Despedida, Lorena…

México Today

On Friday, LPGA luminary and 4-time Rolex Player of the Year Lorena Ochoa made official what we in the sports world learned via press release April 20th: her surprising retirement from the game at age 28. In a dizzyingly ascendant seven-year career on the LPGA Tour, Lorena went from promising upstart and challenger to Annika Sörenstam, to the world’s preeminent player and – perhaps most impressively – one-name status among even the game’s most casual observers.

After taking up the game at age 5 in her native Guadalajara – and almost instantly establishing herself as a wunderkind – Lorena decided to make golf her vocation at the tender age of 11, telling local pro Rafael Alarcon that she wanted to be “the best player in the world.” She would immediately embark on that journey, winning 22 state and 44 national events in Mexico as a junior golfer before enrolling at the University of Arizona (Annika’s alma mater) in 2000.

Lorena turned pro after her sophomore year, dominating the Duramed Futures Tour in 2002 before earning LPGA Rookie of the Year honors the following year. She won early and often, however her first Major victory proved elusive as Lorena came up tearfully short on a growing number of occasions. Finally, her mental fortitude and dedication to constant improvement of her game paid off when she captured the 2007 Women’s British Open with a riveting wire-to-wire victory on the Old Course at St. Andrews, the fabled “Home of Golf.” On cue, she followed that up with her 2nd Major win in spring 2008 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Lorena’s emergence as the world’s #1 women’s player dovetailed seamlessly with Sörenstam’s announcement in May 2008 that she would step away from the game at season’s end to begin a family.

Almost poetically, Lorena’s career trajectory continues to follow the great Annika’s, as she now announces her intention to start a family with her new husband, Andrés Conesa Labastida (CEO of Aeroméxico), and pursue interests outside of golf. In light of this, many connected with the game will now attempt to put her on-course career to-date in historical perspective, however Lorena’s career and impact are so much greater than her 27 wins. She has long carried the banner for her native Mexico, her golf bag embroidered with the Mexican flag and her cap emblazoned with the logo of Banamex (the Mexican national bank). Moreover, Lorena’s national pride is more than thread-deep, as she has made raising golf’s profile in Mexico her top priority, hosting first the Tres Marias National Championship (formerly Corona Championship) and now the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.

To say that Lorena’s impact on golf in Mexico approximates that of Tiger Woods in the US would not be an overstatement: Mexico now boasts some 50,000 golfers and 220 golf courses, while the number of Mexican journalists covering the sport has increased from a paltry 8 in 2000 to over 100 today, and participation in junior golf has grown 25% since 2006.

Fittingly, Lorena’s grace and social conscience are only matched by her unsurpassed work ethic. After ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange in May 2008, she famously remarked, “That was fun…now it is time to go to the golf course” – her one true sanctuary. World Golf Hall of Famer Johnny Miller has said more than once that as his children grew, it became harder to leave home to compete in tournaments. We must understand though that it’s exponentially harder for female athletes to balance their athletic careers with their family lives, since they BIRTH the babies. Given that, I applaud great champions like Annika and Lorena for seeking peace and fulfillment beyond the fame and fortune their golfing achievements have afforded them – especially in Lorena’s case, because as it stands, she falls agonizingly short of the 10-year playing requirement for Hall of Fame induction.

As for the state of the women’s game, Lorena leaves at a tenuous juncture for the LPGA, as it struggles with departing sponsorship and a barely half-filled tournament schedule. This may soon turn though, as the pipeline of young talent has arguably never been stronger, with current stars Paula Creamer, Ai Miyazato, Anna Nordqvist, Suzann Pettersen, Jiyai Shin, Yani Tseng and Michelle Wie ready to assume the mantle. Perhaps even Annika and Lorena will one day return to active competition and author dazzling second acts as playing mothers – à la Juli Inkster.

Until then, I’m sure the next phase of Lorena’s life will be as smooth as her picturesque follow-through, and just as beautiful to behold.


2009 BCS Nat’l Championship Game Live Blog

8:55 pm Getting a bit of a late start on this, on account of, you know, work and whatnot. What, you didn’t know I moonlight as a sportswriter?! Probably because I don’t, but I talk enough trash to. (Hey, at least I make sense when I open my mouth. Shut up.) Where was I? Oh, so this is sort of my lighthearted attempt at being a sports blog writer, so you can go along for the ride with me as I riff on the BCS title game between the Florida Gators and Oklahoma Sooners. And man, let me tell you, I told my boy Fred that I can’t remember the last time I was this hyped-up for a bowl game! Since the first quarter’s now up, let me get on with it.

