Long Time Coming

Long Time Coming

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<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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