Ochoa erasing bad memories on, off course

Lorena Ochoa has won six tournaments in 11 starts this season.
Eric Miller/Reuters

EDINA, Minn. (AP) — Lorena Ochoa can make it look so easy.

She already has done more in five months than most players accomplish in five years. In just 11 tournaments, Ochoa already has captured a major championship among her six victories. She has finished out of the top 10 only once, and she set an LPGA Tour record as the fastest to earn $2 million.

But rarely has a year been so difficult on the 26-year-old from Mexico.

Coming off her sixth victory, she withdrew from the Ginn Tribute when her uncle died in Mexico. She returned to the McDonald’s LPGA Championship to continue her pursuit of a Grand Slam, and learned only after she finished one shot out of a playoff that her maternal grandfather had passed away.

He had been ill for some time, but Ochoa figured she would only be gone a week, plenty of time to see him again. It was at his house in Guadalajara that the family gathered to watch Ochoa dominate women’s golf.

“I never really said goodbye … so that was tough,” she said Tuesday. “He was my joy and motivation.”

Her eyes glistened with tears as she spoke, and Ochoa began blinking to steady her emotions.

She is longer than ever off the tee, and while her putting cost her last week in Rochester, N.Y., and at the LPGA Championship, she continues to work on her short game. Ochoa is much like Tiger Woods in that she is never satisfied with how well she is playing.

The hardest part now is blocking out everything around her.

“The last few weeks have been rough for me,” she said. “I play for a week, and I didn’t play. It’s been on and off, and I feel that it’s important for me to get a rhythm, get my concentration on the golf course, and I’ll be ready to play. This is a great situation to be here in the Women’s U.S. Open.

“I’m 100 percent, and I really want to give myself a chance to win the tournament Sunday.”

This might be the toughest test she faces all year.

The U.S. Women’s Open begins Thursday at Interlachen, a course in the suburbs of Minneapolis that has been around for nearly 100 years and is famous for Bobby Jones winning the U.S. Open in 1930 on his way to the Grand Slam.

The greens are tiny and severe, most of them elevated with such sharp contours that even from 10 feet, two putting is a feat.

It is the final U.S. Women’s Open for Annika Sorenstam, who is retiring at the end of this year and pouring everything into a major that is the biggest prize in her sport. The defending champion is Cristie Kerr, who feels just as strongly about Interlachen as she did about Pine Needles, where she held off Ochoa on the back nine last year.

For Ochoa, this major doesn’t hold the fondest of memories.

She was poised to win her first major last year until she couldn’t find a fairway over the final six holes and watched Kerr win. Three years ago at Cherry Hills, she wasted a terrific charge in a demanding final round by duck-hooking her tee shot on the 18th hole into the water and making a quadruple-bogey 8, finishing four shots behind.

But just like the tragedies in her personal life, Ochoa blocks all that out.

She was asked whether Cherry Hills or Pine Needles made her more frustrated, and before she could translate the question in her mind, she already was shaking her head.

“I’m fine,” she said. “Both really hurt me at the moment, at the time. Cherry Hills, I was too young. It was not meant to be. And my life would be different today if I won the U.S. Open. So I understand the reasons why I didn’t win. … I don’t think I was ready to control all the things that happen when you win a major.

“And I’m thankful what I learned from the experience.”

Ochoa overcame a collapse against Sorenstam outside Phoenix to win an important duel with her in the California desert a year later, propelling her to No. 1 in the world. She took a quadruple bogey at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in 2007 that took her out of the tournament, then returned a year later to win.

Everything is geared toward the next tournament, not the last one.

“I think I’m just not too hard on me,” she said. “I think there are many players, they just regret and are mad and one week and two weeks and three weeks and they get back to a tournament and they cannot do it, they cannot get over it. It’s not worth it to just let that stick on you, have that in your head and back and forth. I’m just good at that. It makes everything easier.

“It’s been a process, just like everything else.”

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