Shouts go out to Ron Cherry for having the honor of being the first black referee to work a BCS title game. Both squads had alumni captains join their slate of team captains for this game – I got a kick out of seeing Billy Sims and Danny Wuerffel (still love that dude for handing FSU their ass in the ’96 Sugar Bowl).

9:04 pm TOUCHDOWN FLORIDA!!!!! Excellent play made by Louis Murphy to put the ball over the goal line. In an emotional game like this one, it’s important to capitalize on opportunities as they’re presented, because they can vanish just as quickly. Good that the Gators were able to go ahead and punch it in, especially after a hard-fought, scoreless first quarter. They’re no doubt pleased to draw first blood. These teams both look prepared and have brought it thus far. As expected, the athleticism and offensive savvy of both UF and OU have shown up big-time, however the coaching staffs are also playing a helluva chess game trying to match each other tit-for-tat. Right on cue, the Sooners are wasting no time and seem intent on answering the Gators’ early 2nd quarter score.

9:12 pm TOUCHDOWN SOONERS!!! What a methodical drive by Sam Bradford and the OU offense. He is as smooth as silk and totally in command in the pocket. Excellent job keeping the Gators’ D off-balance using draws and screens out of the shotgun. Chris Brown was excellent during that sequence, really picking up the slack for the absence of RB DeMarco Murray. They didn’t appear to miss a beat at all, marching down the field at will.

9:22 pm INTERCEPTION!!! No, I’m not trying to start every entry in ALL CAPS, but the action is coming fast and furious. Florida seemed to be moving the ball at a decent clip on that drive with Tebow finding modest success running the option, but Gerald McCoy just made an excellent play on that ball. You have to be super impressed by this good young D-lineman, obviously for his stellar play, however also for persevering after losing his best friend and mother Patricia McCoy, OU football’s No. 1 fan. You have to root for him.

9:35 pm What a slugfest. Don’t be misled by the 7-7 score, this game is a classic in the making. Percy Harvin is nothing but a beast. He has looked his normal, blazing self tonight, which is good to see. He’s been hobbled by that high ankle sprain since the FSU game. Man-sized goal line stand by UF on that last Oklahoma drive – I was a little surprised Stoops didn’t go for the sure 3 after getting stuffed on 3rd down by Florida’s stout D-line. Had it worked, of course, he’d have been a genius.

9:50 pm WHAT-A-FIRST-HALF-OF-FOOTBALL!!! Simply outstanding. That was a true football fan’s wet dream. I’m loving the frenetic pace of the action, and the fight both teams are showing. This game is for all the marbles, the crystal (foot)ball, and both sides have played every bit their part to a T. As I said, the halftime score totally flies in the face of the consensus opinion going into the game, which was that it would be a shootout. The Gators’ D has held firm as expected, however the oft-maligned Sooners defense has shown surprising mettle. With this game occurring so late on the docket (a full week after the New Year’s smorgasbord of bowl matchups), both schools’ coaching staffs have had ample time to scheme and prepare for the opposing side, and it is showing tonight.

That first half sort of felt like a heavyweight contest, each side cautiously probing where they could and unleashing a flurry whenever possible. The Gators’ team speed is so astonishing, especially at the skill positions obviously, that I’m surprised the Sooners have recorded so many tackles for losses and thwarted so many of Florida’s drives. Likewise, Oklahoma’s spread offense is so dynamic, having averaged 54 points a game this season while setting an NCAA FBS record of 702 points scored, that I’m stunned Florida has held them to a single touchdown. The Gators have bent but not broken, and did an excellent job on that last drive of the half of not only keeping the Sooners out of the end zone, but holding them to ZERO POINTS no less! Should be a tremendous second half. I have just enough time to run to the bathroom and grab a brew before they kick it off. 🙂

10:20 pm After some ho-hum halftime performances (Shouts out to the Marching 100, the baddest GD band in the land), both teams pick right up where they left off. Tebow just missed by a fingertip’s length of connecting with Percy Harvin on a big gainer. After a booming punt by UF’s Chas Henry, Oklahoma’s offense fails to one-up the Gators and are forced to kick it away. OHHHHHHHHHHH A NEAR BLOCKED PUNT!!! WOW, I thought that was a ‘questionable’ call at best on the personal foul (I could just as easily call it a BS one): they were going hard after the kick, that’s just good, hard-nosed football. At least it didn’t cost Florida much, other than maybe a few yards of field position.

