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Lorena Ochoa is new Mexican hero

Woman golfer Lorena Ochoa has become a new source of national pride after conquering the world in a sport that is little known and even less played in soccer-crazy Mexico.

For the first time, the timid and soft-spoken 24-year-old became the world's top female player on Sunday with her sixth victory of the 2006 season in the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour.

Sports sections of Mexican newspapers, normally wall-to-wall with Mexican soccer coverage, published full-cover photos of Ochoa on Monday, her index finger outstretched to denote she won LPGA player of the year honors.

"A Mexican woman is now the best in the world, who would have thought? Incredible for Mexico," said Francisco Villalobos, 39, an architect, getting ready to play a round of 18 holes on a Mexico City course.

Golf in Mexico is a pastime for the rich and elite with only around 50,000 regular players among the country's 104 million population. Fees are sky high compared to average salaries.

But Ochoa's popularity is much wider than the small golf community as she has captured the imagination of many Mexicans with her determination to succeed, even if most do not understand the ins and outs of birdies and bogeys.

"Good for her and our country," said Pedro Mendoza, who runs a fruit juice stall. "But to be honest, I don't understand the sport when they talk of birdies and par, it's like a foreign language, it's like they are talking Chinese."

Other Mexicans championed her achievement compared to the poor results of the country's soccer squad at the World Cup in Germany where Mexico lost in the second round to Argentina. Mexico constantly underperforms on the world soccer stage.

"Her victory is the result of ambition, determination, concentration and desire," said Armando Sosa, a golfer for the past 20 years.

"In contrast, look at the national soccer players, the idols of millions of Mexicans, who have never lifted the World Cup or come anywhere near," the retired engineer said. "Winning is about attitude and Lorena has it."

Her personal Web site (www.lorenaochoa.com) lists her favorite movies as "Gladiator" and "The Mission" and says she once climbed Mexico's Iztaccihuatl volcano at 17,343 feet (5,286 meters). She has also completed two triathlons and two half marathons.

She has become the country's leading sportswoman, ahead of Ana Guevara, a one-time world champion athlete at 400 meters who in the last two years has faded both in glory and fame.

Still, many Mexicans do not recognize Ochoa's name. Her victory by 10 shots with a record tournament aggregate of 21-under 267 in Mobile, Alabama, on Sunday earned her a check for $150,000 to take her season's prize money to $2.5 million.

"The name rings a bell, but who is she?" asked Flavio Orozco, an ice distributor in Mexico City. When told she had just made millions playing golf, he asked: "Oh, do you know if she is married or where she lives?"

November 14, 2006


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