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LPGA's debut in Mexico poses unique factors

If the Mexican capital's 7,400-foot altitude takes its toll on the LPGA Tour players this week, at least they might get the benefit of longer shots in the thin air.

The MasterCard Classic, a $1.2 million, 54-hole tournament and the first LPGA Tour event in Mexico in more than three decades, begins Friday at the Bosque Real, a golf club perched on a towering hill top which affords sweeping, if smog-fogged, views of western Mexico City.

"I don't think it's going to be easy," South Korea's Se Ri Pak said of the altitude's effects. "You stay here a lot of days and your body gets accustomed. But your game, the balls can go longer on shots."

Pak, who finished ninth on the tour money list in 2004, said she made her first trip to Mexico to play in the event. She will be part of a 132-player field that also includes top-ranked Annika Sorenstam, former No. 1 Karrie Webb, and Grace Park and Cristie Kerr, both of whom posted multiple wins a year ago.

Pak worked over the winter to modify her swing slightly, paying special attention to eliminating bad habits on her backswing.

"Last year a little change had a big effect," she said. "Hopefully, things will get better."

Local favorite Lorena Ochoa heads a list of seven Mexican players who will compete.

"The LPGA is back in Mexico in no small part because of the attention that Lorena Ochoa has brought to Mexico with her golf and all around the world," said Chris Higgs, an LPGA vice president. He said the last time the LPGA held an event in Mexico was 1974.

The 23-year-old native and resident of Mexico's second-largest city, Guadalajara, who studied at the University of Arizona, Ochoa became the first Mexican to win on the LPGA Tour last year, capturing two tournament victories during her second year as a pro. She also led the tour in top-10 finishes and ranked third on the money list in 2004, earning more than $1.4 million.

"It is just a dream come true to have an event in my country and for my fans to watch me play. I trained really, really hard in the off-season thinking about the two tournaments in Mexico," said Ochoa, who also plans to play in the Corona Morelia Championship in the central state of Michoacan in April. "I am just going to try really hard and try to do the best for my country."


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