10:33 pm Nice run there by Tebow, he’s finally starting to come alive. As his coaches will quickly tell you, he has the will of a brahma bull – not to mention the body of one. He’s built like a linebacker but runs like a halfback, and has that nose for the sticks that you just can’t coach. Tebow just showed you that he also puts a deft touch on the football, and that skill set makes him and this team so tough to contend with. Again, Tim just misses Lou Murphy. This has been a GAME of near-misses thus far, and it looks like whichever team can make that one definitive play might prevail.

10:39 pm WILLPOWER. Sheer willpower.

10:43 pm Excellent drive capped off by that Harvin TD run. One of the beauties of Urban Meyer’s spread is that you never know where the knockout blow is coming from. That score was set up by a nice catch-and-run from Jeff Demps, another flat-out speedster. The Gators have some certifiably lethal weapons, and Meyer deploys them with the conscience of a sniper.

10:55 pm This is about Round 10 of that heavyweight bout. Both sides are giving it their all, and now you start to see fatigue set in. OU’s training staff having to tend to their downed lineman seemed to provide a much-needed breather, especially for the Sooners’ defense, which stuffed Tebow on a roll-out to force a huge 4th down. They desperately need to tilt the momentum back in their favor going into the homestretch.

11:01 pm Is it me, or is this about the most half-assed announcing team you’ve ever heard in a game of this magnitude?! Bill Simmons is right: Gus Johnson has us all spoiled, and justifiably so. You certainly don’t have to sound like a maniac every other play, but show a little genuine enthusiasm for the contest that’s unfolding – the same enthusiasm Joe Six Pack, and hockey moms everywhere, no doubt are showing at home.

11:06 pm My god, Sam Bradford is beyond impressive. He is so still he’s almost preternaturally composed in the pocket, and threads the ball in to his receivers with touch that would put your grandma to shame. On this biggest of stages, the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner is rising to the occasion, scoring a desperately needed knockdown to even things up on the judges’ card.

11:21 pm After holding Florida to just a trey, OU had to be feeling good about their chances. That is, until that Bradford pick. I hope I didn’t jinx him by singing his praises just a minute ago. Looked like that pass sailed a bit on him, and that was just enough for Gator ballhawk Ahmad Black to do his best Ed Reed impersonation. There’s still plenty of time left on the clock, but it’s looking like UF has the fresher legs right now.

11:30 pm Harvin was sidelined for the bulk of Florida’s last drive after a rather dirty move by Sooner DB Nic Harris following his tackle. After that last run it looked like it’s not slowing Percy.

11:33 pm See what I mean?!?! You needed John Madden making the call on that nice catch-and-run on 3rd down by Hernandez. ‘BOOM!!!’

11:35 pm Speaking of BOOM, there went the dynamite…

11:37 pm I think I just saw Superman changing into his Tim Tebow pajamas.

11:50 pm WOW. Just WOW. What a performance turned in by the Florida Gators, worthy of the true champions they are. You have to tip your cap to Oklahoma for bringing the fight to them, but in the end, UF’s preponderance of weapons and Tim Tebow’s indomitable will proved to be too much. On First Take this morning, Skip Bayless intimated that Bob Stoops does less with more than any big-name coach in America, and while I would not characterize him that harshly, you have to admit his teams have a certain knack for turning into pumpkins as the clock approaches midnight.

Ultimately, and this of course has been debated ad nauseum, I have to chalk this one up to the sheer superiority of the SEC as a football conference in this country. It was a banner year for the Big XII as a whole, and you also saw outstanding performances sprinkled throughout the rest of the nation’s conferences (USC in the Pac-10, Penn State in the Big Ten, etc.), however three consecutive BCS National Champions (and four in six years) simply ends the discussion. Congrats to Gator Nation on a much-deserved title, and godspeed to whomever plans to upend the inevitable SEC entrant in this game next year.

Originally published on The Armchair QB blog

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