Far Hills, N.J. (Oct. 19) – Lorena Ochoa, who dominated the LPGA Tour for four years before retiring at age 28, and whose foundation has benefited hundreds of Mexico’s underprivileged children, has been chosen to receive the United States Golf Association’s 2011 Bob Jones Award.
Presented annually since 1955, the USGA’s highest honor is given in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. The Award seeks to recognize a person who emulates Jones’ spirit, his personal qualities and his attitude toward the game and its players.
The Award will be presented Feb. 5 at the USGA’s Annual Meeting in Phoenix.
Upon learning that she would receive the Award, Ochoa said she kept the news to herself at first.
“It was very exciting,” Ochoa said. “I went to the Internet, trying to see what it was all about, and I said, ‘Wow!’ I
enjoyed reading about Bob Jones and all of the past recipients. Then I told my mother. Now I just plan to enjoy the good news, the ceremony, the whole thing.”
By the age of 8, Ochoa was already competing internationally. She later dominated collegiate golf and climbed to the top of the professional ranks before she retired in April of this year. The span of her career parallels that of Bob Jones, who retired at 28 in 1930 after conquering golf’s major championships.
In a 2½-year stretch that began in April 2006, Ochoa won 21 times on the LPGA Tour, including two major championships. She is recognized, however, for more than her playing ability.
“We’ve come to recognize Lorena for the contributions she has made to humanity much more so than for the golf trophies she’s taken home,” said Jerry Tarde, chairman and editor-in-chief of Golf Digest, and a member of the USGA’s Bob Jones Award Committee. “She has become a one-person grow-the-game program not just in Mexico but in all of Latin America.”
The Lorena Ochoa Foundation runs La Barranca, an elementary school in her hometown of Guadalajara with an enrollment of 250 underprivileged students. The foundation also began operating a high school for 21 freshman students in 2008.
“I play golf for a reason and the foundation is the main reason,” Ochoa said. “That was my motivation to keep playing and practicing for many years.”
Ochoa began playing golf at the age of 5. “My father used to take me to the golf course with my two brothers,” she said. “We all liked it but I was the one who really, really liked it. Right away, I started playing in competition.”
Ochoa won her first state event at age 6 and as a junior golfer captured 44 national titles in Mexico. In 1999, she was a semifinalist in both the U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Women’s Amateur championships.
At the University of Arizona she was the NCAA Player of the Year in 2001 and 2002. In her sophomore year she set an NCAA record by winning her first seven tournaments and eight of the 10 events she entered. Twice she set single-season NCAA scoring records, compiling a stroke average of 71.33 in her freshman year and beating her own record as a sophomore with 70.13.
In 2001, Ochoa became the youngest person and first golfer to receive Mexico’s highest sporting accolade, the National Sports Award. She left college to turn professional in 2002 and was the Player of the Year and leading money winner on the Duramed Futures Tour in 2002.
On the LPGA Tour, her career took off as she earned the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award in 2003. She became the first Mexican-born winner on the LPGA Tour in 2004.
Ochoa vaulted to the top of the money list in 2006, also taking Player of the Year and Vare Trophy (scoring average) honors. The Associated Press named her Female Athlete of the Year in 2006 and she won the National Sports Award for the second time.
In 2007, she won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in the first women’s professional tournament conducted on the Old Course at St. Andrews. She was the LPGA Player of the Year and the Vare Trophy winner for four consecutive seasons from 2006-2009.
She is as well-known for her friendly manner as her winning ways. Nancy Lopez, winner of the 1998 Bob Jones Award, said of Ochoa, “People love her. She is such a great ambassador for the game of golf. And she does so much for charity. When she was so busy with her career, she still had time for the people who needed her. I think she is the right person for the Bob Jones Award.”
In December 2009, Ochoa married Andres Conesa Labastida. The couple lives in Mexico. Ochoa remains active in golf, playing in exhibitions and hosting an LPGA Tour event – the Lorena Ochoa Invitational – to benefit her foundation.
“Every time I travel and do a tournament, the funds go into my foundation,” Ochoa said. “And I’m writing a book. It’s an exciting time and I’m very happy.”
Despite her retirement from competition, her passion for the game continues. “People ask when I’m going to play again and I tell them I play every day with my father and friends,” she said. “Golf will always be a part of my life.”