Long Time Coming

<strong>Dream Realized:</strong> Everything from the weather to her strategy for attacking the Old Course went according to plan for Ochoa.
Bob Martin/SI

From the moment Lorena Ochoa got her first glimpse of the Old Course at St. Andrews — under the light of a full moon a few hours after she had tied for third in the Evian Masters in France — she had kept a picture in her head of what the following Sunday would look like.

True, she didn't envision the drum-and-bagpipe band playing Scottish Soldier off the 1st tee, or a Scottish official watching the trophy ceremony while wearing a sombrero, or even her teary, giggling father, Javier, rushing down the steps between the 1st tee and the 18th green to spray her with champagne.

In almost every other respect, however, the scene played out just as Ochoa had imagined: There was no rain (the precipitation had finally stopped a few holes back), and there were thousands of people surrounding the final green as she made a putt to win the Women's British Open, the first women's professional event played at St. Andrews.

"It was just the way I had dreamed it," she said.

The first major victory for Ochoa, the No. 1 player in the world, was not quite as long in coming as women's pro golf to the venerable Old Course, but it had felt like an eternity for the 25-year-old from Guadalajara, who had been winless in 24 previous majors.

"There were a lot of people saying I couldn't win a major," said Ochoa, who shot a one-over-par 74 on Sunday to finish at five-under 287, four strokes better than Jee Young Lee of South Korea and Maria Hjorth of Sweden, who each had a final-round 71.

"I did it, and there's no more to say."

No longer will she have to politely answer questions about her failures: at the 2005 U.S. Open, where she could have taken a share of the lead with a par on the 72nd hole but chili-dipped her tee shot into the water, finishing with a triple bogey and in sixth place; at the 2006 Kraft Nabisco Championship, where she started the final round with a three-shot lead but lost in a playoff to Karrie Webb; and again at the U.S. Open in June, when she was tied with Cristie Kerr with five holes to play but hit a tree with her tee shot on the 71st hole, made bogey and came in second.

"It was one of those special weeks where everything was clear to me," said Ochoa. "I was happy and comfortable even when I made a bogey. There was no doubt. I knew on Monday that I was going to win this."

Even for those golfers who spent most of the week second-guessing blind shots and putts on tricky double greens, this Women's British Open was a triumph.

Though the Old Course has hosted women's amateur competitions for more than 100 years, no women's professional event had been played at the Home of Golf. In fact, the Ladies Golf Union, the body that oversees rules and competition for women and girls in Great Britain — including the 31-year-old Open, which became a major only in 2001 — had never approached the St. Andrews Links Trust about hosting such an event until this one.

"Quite simply, the time was right," says Ladies Golf Union CEO Lesley Burn. "It's a recognition of where the game is."

Just as groundbreaking, in a lot of players' eyes, was the gesture by the all-male Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, whose iconic clubhouse sits behind the 1st tee of the Old Course. As it does for male pros when the men's British Open passes through, the R&A offered up its locker room to the women for the week.

"We seem to be moving out of the 1800s and early 1900s finally," declared Webb, an LPGA Hall of Famer.

The Old Course perfectly suited Ochoa, a creative feel player who reminds her caddie, Dave Brooker, of three-time British Open champion Seve Ballesteros because she has "all these great little shots."

With that arsenal and ideal early-morning conditions on her side, Ochoa shot a bogey-free, bunker-free 67 in the opening round, which put her two strokes in front and established the course record for women pros.

"It only took her a few holes (during a) Monday (practice round) for her to realize the usual swing goes out the window here," said Brooker, an Englishman who has played a lot of links golf.

"You have to chip everything here. It was as if she had been playing here all her life."

Normally a high-ball hitter, Ochoa had no problem lowering her trajectory. That became particularly important last Saturday, when fierce crosswinds — "normal St. Andrews weather," proudly chirped one local — arrived to rattle the flags and cause balls to shimmy on the greens.

The 35-mph gusts, along with the toughest pin placements of the week, made haggis of the field. Twenty-six players had rounds of 80 or higher. What the wind couldn't do to blow away the competition, Ochoa accomplished with her strategy of hitting draws on the way out and low punchcuts on the way in. She emerged from the maelstrom with her second straight round of par and a six-shot lead.

"I guess you could say we're all playing for second," said her playing partner, Wendy Ward, who shot an 80 on Saturday and finished 23rd.

"She doesn't make the mistakes the rest of us make."

Sunday dawned dreich, as the natives say — wet, cold and gray — which was not Ochoa's cup of tea.

"I like the wind, it's no problem," she says, "but when it gets cold, I don't like that. A little rain, the club slips, things start changing."

Afternoon showers made the back nine so wet that Ochoa, who usually plays without a glove, wore one for several holes. But neither her club nor her lead slipped precipitously.

Even with three bogeys on the back nine, she stayed at least four shots ahead. Her only flirtation with trouble came on the Road Hole, where she hit her second shot into the face of one of the course's 112 bunkers — only the third time all week she hit into the sand. After pitching out left into the rough, she faced the gaping maw of the Road Hole bunker that had swallowed David Duval and spit him out four strokes later in the 2000 British Open.

As the gallery looked on in church-like silence, Ochoa hit "the chip shot of her life," said Brooker.

Her ball cleared the hazard, caught the downside of the mound and bounced once before stopping about 10 feet from the hole.

After she had made a solid tee shot on 18 and walked over the Swilcan Bridge and up the fairway to a little rise before the Valley of Sin, Ochoa knew there would be no breakdowns this time.

"We did it," she said to Brooker.

After sinking a three-footer for par, Ochoa raised her arms in triumph, jumped into the arms of Brooker and soaked up a spritz of the bubbly from her dad.

According to the Links Trust, this would not be the last time the women play in St. Andrews. But it would be the last time a woman would win her first major and become the first of her gender to earn a paycheck at the Old Course on the same day. Quite simply, the time was right.

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