn't make it. And then I finally made it and I just got what I needed to pass to be able to play college golf. My first semester was really,really hard. I was struggling a lot because of my English writing papers. I understood, but writing papers at the college level was something very very hard. That (writing papers) was the hardest thing because I didn't have any vocabulary. I knew what I wanted to write about,but I didn't have enough vocabulary. So it was frustrating.
You are a phenom just like Michelle Wie and you have dominated at every level. What advice would you give to her?
Ochoa: I really think that going to college is the best thing that happened in my life, the best two years of my life more than anything. I really advise, not just to Michelle Wie, but to everybody to hopefully give them a chance to go to college. I think what she is doing is something amazing. I really admire her. She is a great player and a very nice girl. I met her. And I just think she needs to be a girl for a moment. So hopefully she gives herself some time and (can) do things that girls do, so she doesn't miss out and regret that. When you get older and if you didn't take advantage of your own time, then you probably aren't going to be very happy.
What is your exercise routine?
Ochoa: I work out five days a week. It takes me probably between an hour and a half to two hours. I do between 30 and 50 minutes of cardio. And then I do special weights for golf. (Weights) for my upper body and lower body. We're trying to work a lot on my legs.
Who is your caddy?
Ochoa: My caddy is Tom Thorpe. He is 39. He is married. He is from Portland, Ore. He is living in Pensacola, Fla. And he caddied for Nancy Lopez 10 years. He's been on the tour for 20 years so he has a lot of experience and knows pretty much all of the golf courses. So that is very nice. He is very good. I like him very much, not just as a caddy but as a person. I'm excited for this year and happy that he is with me.
What would you say are the important aspects of successful putting?
Ochoa: I think pretty much it is all in your mind. For the stroke you can be in many different positions and your shoulders could be aiming two different ways. But what is on your mind is very important. Make sure you have one thought and visualize what you want to do. And you need to be patient. Just be patient for a good time to come and take advantage of it when it comes.
Any tips on sand play?
Ochoa: Probably hit behind (the sand). Let the sand bring out the ball. Your thought needs to be "let the sand do the work." The sand is the one that will bring the ball out of the trap.
Would you ever consider playing in a PGA Tour event?
Ochoa: No. Never. There are many things that I need to do first on the LPGA (tour). My place is to be on the woman's circuit, and I am excited to be there so it's probably going to be many years before I think (about) that.
What are you are doing to prepare for this week in Arizona?
Ochoa: Not practicing very much but spending as much time as I can with my family so I can go to the States relaxed and happy … and ready for the season.